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Evaluation of new DNA test results decided outcome of retrial appeal

The Yomiuri ShimbunThe difficulty in evaluating DNA tests, which have been advancing markedly, has been brought to the fore.

In the second appeal for a retrial in the so-called Hakamada case, the Tokyo High Court reversed the lower court decision, made by the Shizuoka District Court that approved the start of a retrial.

Regarding the DNA analysis results that the district court put forward as the basis for its approving the start of a retrial, the high court concluded that “serious doubts exist” about the analysis. On this basis, the high court concluded that the test results do not represent any clear new evidence that would necessitate the start of a retrial.

Blood stains were found on clothing that was considered to be worn by Iwao Hakamada, the former accused, at the time of the murder. Based on the results of a DNA test conducted with a new method, Hakamada’s defense counsel asserted, “The blood traces do not match the DNA of Hakamada.” The district court also supported this assertion.

The high court, in its examination, flatly rejected the results of the DNA analysis. Now that the fundamentals of the district court decision have crumbled, there seems to be no other option but for the high court to overturn the district court’s decision.

Four members of a family were murdered in 1966 at the home of the senior managing director of a soybean processing company in Shizuoka Prefecture. Arrested on charges including murder and robbery, Hakamada asserted his innocence at a public trial, but was sentenced to death at the court of the first instance, a sentence finalized by the Supreme Court in 1980.

Due to the decision of the district court in 2014, however, Hakamada was released from prison. Yet the high court left intact the lower court decision on Hakamada’s release and the suspension of his death sentence.

Shorten time with open trial

Hakamada is 82 and suffers from chronic health problems. He lives with his elder sister and is highly unlikely to go on the run. The high court cited these reasons for not re-imprisoning him immediately. From the unusual mention of these points, it may be gathered that the high court must have racked its brains over what to do about the custody of Hakamada, a convict under a finalized sentence of death.

More than 10 years have already passed since the second appeal for a retrial was made. It has been four years even since the lower court decided to start a retrial. Dissatisfied with the high court decision, Hakamada’s defense side indicated that it plans to file a special appeal to the top court.

Is there any way to improve this state of affairs, which requires so long a time for a retrial? This is a case involving an appeal for a retrial that would deliberate on whether the former accused person merits a death sentence or a decision of not guilty. It must not be good to put a former defendant in an unstable position for a protracted period of time.

An inquiry into an appeal for a retrial is primarily a closed-door procedure for deciding whether a trial should be held anew. Despite not being a place to conclude whether an accused person is guilty, a protracted battle is continuing, on the threshold of a retrial, over whether starting a retrial makes sense.

Once the decision to launch a retrial is made, the matter should, in principle, move on to a retrial and be finally settled at an open trial. By doing so, the time needed to reach a conclusion could be cut.

In the latest inquiry into the appeal for a retrial, a large amount of new evidence, including tapes that recorded the questioning following Hakamada’s arrest, have been disclosed.

It should also be discussed that, regarding a retrial, the rules on the disclosure of evidence need to be stipulated in the Code of Criminal Procedure.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 12, 2018)Speech



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