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2014年6月27日 (金)

司法取引 捜査の新たな切り札になるか

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Will plea bargains become new trump card for criminal investigators?
司法取引 捜査の新たな切り札になるか

Criminal investigations by the police and prosecutors may change greatly as prospects grow for Japan to adopt plea bargaining, a tactic already used widely in the United States and European countries.

A committee of the Legislative Council, an advisory panel to the justice minister, has largely agreed to the introduction of a form of plea bargaining. The Justice Ministry is set to submit related bills to next year’s ordinary Diet session.

Adopting plea bargaining as a new investigative method to close in on the truth of matters is a significant shift.

Under the envisaged plea bargaining system, prosecutors and police investigators will not indict suspects or will seek reduced penalties in exchange for their cooperation in investigations. This could involve, for example, a suspect revealing information on crimes committed by a primary leader.

When dealing with such cases as bank transfer fraud and drug trafficking, investigators have often been unable to track down ringleaders even when suspects in marginal positions were arrested. If a ringleader were tracked down through plea bargaining, it would lead to a clearer, more complete picture of the crime.

Plea bargaining should also prove effective in investigating financial crimes, including those involving organizations as a whole, such as bid-rigging and so-called window-dressing accounting. With plea bargaining, it would become easier for investigators to obtain statements from rank-and file employees who played a part in the crime, which would aid in the pursuit of criminal liability for corporate management.

The issue of adopting plea bargaining systems has emerged amid discussions on possible legislation to implement video recording of the interrogation process to increase transparency.

Dangers of recording

Video recordings have the merit of preventing investigators from forcing suspects to make disadvantageous statements or asking leading questions. Yet some experts have also cited possible ill effects, including the risk of suspects being overly conscious of the camera and declining to make a statement as a result.

In the event that full video recording is implemented in the future, a plea bargaining system would encourage suspects to provide testimony, and is expected to prove effective in reducing losses in investigative capability to a certain extent.

Meanwhile, it is appropriate that discussions currently aim to prohibit the use of plea bargaining over crimes such as murder, and instead apply the system only to prosecutions involving drugs or firearms, fraud and corruption.

These discussions seek to address the deep-rooted antipathy among victims’ relatives toward permitting accomplices in murder cases to escape with lighter penalties through plea bargaining with investigating organizations.

One matter of concern is the fear that suspects will make false statements shifting the blame onto others, in the hope of having their punishments lessened. We must not allow innocent people to be falsely charged.

As a countermeasure, a tentative proposal presented by the Justice Ministry requires prosecutors and police investigators to obtain an agreement with suspects’ defense counsel when offering a plea bargain.

Regardig false statements, the proposal stipulates punitive provisions imposing imprisonment of up to five years. But are these measures alone sufficient?

Police investigators and prosecutors must perform full investigations to identify corroborative evidence for suspect statements. The court must also examine the credibility of such statements rigorously during the trial.

In criminal cases involving organized crime groups, there could be instances in which gang members will refuse to cooperate in investigations for fear of retaliation. Investigative organizations need to bear in mind that the plea bargaining system is not all-powerful.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 26, 2014)


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