Interrogation methods questioned /
Exposure of coercive techniques sparks movement to change rules for police
Jan. 26, 2008


Manabu Kimura and Yuichiro Nakamura / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writers
The nation's criminal justice system is in a quandary over how to change the way police interrogate suspects ahead of the introduction of the lay-judge system for criminal trials and in the wake of a series of recent revelations of coercive police questioning that resulted in false charges.
As the National Police Agency released new guidelines to ensure proper investigation Thursday, the focus of the debates will shift to whether the practice of making audio or video recordings of police interrogations of suspects should be introduced.
In announcing the new guidelines, NPA Director General Hiroto Yoshimura said the agency may continue to reexamine how interrogations should be handled in the future.
He made the remark because of the ongoing situation in legal circles in which introduction of recording of interrogation sessions has been called for to prove in court that suspects' confessions were voluntary.
When the lay-judge system starts next year, prosecutors will need to explain to lay judges what suspects said during questioning by police in an easy-to-understand manner.
The Supreme Court, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, the Justice Ministry and the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office set up a panel to discuss filming interrogations. The bar federation has demanded the introduction of cameras.
The introduction, if realized, will be an important turning point for investigative authorities as prosecutors have previously needed to explain the interrogation process only to professional court judges. Prosecution authorities have already started making audio or video recordings of questioning in some cases on a test basis.
A report released this month by a group of judges studying the issue also predicted that if the introduction of recordings leads to stricter selection of evidence, the average period of criminal trials could be shortened to four to eight days from the current period of between 16 and 39 months.
NPA officials were initially reluctant to drastically review interrogation practices. But police faced harsh public criticism concerning the questioning of suspects behind closed doors after two cases of false charges were revealed last year.
In February last year, defendants were acquitted after being charged with violating election laws during a Kagoshima prefectural assembly election. In October, a defendant in a rape case in Himi, Toyama Prefecture, was cleared after being wrongfully convicted in an earlier trial. Police were found to have used coercive interrogation methods in each case.
Partly because the Democratic Party of Japan submitted a bill to revise the Criminal Procedure Law to oblige police to make audio or video recordings of all interrogations, the government was forced to consider a counterproposal.
Though the NPA explained the situation to all 47 prefectural police forces, a sizable number of police investigators expressed embarrassment, saying that filming of interrogation sessions will make it more difficult to get suspects to trust them.
Because police officers in Japan are not given the authority to carry out as broad a range of activities as their counterparts in other countries, investigators have developed techniques to make suspects voluntarily confess. For example, investigators have tried to guide suspects into a sense of remorse by asking about their personal worries and life history.
It is also predicted that gang members will hesitate to confess, if all conversations in the interrogation room might be recorded and replayed in a court.
Requiring that all interrogations be recorded may make investigations more difficult and result in poorer public safety conditions.
Prof. Takeshi Tsuchimoto, dean of Hakuoh University Law School and an expert on the Criminal Procedure Law, said: "In this country, police interrogation also plays a role in stimulating a sense of remorse in suspects and defendants. This issue shouldn't be seen from a narrow perspective over whether the recording should be introduced. We have to see it as a turning point for the criminal justice system and encourage nationwide debate also over whether investigation methods used in Western countries need to be introduced in Japan."

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Recording could tie cops' hands
By Eiji Kaji
Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer

Police interrogations are routinely filmed or recorded in many countries. However, the investigative situations are very different from Japan as investigators overseas are allowed to employ a broader range of methods, such as offering plea bargains and conducting sting operations.
According to the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, Britain has one of the most advanced recording systems. In Britain, tape-recording of police questioning began on a test basis in the 1980s. Since 1992, audio recording of questioning of all suspects, except those in terrorism and some other special cases, has been obligatory.
Interrogations are recorded on two sets of tapes. One of them is sealed and stored to prevent the data from being modified, and the other is submitted to a court as evidence. In 2002, video-recording of questioning was introduced.
The method is in sharp contrast with the Japanese way of persuading suspects to confess behind closed doors. This is partly because British police have much more authority to conduct investigations and thus do not need to rely on suspects' confessions or testimony to prove charges.
It is common in Britain and the United States for police to detain suspects without arrest warrants being issued by courts. In these countries, plea bargains that lighten punishments in exchange for confessions, sting operations and wiretapping covering a wider range of affairs are tools available to investigators.
Kotaro Ono, director general of the Justice Ministry's Criminal Affairs Bureau, said, "In other countries, investigators don't need to try to persuade suspects to confess, and questioning is just for listening to their excuses.
"If all the processes of questioning suspects from the beginning to the end are tape- or video-recorded in Japan, suspects will speak only fine words, and it will hamper attempts to find the truth. It may result in a failure to catch other criminals. If this happens, public safety conditions could be adversely affected."

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