Teenage boy with developmental disorder acquitted of molesting girl

Confession Ruled Unreliable

(Mainichi Snimbun, Japan, Jan. 25, 2005)

OSAKA -- An appeal court has acquitted a teenage boy with a serious developmental disorder of molesting and injuring a girl.

Dismissing an appeal by prosecutors, the Osaka High Court upheld a Nara Family Court decision in a juvenile trial that ruled the 16-year-old high school student can walk free because his confessions cannot be trusted.

"His unusual behavior during questioning can't be overlooked. There are some questions about the reliability of the confessions he made during questioning," Presiding Judge Yoshimichi Takigawa said as he handed down the decision.

The boy, whose name is being withheld under the Juvenile Law, was arrested in late May last year on suspicion of indecent assault for molesting a junior high school girl who was on her way home from school in Nara Prefecture earlier in the month.

He initially denied the allegations, and remained almost silent during questioning because he was almost unable to talk to unacquainted people because of his disability.

However, the boy wrote down that he assaulted the girl while on his way home from school, and signed a disposition. After being referred to the family court for his juvenile trial, he denied the allegations again.

The family court acquitted the boy after concluding that statements made by an eyewitness and his confessions are too vague and inconsistent to be trusted.

After prosecutors appealed the decision to the high court, a hospital diagnosed the boy as suffering a serious developmental disorder. His defense lawyer then submitted to the court a doctor's diagnosis of his condition.

The appeal court pointed to discrepancies between the boy's written confessions and the crime described in police documents, and cited a testimony by an acquaintance that he was at home only 10 minutes before he was supposed to have committed the crime.

It then determined that there is room for questioning the reliability of the boy's confessions, and pointed out that the witness may have had an illusion that the assailant looked like the boy.

The presiding judge also criticized investigators for allowing the victim to see only the boy during investigations. "The method of investigation should have been avoided because it could have led her to falsely believe that the boy was the assailant."

An expert on developmental disorders called for caution in questioning those with such a handicap.

"Children with serious developmental disorders tend to reply, 'yes,' to any question asked by adults. Law enforcers should not easily conclude that suspects committed a crime because they confessed to it and signed a disposition," said Osaka University of Education Professor Emeritus Keiichi Takeda.

"Investigators should carefully question suspects with such disabilities while fully understanding the developmental disorder," he added. (Mainichi Snimbun, Japan, Jan. 25, 2005)