Wednesday, April 15, 2009

"Supreme Court acquits professor of groping charges

"The Supreme Court on Tuesday acquitted a professor of charges he molested a female student on a packed train in Tokyo, overturning guilty verdicts that were based entirely on the teenager's testimony.

"It was the first time the top court has given an innocent verdict in a groping case.

"The Supreme Court's Third Petty Bench said the lower courts' rulings that sentenced Masahiro Nagura, 63, a professor at the National Defense Medical College, to 22 months in prison lacked necessary prudence.

"Three of the five justices supported the innocent ruling for Nagura, who is now on temporary leave from his college, while two said the guilty verdict should stand.

"The Supreme Court said that "especially prudent judgment is required" in cases of molestation on trains because it is difficult for police and prosecutors to gather objective evidence. In addition, the court said, the suspect will have a difficult time formulating a defense after being accused of groping.

"The ruling will likely force prosecutors to be more cautious on deciding whether to indict suspects based only on the testimonies of the accusers.

"Judges may also take a tougher approach to accepting prosecutors' arguments that are based on limited evidence. Police officers will be required to collect more scientific evidence, such as fibers and bodily fluids, in groping cases.

"Prosecutors indicted Nagura on charges he molested a 17-year-old senior high school student in a packed train on the Odakyu Line in Tokyo's Setagaya Ward on the morning of April 18, 2006. They said he inserted his hand inside the teenager's underwear and fondled her.

"The only evidence against Nagura was the girl's statement that she had been sexually assaulted.

"There were no witnesses. And police found no fibers from the girl's underwear on Nagura's hands.

"Nagura insisted he was innocent. But the Tokyo District Court and the Tokyo High Court both found him guilty, saying the girl's testimony was credible.

"However, the Third Petty Bench noted flaws in the lower courts' rulings.

""Reasonable doubt still remains on the claim that Nagura committed the crime," the ruling said.

"The top court said that Nagura's character does not fit the profile of a molester.

"The ruling also noted that after the alleged molestation began, the girl left the train but returned to the same car and stood near the professor.

"The ruling cast doubt on the testimony of the girl, saying that if the molestation had been persistent as she claimed, she would have made a more serious effort to avoid it.

"Recognizing that prosecutors had no new evidence to present, the top court did not return the case to the lower courts but ruled that Nagura is innocent.

"According to the Supreme Court, the top court has given innocent rulings to only 16 suspects since 1980. In rare cases like Nagura's, the top court did so because it deemed the lower courts' rulings were based on an erroneous recognition of the facts."

By Asahi Shimbun (4/15/2009), Link to article (last visited 4/15/2009)

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