殺人時効廃止 犯罪被害者の声を尊重した

The Yomiuri Shimbun(Jul. 20, 2009)
Plan to ax statute limits shows respect for victims
殺人時効廃止 犯罪被害者の声を尊重した(7月20日付・読売社説)

The statute of limitations for murder, which is set at 25 years from the time the crime is committed, should be abolished--the Justice Ministry proposed this change apparently because it gave great weight to views expressed by crime victims.

It also is true, however, that abolishing the statute of limitations is associated with a number of problems. The ministry is to let the legislative council examine the matter. But it is important that thorough discussions be held as the issue affects the very foundation of the nation's criminal justice system.

In an interim report compiled in April, the ministry offered four options on the statute of limitations on murder and other types of offenses for which the death sentence could be handed down. The four options included one to abolish the limitations and another to extend their duration.
In a final report recently compiled, the ministry concluded that it would be appropriate to abolish the statute of limitations for those serious crimes.

Regarding other types of crimes, the ministry also proposed that the limitation periods be extended. Whether to apply such envisaged revision to ongoing cases would be considered through further discussions, the ministry said.

The ministry stated that the statute of limitations should be abolished because, in the case of murder, emotional demand for harsh penalties would never be lessened--not only among victims' bereaved family members but in society as a whole. It added that the public wants to maintain the social order by punishing offenders.


Justice sought

Surely, there is a growing public sentiment demanding harsh punishment for perpetrators in the wake of a series of atrocious crimes in which offenders reportedly said that their targets could have been anyone. Some are of the opinion that the statute of limitations has allowed perpetrators to escape punishment.

Toshikazu Sugaya was sentenced to life in prison for the 1990 murder of a 4-year-old girl in Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture, but released last month pending a retrial after fresh DNA tests cast doubt on his conviction. But even after he is exonerated, if the real perpetrator were found the case could no longer be pursued because the statute of limitations--15 years for murder at the time the incident occurred--has passed. This kind of situation would not occur if the statute of limitations were abolished.

On the other hand, it is more difficult for investigative authorities to obtain material evidence and eyewitness accounts as time passes.


More care needed

To prevent the abolishment of the statute of limitations from causing false accusations, even more caution would be required in investigations.

It is said that convincing evidence could be obtained even after a long period of time thanks to the improved reliability of DNA testing. But investigators must not be permitted to rely too heavily on single pieces of evidence. This is the lesson to be learned from the Ashikaga incident.

When the statute of limitations is scrapped, police are meant to continue investigations on certain cases on an indefinite basis. If this causes the number of investigators engaged in more recent cases to decrease, it would adversely affect public safety.

It is essential to closely study the systems of other nations such as Britain and the United States that have no statute of limitations for murder and France and Germany that allow suspension and interruption of the limitation periods.

In the interim report, the Justice Ministry proposed one option to establish a new system to allow prosecutors to request courts to suspend or extend the period of limitations only when strong evidence were found. We suggest that the legislative council study the merits and demerits of such a system as well.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 20, 2009)
(2009年7月20日01時43分 読売新聞)

by kiyoshimat | 2009-07-20 08:13 | 英字新聞

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