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Japan: Stricter Sentences for Sex Offenders

(Mar. 29, 2010) Japanese lawyers and scholars have stated that sentences for rapists have been overly lenient in Japan. (“Saiban-in saiban” sei hanzai kouhan, hōritsuka yori genkaku, ryōkei sōba ni isseki [“Lay-Judge Trials” for Sex Crime Trials, (Sentences Are) Stricter Than (Those Sought by) Legal Professionals – The Effect on Sentencing], SANKEI SHINBUN, Sept. 5, 2009, available at After the introduction of a lay-judge system in the summer of 2009, sentences for rapists have been getting stricter. Judges and lay judges involved with recent rape cases have commented on the issue.

For example, in a recent case, the defendant broke into a house to steal valuables and attempted to rape a 17-year-old girl; the court sentenced him to seven years of imprisonment. The chief judge, Munehisa Sugita, explained the sentence by stating that, based on the fact that the defendant did not use a weapon and he did not have any previous sex crime convictions, he would have received less than the minimum sentence (seven years) prescribed in the Criminal Code for such acts of attempted robbery and rape, if the court followed past sentencing practices. Sugita recognized, however, that sentences for sex offenders had been too lenient in the past and decided that a punishment of seven years of imprisonment is appropriate in this case. A female lay judge stated at the press conference after the judgment was handed down that the stricter sentence could be rendered because lay judges participated (and reflected public views about the sentence). (“Sei hanzai no ryōkei karusugi” gōtō gōkan misui ni chōeki 7 nen [“Sentences for Sex Crimes Too Lenient” 7 Years' Imprisonment for Attempted Robbery and Rape], YOMIURI SHINBUN, Mar. 5, 2010 (on file with author).)