Washington International Law Journal


The Lay Assessor Act of 2004 mandated the creation of a mixed lay judge system, called the saibanin seido. Under this new system, jurors, or lay judges, sit with professional judges to decide the fate of criminal defendants. The Lay Assessor Act requires lay judges to decide both the verdict and sentencing of defendants in the same sitting. The verdict and sentence require support from a majority of the jurors and must include one professional judge on the panel. For certain crimes in Japan, the death penalty is one possible sentence. Under the saibanin seido system, for the first time ever in Japan, lay judges determine whether to hand down a death sentence. Examining psychological research on jury deliberations in the United States, as well as the norms of international law, this comment suggests that Japan adopt a unanimous requirement for a death sentence. Implementing unanimity for capital punishments would allow Japan to adhere to its Constitution and comply with international law standards. The unanimity requirement would foster essential deliberations that do not occur otherwise and isnecessary to increase citizen confidence, understanding, and involvement in the criminal justice system. Further, increased deliberation will override emotional influences from trial, such as victim impact statements.

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