‘Innocent rate’ rises to highest in decade

Kyodo News

The Supreme Court said Monday that 2.9 percent of defendants who pleaded not guilty to criminal charges were found innocent at their initial trials in 2007, marking the highest level in a decade.

Other data by the Supreme Public Prosecutor’s Office indicated that more district courts have declined to accept depositions, which show defendants’ confessions, as evidence. In several cases, the focus of dispute was whether the confessions were voluntary and/or credible.

The circumstances suggest district courts are applying a more strict assessment of evidence prior to the introduction next year of the lay judge system, in which ordinary people will take part in criminal trials along with professional judges.

The so-called innocent rate at the initial trial level was up from 2.6 percent in 2006 after hovering above 2 percent since 2003, according to the Supreme Court’s Criminal Affairs Bureau. It hovered between 1.2 percent and 1.9 percent from 1998 to 2002.

District courts handed down rulings on 69,238 defendants last year, of whom 4,984 denied the charges against them as their trials opened.

Of the defendants pleading innocent, 97 were found fully innocent and 48 partially innocent. Among their trials were 896 serious cases, such as murder and arson, that will require the involvement of citizen judges. In the serious category, 19 of the defendants were found completely or partially innocent.

Separate data from the Supreme Public Prosecutor’s Office indicated that district courts rejected depositions as evidence in 10 of the 70 cases last year in which the voluntary nature of the confessions was challenged.