Lay judge seeks payout over murder case stress

Kyodo

A former lay judge is suing the government for ¥2 million in compensation, claiming she was hit by an acute stress disorder after being exposed to graphic evidence at a murder trial.

Hifumi Aoki, 63, from Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, who served in March in a burglary and murder case, is believed to be the first former lay judge to file suit against the government over the system, which debuted in 2009.

The government argued that the system is reasonable because it allows public participation in the judicial process, adding that those summoned to be lay judges can ask to be excused.

At the first hearing held Tuesday at the Fukushima District Court, Aoki, who attended with her husband, said she was so nervous that she’s been vomiting over the past few days.

“I was physically and emotionally devastated,” she said. “I hope I’ll be the last to go through such a painful experience.”

Aoki served in a murder trial at the Koriyama Branch of the Fukushima District Court in March. During the trial, crime scene images were displayed and an audio recording of a victim calling for an ambulance was played. Since then, Aoki claimed, she has suffered from nausea and insomnia.

Aoki said she experienced flashbacks after seeing the grisly photographs, which caused her to suffer a stress disorder requiring long-term treatment and absences from work that ultimately resulted in her dismissal.

“I want everybody to understand how painful and poignant this experience was to me,” she said.

Aoki prepared a seven-page speech to read at the first oral hearing Tuesday, but, after mentioning the grisly crime scene photos, halted for several seconds and asked to skip major portions of it, citing difficulty in continuing.

In the 10-minute speech, Aoki also claimed the jury was unable to thoroughly analyze the murder case, which ultimately sent a man to the gallows, leaving her with a profound sense of guilt.

She claimed that a clause in the summons stating that those who refuse duty without reasonable cause could be fined prompted her to attend the trial, adding she was afraid she “would be treated as a criminal” if she did not attend.

The suit, which was brought to court in May, prompted the Tokyo District Court to take steps to alleviate any possible psychological burden on lay judges by notifying candidates about any graphic material — such as photos of a corpse — among the evidence.