Okamoto Kazuyoshi Lay judge decision sent back to lower court for 1st time

2011/March/30

The Tokyo High Court on Tuesday ordered a lower court to retry a 40-year-old man who was accused of setting fire to an apartment, trespassing and stealing cash there but was convicted only of trespassing and theft. It appears to be the first case for a high court to send back to a lower court a decision handed down by a panel of three professional and six citizen judges since the lay judge system was launched in 2009, judicial experts said. The defendant, Kazuyoshi Okamoto, was charged with arson, trespassing and theft for allegedly intruding into an apartment in Tokyo’s Katsushika Ward in September 2009, stealing cash there and setting fire to the apartment by spilling home-heating oil. During the lower court trial, the district court rejected the prosecutors’ demand that Okamoto’s arson records be examined, saying it might give a biased view on the lay judges. In July 2010, the district court sentenced Okamoto to 18 months in prison, finding him guilty only of trespassing and theft. In Tuesday’s decision, Presiding Judge Yoshinobu Iida repealed the district court decision, terming illegal that the professional and lay judges at the Tokyo District Court failed to examine evidence on arson records by the defendant. Judge Iida at the three-judge high court panel said Okamoto’s arson records suggest he might have set fire to the apartment, noting that the defendant previously set fire to express his disgust for a small result of theft. The prosecutors, who sought imprisonment of seven years for the defendant, had appealed the district court decision. The defendant had denied that he set fire to the apartment.