Merits of electronic interrogations

In March 2011, public prosecutors offices located in 13 major cities started electronically recording interrogations of suspects on a trial basis. The Supreme Public Prosecution Office’s July 4 report on the experiments cites both merits and demerits of the electronic recording reported by public prosecutors who conducted the interrogations.

But it must be remembered that interrogations conducted in an unjust way led to many false charges and that electronic recording of the whole interrogation process is indispensable to prevent false charges. Even if such recording causes difficulty in interrogation, public prosecutors should change their mindset and consider how to improve interrogation methods.

They also should keep in mind that the most important thing is to collect evidence that convincingly proves the guilt of suspects.

The trial electronic recording was done in cases that were unearthed and whose suspects were arrested by the special investigation squads at the Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya district public prosecutors offices and the special criminal sections of the district public prosecutors offices in Sapporo, Sendai, Chiba, Saitama, Yokohama, Kyoto, Kobe, Hiroshima, Takamatsu and Fukuoka.

In these cases, 98 people were arrested. The whole process of interrogations of 39 of them was recorded electronically while partial recording was done for 52 others. Seven suspects refused electronic recording from the first, and 12 others refused some time after such recording started.

Among the merits of electronically recording interrogations were more careful questioning, the ability to record nuanced attitudes of suspects that could not be expressed in written records, and an easier task of proving unnatural changes over time in responses given by suspects.

Complaints by suspects include not wanting their miserable state of being interrogated to be recorded electronically and not wanting to cause trouble to others by talking about them.

In some cases, suspects refused electronic recording of their interrogations or their statements became less substantial during the course of interrogation because of tension, a sense of shame, hesitation due to their relations with accomplices and consideration for the privacy of third parties.

Some public prosecutors may not like the idea of electronically recording interrogations. But they should remember the case of Ms. Atsuko Muraki, a former health and welfare ministry official — a case that underlined the need to electronically recording the whole process of interrogations. Osaka public prosecutors interrogated her and witnesses in accordance with their scenario. But she was acquitted in September 2010 of falsifying a public document.

Thanks to secret recording by Mr. Tomohiro Ishikawa, a former secretary of former Democratic Party of Japan chief Ichiro Ozawa, of his own interrogation, it surfaced that a Tokyo public prosecutor wrote a false report on the interrogation.

Public prosecutors should realize that electronically recording the whole process of interrogations is inevitable if false charges are to be prevented.

The supreme prosecution authorities should also consider applying such recording to interrogations of witnesses.