The Osaka District Court, in a lay judge trial on July 30, sentenced a 42-year-old man suffering from development disorder to 20 years’ imprisonment, four years longer than demanded by the prosecution, for killing his elder sister.

The ruling is problematic. The judges appear to think that isolating and confining a person with developmental problems is the best policy for dealing with such people. The ruling carries the danger of encouraging discrimination against such people.

Citing the possibility that the defendant may again commit a crime, the ruling said that having him “search his conscience” over the crime for as long as possible in prison will help improve public order. Twenty years’ imprisonment is the longest definite term sentence for murder.

The defendant has Asperger’s syndrome, a pervasive development disorder. A person with the syndrome is said to have difficulty in understanding other people’s feelings and intentions and in expressing their own. They also tend to preoccupy themselves in an obsessive ways.

The ruling is unusual all the more when compared with a March 2007 ruling by the Kyoto District Court: A 23-year-old male cram school teacher suffering from Asperger’s syndrome killed a sixth grade, 12-year-old girl in December 2005 in Uji, Kyoto Prefecture. In view of his disorder, the prosecution demanded life imprisonment, instead of the death sentence. The court gave him 18 years’ imprisonment, which was commuted to 15 years’ imprisonment by the Osaka High Court in March 2009.

The defendant in the Osaka trial stopped attending school when he was a fifth-grader and remained in a state of withdrawal for some 30 years. Obsessed with the idea that his condition was the fault of his elderly sister, he stabbed her to death with a kitchen knife when she visited his home in July 2011.

In view of his development disorder, his defense counsel called for a suspended sentence with probationary supervision. The ruling admitted that his Asperger’s syndrome played some part in the killing. Yet the sentence was four years longer than demanded by the prosecution. One reason given by the judges is that the defendant did not fully search his conscience over his crime.

The judges apparently failed to consider the possibility that the defendant did not have the ability to understand what searching one’s conscience means.

The judges also tried to justify the longer sentence by claiming that society does not have enough institutions and services to take care of people with Asperger’s syndrome.

This thinking is odd. It would justify the idea of confining people with developmental and mental problems to prevent them from committing crimes. The judges should have called for improvement of services and facilities to support such people.

Doing the exact opposite of what the ruling said is what’s needed. The public sector should make a greater effort to improve services and facilities as called for by the law to support people with development disorder, which went into force in 2005.

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