National / Crime & Legal

Ritsumeikan professor spearheads local Innocence Project to clear wrongfully convicted

by Masahiro Takeda

Kyodo

A university professor is heading the Japanese version of a U.S.-led movement to exonerate people who have been wrongfully charged and imprisoned using DNA testing.

Mitsuyuki Inaba, 51, who is neither a lawyer nor an expert in criminal law, is a professor at Ritsumeikan University’s College of Policy Science. He believes Japan’s criminal justice system is rife with fundamental failures that lead to wrongful imprisonment due to the “unscientific” way in which investigations are carried out.

Inaba, who specializes in cognitive science, took up the post of director at the Innocence Project Japan, which was launched in April in cooperation with lawyers and other legal experts.

The Innocence Project. founded in New York by lawyers Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck in 1992, has helped exonerate about 300 people who were wrongfully convicted, including some on death row. Similar movements have sprouted in Britain, South Africa and Taiwan.

A native of Hachinohe, Aomori Prefecture, Inaba studied mechanical engineering at the National Institute of Technology’s Hachinohe College.

Inspired by his professor at the technical school, however, he chose to enter Ritsumeikan University’s College of Letters and majored in philosophy. He also studied computer science at the University of Hawaii.

Inaba joined Fujitsu Ltd., a major Japanese electronics company, and there he was engaged in research of artificial intelligence.

In his first encounter with a criminal justice case, Inaba was asked to analyze, using the AI technology, the confession statements by defendants in an electoral fraud case in Shibushi, Kagoshima Prefecture. The defendants were later found not guilty.

“I discovered that there are deep-rooted problems in criminal justice cases,” he said.

“Defendants are forced to make confessions apparently because they want to escape the relentless questioning by police who keep saying to them ‘You did it,’ ” he said. “Prosecutors are allowed to avoid submitting evidence advantageous to defendants.

“Facts are certified in a very unscientific way.”

While analyzing defendants’ statements in various cases, he came to know about the Innocence Project and visited the United States to learn more about its activities.

Inaba launched the Japanese version believing that judicial proceedings in Japan must be scientifically grounded.

Inaba told a symposium held prior to the project’s launch, “In the world of engineering, we must take corrective measures if any mistake is found, and try not to repeat it.

“Something is wrong with a judicial community which has repeated a mistake that leads to wrongful charges. Something must be done to stop this,” he said.