In a first, Supreme Court shortens harsh lay judge sentence


The Supreme Court on Thursday reduced the prison sentence of a couple convicted of fatally abusing their 1-year-old daughter in 2010, altering the term handed down at a lay judge trial.

The top court’s First Petty Bench, presided over by Judge Yu Shiraki, said: “Sentences given at lay judge trials should be respected, but their fairness compared with the results of other trials should be maintained.”

The unanimous decision by the five judges on the bench shortened the 15-year sentences handed to Akira Kishimoto, 31, and his wife, Miki, 32, for inflicting injury resulting in death, to 10 years for Kishimoto and eight for his wife.

The lower court sentences were 1.5 times longer than those sought by the prosecution.

The couple from Neyagawa in Osaka physically abused their third daughter on numerous occasions. A slap to the daughter’s head in January 2010 caused an acute subdural hematoma. She died in the following March.

Noting that the assault was on the borderline between murder and bodily harm resulting in death, the Osaka District Court said giving child abusers harsh sentences was in line with current public opinion. The Osaka High Court consequently dismissed their appeals.

The lay judge system, which uses a combination of professional judges and lay judges to rule on serious crimes, was launched in 2009.

For cases dealing in eight major crimes, such as murder and injury resulting in death, lay judges handed down 43 sentences through the end of March that were severer than recommended, accounting for about one percent of the total.

In the case of professional judges, only two such cases were found between April 2008 and the end of March, accounting for about 0.1 percent, according to the Supreme Court.

  • Firas Kraïem

    15 years sounds fair to me.

  • Jamie Bakeridge

    “Sentences given at lay judge trials should be respected, but their fairness compared with the results of other trials should be maintained.”

    Err, either you respect lay judge sentences OR you maintain fairness compared with the results of other trials. Typical Japanese court verdict – giving 2 statements which are mutually exclusive and claiming they will then reconcile them.

    • Peter

      Jamie, sentencing is not an easy exercise to explain, but to put it as briefly as possible, courts have discretion but there is a limit to it. So if the Osaka court had say given them 11 or 12 years, the Supreme Court would say “well that’s a bit more than normal, but it’s not too extreme so we can let it go”. But 50% more was too far over the top, so the SC had to reel it back.
      Once the SC decides that the original sentence was erroneous, they can impose what they think is fair, so that’s why we also end up with the wife getting 2 years less than the husband.
      In an alternate scenario, if the original court had given them both 11 or 12, the SC may have reduced hers only.

      • Jamie Bakeridge

        I am not saying sentencing is easy. My point is simply that the statement by the court is oxymoronic – either you agree to accept the jury’s decision or you don’t – pretending you can do both is misleading.

      • Peter

        Jamie, I am afraid you are reading too much into the words “should be respected”. It sounds like you are implying that it means “must never be overturned on appeal”.
        There’s two things to remember about court decisions. They are long, and papers never publish the whole story.
        At a much more simple level, “respect” does not mean “agree to accept”. I’m sure you respect your boss, but don’t agree with every decision.
        The Supreme Court respects the decisions of lower courts, but does not agree with every single one of them.
        The difference? You don’t have the authority to overrule your boss when he is wrong. The SC does have such authority.
        Would your boss ever say that he “agrees to accept” every decision you make? That has nothing to do with his level of respect for you.

  • Max Erimo

    Shows again how far out of touch the Japanese legal system is with current opinion. A small child’s life is not worth fifteen years. A fact sited by the judges was that the prosecutors demanded a much shorter sentence. Again the prosecutors are out of touch.
    Who can we trust in the legal system? From the police, to the prosecutors, and the judges, all seem to be out of touch.