The Yomiuri ShimbunIt can be said that the prosecution as an organization was not up to the task of jailing a defendant whose sentence of imprisonment had been finalized after being released on bail.
The prosecution has compiled a report that examines a case in which a man who, in attempting to avoid being jailed, fled with a knife from his house in Kanagawa Prefecture.
He did not abide by the prosecution’s repeated demands that he present himself and was expected to be resistant to the prosecution. However, the Yokohama District Public Prosecutors Office did not sufficiently consider assigning personnel and also did not make any arrangements with the police. Despite receiving reports of his flight, the prosecution delayed informing local governments, believing that “the police would decide” on the announcement of his escape.
It is reasonable that the prosecution’s report summarized the incident as being caused by insufficient measures on the part of the prosecution and its lack of risk awareness.
To prevent the recurrence of such an incident, the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office cited steps such as preparing and improving manuals and equipment for when the prosecution imprisons a defendant, and establishing a liaison system with local governments. These are all basic measures that the prosecution should already have addressed. It is unlikely that it will really be able to prevent such an incident occurring only with these countermeasures.
In the background of this escape is an increasing number of defendants being released on bail.
The number of defendants — who, like the man in this case, were released on bail until a ruling in the court of second instance was handed down, after being given an unsuspended prison sentence in the court of first instance — was 546 in 2013. But the figure was more than double that in 2018 at 1,109. It included defendants in such serious cases as murders and robberies resulting in bodily injury.
Review conventional steps
There is a view that there is a higher risk of flight if a defendant who has been given an unsuspended prison sentence in the court of first instance is released on bail after appealing to a higher court. As a defendant is not obliged to appear in the court of second instance, unlike the court of first instance, it is expected that he or she could escape and not appear on the date of the ruling.
Courts should more carefully decide on the appropriateness of and conditions for whether a defendant who has been given an unsuspended prison sentence is released on bail. It should also consider obliging a defendant to appear on the date of a ruling in the court of second instance, and make it possible to jail the defendant on the spot when they are given an unsuspended prison sentence.
It is problematic that it takes too much time to jail a defendant after they are given an unsuspended prison sentence. There were 60 defendants in 2018 who were not jailed until more than three months after their sentences of imprisonment were finalized in a higher court. There were also not a few former defendants who were temporarily missing for reasons such as fleeing overseas.
The longer the period after finalizing a sentence of imprisonment is, the smaller the effect of reflection on their crime and the higher the hurdles for imprisonment become. The prosecution must make efforts to swiftly bring defendants into custody.
There is a flaw in the legislation in that the crime of escape in the Criminal Code, which is intended for convicted prisoners and others, is not applied to defendants released on bail.
Some states in the United States and Canada make it obligatory, as a condition for release on bail, for the defendant to wear a global positioning system tracking device. In order to prevent escapes, it is hoped that effective steps will be made with reference to overseas examples.