(Japanese: 時効 Jikou)

JIADEP NOTE: The statute of limitations has been a contentious issue in Japan. There are those like the "Sora-no-kai" below who seek its eradication, and others who claim that it creates a leeway for real culprits to confess their crimes and exonerate the wrongfully convicted.

The SOL has also been a cause of wrongful arrest as the police get antsy as it approaches. See JIADEP's list of defendants who have been arrested shortly before the SOL set in. ( See )


Diet abolishes statute of limitations on murder



In a landmark action, the Diet abolished the statute of limitations for murder on Tuesday.

Families of victims welcomed the move, saying the pursuit of killers could now continue until the criminals are brought to justice.

In revising the Criminal Procedure Law and related legislation, Diet members also eliminated or extended the statute of limitations on some other crimes.

Kenji Kobayashi, 63, a representative of Sora no Kai (Association of the Families of Victims in Murder Cases), was present at the Diet when the legislation passed at a Lower House plenary session.

"The goal is to arrest the offenders," Kobayashi said after the session. "The abolition of the statute of limitations is a means to that end."

He added: "For bereaved families, time has stopped (since the murders took place). There is no statute of limitations (for grief) on the part of bereaved families."

The dramatic change to the criminal justice system, which is expected to provide momentum to investigators working on unsolved cases, was made after only four weeks of Diet activity.

On Tuesday, the Lower House Committee on Judicial Affairs voted to approve the revisions and sent them to the full lower chamber where they were passed the same day. The revisions immediately took effect.

Crimes covered by the revisions are those that involve the death of a victim, and would merit imposition of the death penalty. Prior to the Diet's action, the statute of limitations for murder and other serious crimes was 25 years.

Lawmakers also addressed crimes such as rape resulting in death that carry a maximum sentence of life in prison, doubling the statute of limitations from 15 to 30 years.

Cases of inflicting injury resulting in death or dangerous driving resulting in death saw the statute of limitations raised from 10 to 20 years. The legal changes are not retroactive. The new law is applicable only to open cases in which the limit has not been reached.

This is the second time the Diet has dealt with the issue in recent years. It raised the statute of limitations for murder from 15 to 25 years in 2005. Only crimes committed after the revisions that year were subject to the change.

According to the National Police Agency, there are 28 unsolved murder cases that go back to 1995. The killers would have remained free unless they were caught this year.

A particularly heinous case occurred in July 1995 in Hachioji, Tokyo, when three women were shot dead in a supermarket.

Deliberations on the revisions began in the Upper House Committee on Judicial Affairs on April 1.

Lawmakers moved with unusual alacrity, knowing that with each passing day another killer could escape justice.

There were no serious objections to the revisions from the ruling or opposition parties at the Lower House Committee on Judicial Affairs.

However, one Diet member said, "Even if the statute of limitations is reviewed, the number of suspects arrested by police will not increase simply for that reason. Rather, what is important is to improve the investigations themselves."


Statute of limitations in murder cases axed
Kyodo News

In a rare move, Justice Minister Keiko Chiba enforced a new law Tuesday abolishing the statute of limitations for murder on the same day the bill passed the Diet so an unsolved 1995 murder case wouldn't expire at midnight.

The bill for amending the code of criminal procedure was enacted in a Lower House plenary session in the afternoon.

On April 28, 1995, farmer Haruhiko Sunami, 70, and his wife, Midori, 66, were found decapitated inside their burned-down home in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture. A kitchen knife was found in the farmer's stomach.

Chiba did not initially plan to enforce the bill immediately but began to work toward it as soon as she learned about the Sunami case, according to government sources. The bill passed the Upper House on April 14.

Procedures after a law is enacted usually take about a week, during which it is first brought before the Cabinet and then explained to the Emperor, before finally being published in an official gazette for promulgation.

The latest amendment abolishes the statute of limitations on serious capital crimes and doubles almost all prison terms for crimes other than murder that result in death.

The amendment applies to dozens of unresolved murder cases since 1995.

These include the slaying in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, of Mikio Miyazawa, 44, his wife and their two children, who were killed while sleeping in their home on Dec. 30, 2000. The Metropolitan Police Department is still asking the public for any information about the case.

Recent unresolved murders include the slaying of Miyako Hiraoka, a 19-year-old college student in Shimane Prefecture who went missing in late October.

Hiraoka, a first-year student at Shimane University, was last seen the night of Oct. 26 while she was walking home from her part-time job in Hamada.

Parts of her dismembered body were found early in November on a mountain straddling the border with Hiroshima Prefecture.
The Japan Times: Wednesday, April 28, 2010
(C) All rights reserved


Statute of limitation for murder abolished
(Apr. 28, 2010)

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The Diet on Tuesday passed bills into law abolishing the statute of limitation for murder cases and doubling the limits for other crimes that result in death.

The government promulgated and enacted the legislation later the same day.

The bills to revise the Criminal Procedure Code and the Penal Code were passed at the House of Representatives plenary session with the support of the ruling parties, the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito.

Ahead of the plenary session, the lower house's Judicial Affairs Committee unanimously approved the bills.

The abolishment and extension of the statutes of limitation also will be applied to past cases whose limits had not expired by the time the legislation was enacted.

The statute of limitation in a 1995 case in which a couple in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, was fatally stabbed and their house set alight, which was to expire midnight Wednesday, was abolished.

The government and ruling parties started deliberations on the bills on April 1 at the House of Councillors. They passed the upper house on April 14 and were sent to the lower house.

Under the revised law, the statute of limitation will be abolished for murder, murder-robbery and other crimes for which the maximum penalty is the death sentence. Before the revision, the statute of limitation expired 25 years after the crime.

The statute of limitation for sexual assault resulting in death and rape resulting in death, for which the maximum penalty is life imprisonment, will be extended from 15 years to 30 years.

The duration will be extended from 10 years to 20 years for bodily injury resulting in death and dangerous driving resulting in death, for which the maximum penalty is 20 years in prison.

The abolishment and doubling of statutes of limitation is expected to prolong investigations into unsolved cases. Because of this, investigative authorities will need to preserve evidence for years.

Experts have pointed out that if investigators make errors in handing over evidence to their successors, it could result in innocent people being arrested and facing criminal charges.

Judicial affairs committees of both houses of the Diet therefore adopted supplementary resolutions to the legislation calling for items of evidence to be stored properly.

Isao Okamura, a lawyer representing the National Association of Crime Victims and Surviving Families, was delighted by Tuesday's developments.

"I welcome [the revision] from the bottom of my heart," he said in a statement.

But Yukio Yamashita, acting head of the Committee on Criminal Law Legislation of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, believes the revision is not without flaws.

"It's inappropriate to revise the entire legal system so hastily for a case whose statute of limitation will expire soon," he said.

The federation finds it particularly problematic that the revision can be applied retroactively to past cases.

"[The Diet] should have summoned constitutional experts and listened to their opinions," Yamashita said.


Capital crimes soon to lose statute
Diet to heed demands of the victimized, ensure culprits can't evade justice over time
Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Staff writer

The Democratic Party of Japan-led government recently approved a bill to abolish the statute of limitations on crimes that could be punishable by hanging in a move experts say signals a major shift in the justice system.

Victimized: Members of Sora no Kai, a group calling for abolishing the statute of limitations on murder, hold a gathering in Tokyo in February. KYODO PHOTO

The bill, which would amend the Criminal Procedure Law and the Penal Code, also would lift the maximum statute of limitations to 30 years for crimes punishable by life imprisonment, to 20 years for crimes punishable by 20 years of imprisonment, and to 10 years for crimes punishable by lesser prison terms.

The bill is based on proposals submitted to the justice minister in February by the ministry's Legislative Council. They discussed the revision based on the findings of the study group that worked under the previous Liberal Democratic Party-led government.

Observers said the bill, to be submitted to the current Diet session, will be passed by the end of June because the LDP, now the largest opposition force, is unlikely to vote against it.

Following are basic questions and answers about the statute of limitation and what led to the planned revisions:

What is the statute of limitations and why is it in place?

The statute demarcates the period in which specific legal action, namely prosecution, can be pursued.

According to the Justice Ministry, the general assumption is the statute exists because with the passage of time, evidence in crimes is lost, making it more difficult to file charges and lessening the chances for a fair trial.

The social demand that a culprit be brought to justice over a crime also wanes with the passage of time, the ministry said.

In 2007, the statute of limitations expired for 58 murders, 20 arsons, 146 robberies and 78 rapes, according to ministry statistics.

When was the statute of limitations established?

The system dates to the 1880 Criminal Procedure Law, based on recommendations by Gustave Emile Boissonade de Fontarabie, a French jurist who was invited by the Imperial government to assist Japan in compiling various codes.

At the time, perpetrators of heinous crimes, including murder, robbery and rape, would not face prosecution if they evaded justice for 10 years. The statute underwent minor revisions up until the end of World War II.

Then came the Criminal Procedure Law of 1948, which set a 15-year statute of limitations for crimes subject to the gallows, a 10-year statute for crimes subject to life imprisonment and a seven-year statute for crimes that could warrant a prison term exceeding 10 years.

These statutes remained until 2004, when they were extended amid demands for harsher punishment for heinous crimes.

Under the revised code, the statute for crimes punishable by death was extended to 25 years, that for crimes subject to life imprisonment was increased to 15 years, and crimes warranting sentences of 15 years or more were boosted from seven to 10 years.

Are there exclusions to the prescribed statutes?

Yes. By law the statute is suspended if a suspect flees abroad.

It can also be put on hold for an alleged offender until the trial of an accused accomplice is completed.

Why are the statutes again under review, and the one for capital crimes being abolished?

People victimized by crimes have been demanding an end to the statute and have complained that they have been left out of the justice system. This pushed LDP-led administrations to begin considering heeding their demands.

Sora no Kai, a nationwide group of murder victims' families, has been demanding that the statute for murder be abolished and, if not, at least suspended while investigations into slayings continue. In some of the slayings of their loved ones, no arrests have been made.

"We have felt a contradiction between the fact that the law allows a culprit to lead a life without punishment, despite claiming the precious life of another," they said in a statement to the ministry's Legislative Council. "Don't laws exist to protect the rights of people to pursue a happy life? Does the law protect the rights of a person who took someone's life?"

The group also wants a system established that allows the next of kin of murder victims to sue the government for compensation for failing to protect the life and property of its citizens.

Compared with the 2004 revision, the current bill would not only abolish the statute on capital crimes but would cover crimes that took place before the expected changes, as long as the statute hasn't expired.

The revisions would not be applied to closed cases.

Also, one reason for abolishing the statute on heinous crimes is that forensic science, particularly DNA analysis, has advanced to the point where it is possible to solve some cold cases.

Are there concerns about abolishing the statute for capital offenses or suspending it amid ongoing investigations?

Attorneys have claimed that ending the statute would make it difficult for them to defend clients because, for example, the memories of witnesses may have faded and evidence may be lost due to the passing of time.

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations said a better option would be to hone the investigative skills of law enforcement so cases can be resolved more promptly.

The federation also wants the government to provide greater support to people victimized by crime, including compensation and providing more information related to investigations.

The lawyers said it is too soon to change the statutes, because the effects from the revisions five years ago have yet to be assessed.

Experts also say law enforcement personnel, finances and other resources are limited, making it hard to justify open-ended investigations in the event there are no time limits.

The group Higaisha to Shihou wo Kangaerukai, made up of families of crime victims, said not all relatives share the same view, and some want to move on with their lives if investigations drag on for years without resolution. Some would be satisfied if authorities reported to them about the progress of their probes.

How about the statute system in other countries?

In the United States, for example, statutes may vary from state to state, but when it comes to murder, there is no statute, as well as in cases of federal capital offenses punishable by death, certain sex offenses and terrorism.

For many other federal-level crimes, prosecution must generally begin within five years from their commission. Exceptions to this include 10 years in cases of arson and 20 years for thefts of artworks.

As part of the European Union, where there is no death penalty, Germany, for example, has a 30-year statute on crimes punishable by life in prison, a 20-year statute for offenses warranting sentences of at least 10 years and a 10-year statute for crimes that merit at least a five-year stretch.


Upper house approves abolishing statute of limitations for murder

14th April 2010,


The House of Councillors on Wednesday approved legislation that will remove the statute of limitations for murder and double its duration for rape, injuries and negligent driving resulting in death.

Concern was expressed by some lawmakers that elimination or extension of the time limit could generate false charges as suspects or witnesses may have to testify based on fading memories while it may become difficult for investigators to gather solid evidence if too much time has passed.

Justice Minister Keiko Chiba said all-out efforts will be made to ensure proper handling of material evidence and that false accusations can be avoided if the focus is placed on objective evidence rather than on confessions.

The revisions to the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Penal Code received endorsements from lawmakers of the ruling coalition as well as the opposition Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito party.

The changes are expected to be approved by the House of Representatives, or the lower house, possibly by the end of this month for enforcement sometime after early May.

The revision would scrap the 25-year statute on murder and murder-robbery cases that are punishable by death while doubling the limitation period for other serious crimes punishable by life imprisonment, such as rape resulting in death, to 30 years.

The duration would be doubled to 20 years for causing injuries resulting in death, subject to a maximum definite prison term of 20 years. Other crimes punishable by a shorter definite prison term such as negligent driving resulting in death would see the period lengthened twofold to 10 years.

The revised laws would apply to criminal cases under investigation if the statute has not run out at the time they take effect.

The periods of limitation were drastically extended in a 2005 revision to the Code of Criminal Procedure. But crime victims and their families have been seeking abolition of the statute of limitations for heinous crimes.

The revisions are in line with the findings of a study group launched under the previous government of the Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito.

In a policy plan worked out before the 2009 lower house election, the Democratic Party of Japan envisaged abolishing the statute of limitations on a case-by-case basis.


Police apologize to man for arresting him despite expired statute of limitations

Thursday 20th May 2010,

A man in his 30s was released Wednesday after more than 24 hours of detention since being wrongly arrested over a crime whose statute of limitations ran out about a year ago, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department said.

The man was arrested at his home in Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi Prefecture, at 10 a.m. Tuesday for an alleged act of organized blackmail and was sent to the Tachikawa branch of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office on Wednesday morning, according to police. But as a prosecutor at the branch found that the crime has already been past the three-year statute of limitations, he was released, with an apology from the police department, at 12:40 p.m.


Relatives of murder victims launch group to abolish statute of limitations

Relatives of unresolved murder case victims launched a group Saturday to seek the abolition of the statute of limitations for homicides, stressing that they cannot accept that perpetrators are able to run away from punishment no matter how much time passes. Among the 20 regular members of the group is the father of British woman Lindsay Hawker who was killed in Japan in 2007. The group’s chairman is Yoshiyuki Miyazawa, 80, whose son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren were killed in 2000.

‘‘As the group makes its first step, I am expecting a lot… These activities are not only for ourselves, but for the future—so that this kind of situation will not continue,’’ Miyazawa told a press conference in Tokyo after the group held its first meeting earlier in the day.

In an effort to pressure the state, the group hopes to submit petitions to the Justice Ministry and collect signatures from people who support its idea. It also plans to cooperate with other crime victim organizations, a member said.

The group named itself ‘‘Sora no Kai’’ (A group of eternal time), in consideration of victims and their bereaved family members who are under continuing sorrow.

The limitations period for capital crimes such as murder was extended to 25 years from 15 years in 2005 under the revised Code of Criminal Procedure, but the group is questioning the existence of such a system itself.

The Justice Ministry has also started considering since January extending or possibly abolishing the limitations for serious crimes amid growing calls for a review of the system.

The bereaved families’ group has been promoted by five members, including Miyazawa, Kenji Kobayashi, 62, who has less than three years left until the 15-year limitation expires on the 1996 case of his daughter’s murder, and those who lost loved ones in cases for which the statute of limitations has already expired.

Sumiko Namai, one of the promoters, noted the agony she experienced when the statute of limitations ran out in the case of her daughter’s murder in 1990.

‘‘At that moment, I felt that I could not do anything more and I was so mortified. I told my daughter that I was sorry, sorry that I was not able to catch the murderer,’’ the 72-year-old mother said.

‘‘Thinking that the perpetrator has become free and is walking around… I cannot tolerate it as a bereaved family member...My feelings toward the murderer have not changed,’’ she said.

Hawker, 55, was absent from Saturday’s group meeting but sent a message in which he also questioned the limitations system, according to the group.

‘‘I would like to pledge the support of myself and my family for your organization, and confirm that we all oppose the 25-year statute law,’’ Hawker was quoted as saying in the message.

Noting that Tatsuya Ichihashi, who is the suspect in the case, is only 30 years old, Hawker also said that Ichihashi ‘‘should remain a wanted man for the rest of his life.’’

Yoji Funaki, 45, whose elder brother was killed in Philadelphia in 1992 but has no limitations on the case, said that abolishing the limitations gives the bereaved families ‘‘hope’’ that the case may be solved some day, even though the possibility may be low.

Limitations periods, an idea Japan adopted from France in its law which became effective in 1882, are commonly believed to have been introduced because evidence can be scattered or lost over time, making it difficult to prove who committed a crime. Another reason is that demands for harsh penalties can wane with the passage of time.

But proving crimes in court, even after many years have elapsed, has become less of a challenge recently due to advances in criminal investigations technology, such as DNA analysis, which have made it possible to preserve evidence over a long period of time.

In 2007, the statute of limitations ran out in a total of 58 murder cases, according to the Justice Ministry’s latest available annual data.

Britain and many U.S. states have no limitations period for murder, according to the Japanese Justice Ministry.


Families call for ending statute of limitations for unsolved murders

Families of victims called on Saturday for the criminal procedure law to be revised to end the statute of limitations for unsolved murders. ‘‘Eight years will have passed on Dec 30th since the incident occurred, which means it will be past the halfway point in the statute of limitations,’’ Yoshiyuki Miyazawa, 80, told a press conference, referring to the murder of his son Mikio, 44, his son’s wife and their two children, who were killed in Tokyo in 2000.

‘‘We expect the murderer to be brought to justice,’’ Miyazawa told reporters with his wife Setsuko, 77. Kenji Kobayashi, 62, whose daughter Junko, a 21-year-old student at Sophia University, was killed in Tokyo in 1996, also attended the press conference.

Mentioning that the statute of limitations for the murder of his daughter will elapse in less than three years, Kobayashi said, ‘‘I’m seriously alarmed as the countdown to the time limit is getting under way.’’

The two families said they will form a group of families of victims of unsolved murders to call for the abolition of the statute of limitations.

Miki Toshio Case