Lay judges’ acquittal reinstated

Kyodo

The Supreme Court on Monday overturned a high court reversal and upheld a lay judge acquittal of a man tried for drug-smuggling.

Monday’s ruling marked the first acquittal handed down in a lay judge trial to be finalized by the Supreme Court since the lay judge system debuted in 2009. The case was also landmark in that it was the first acquittal to have been overturned by a high court.

Kikuo Anzai, 61, was indicted for allegedly smuggling nearly 1 kg of stimulants in a bag into Narita airport from Malaysia in November 2009.

He was acquitted in a Chiba District Court lay judge trial in June 2010 as the panel of six lay and three professional judges accepted his claim that a client gave him what he believed to be canned chocolate as a souvenir for his friend and was unaware it contained drugs.

Prosecutors then appealed and the Tokyo High Court sided with them last March and handed Anzai a 10-year prison term and ¥6 million fine.

In its first judgment on how an appeals court should operate, the top court said the high court must provide concrete proof that the initial ruling was irrational in terms of “logical consistency and common sense” to reverse a district court ruling on grounds of factual error.

The Supreme Court’s 1st Petty Bench, in siding with the lay judge trial acquittal, said the Tokyo High Court failed to satisfy this requirement.

Anzai’s counsel argued at the top court that while the perspectives of citizen judges were reflected in the initial ruling, the high court ignored all of the elements that should have worked favorably for the defendant.

The prosecutors said the high court’s decision was appropriate as it focused on the “irrationality” of the lay judge trial ruling.

Presiding Justice Seishi Kanetsuki said in the top court’s ruling that the initial ruling is acceptable from a logical viewpoint as well as from common sense.

Monday’s ruling is expected to have a big impact not only on high court trials, but also on prosecutors’ decisions on whether to appeal acquittals, legal experts said.