Defense lawyers in Sugaya case slammed by bar

Kyodo

The defense lawyers in the first trial of a case that wrongly put a man behind bars for more than 17 years for the 1990 murder of a 4-year-old girl in Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture, blew the case, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations said in a recent research report.

One lawyer did not inform Toshikazu Sugaya, the man falsely jailed in the case known as the Ashikaga Incident, of his right to remain silent in the first interview after his arrest, and could not build trust with him partly because the lawyer had a preconceived notion Sugaya was the culprit despite media reports and other information, the report said.

Faced with DNA results that investigators said showed he killed the girl, Sugaya was forced to make a false confession before his first interview with the lawyer and pleaded guilty in the first court hearing.

Sugaya, meanwhile, sent 14 letters to his family claiming his innocence, and his brother delivered them to the lawyer. But the lawyer failed to confirm the plea by talking with his client, the report said.

At the court hearings, Sugaya once tried to deny the allegations, but his lawyers “did not take it seriously and did not work to argue for his case, as they were preoccupied with the idea that he was the true culprit,” the report noted.

“It is the duty of a defense lawyer to confirm the truth and hear what the defendant has to say to protect his or her rights,” even if the defendant has confessed to a crime, the report said.