The Miura Case and Double Jeopardy: A Double Standard?


Sacrosanct to the rights and liberties established in the US Constitution is the freedom from double jeopardy. Once found not guilty, the accused cannot be retried for the same crime. Even back in 1787, the framers of the constitution understood the drastic imbalance between those accused of a crime and the power of the state. Then, as now, the chance of an innocent person going to prison  far exceeded the possibility of a guilty criminal going free.

 

The Bill of Rights attached to our constitution was an attempt to level the very unbalanced playing field of the criminal courts. Double Jeopardy has stood the test of time and remains a shield of protection. Many countries of the world have written this security umbrella into their own constitution. Notable among the list: Japan.

 

On February 22 of this year, U.S authorities announced the arrest of Japanese businessman Kazuyoshi Miura on the island of the Saipan, a famous vacation spot for Japanese tourists in the Northern Mariana Islands, an American territory. Miura is being sought by the Los Angeles Police Department in regard to the murder of his wife Kazumi who was shot there during a burglary in 1981. Arrested in Tokyo in 1985, he was tried in Japan for assault and murder.

 

The Japanese courts are extremely severe on criminal suspects: the guilty rate hovers at 99.8%. Though he denied the charges, Miura was found guilty of assault. Yet despite the great odds, and in consideration of all the visits to Japan by the police in L.A., and the evidence they presented, the Tokyo High Court declared Miura not guilty of murder. After 15 years of incarceration, he was freed from prison in 2001.

 

Why do the authorities want to retry Miura? The US has relied on Japan to finance its national debt for so many years, can it not trust the country’s rigid judicial system? Though the US takes pride in being the world’s foremost cradle of liberty, it frequently looks down on other societies, particularly Asian. And even though the USA may be losing out to overseas neighbors in terms of trade, it will not stand second place in the arena of law enforcement.

 

Still there is one more reason which is blatantly obvious to the ranks of the criminal defense bar. The standard mentality of the typical district attorney is "win at all costs". Like the Super Bowl, the criminal courts are a contest with a clear winner and a loser. Losing is a great humiliation.

 

In order to solidify their position, the D.A.’s  office has chosen rather specious tactics.   They insist that conspiracy is not prosecuted in Japan. This is nonsense. Nobody thinks that Miura pulled the trigger. He was charged and found not guilty of potting to kill his wife.

 

In 2004, the State of California passed a law nullifying double jeopardy for crimes occurring outside the United States. Indeed, wealthy criminals should not be allowed to buy their way out of justice in poor and corrupt societies. But Miura was ultimately found innocent for the 1981 crime under very strict Japanese justice in 2003, even before the law was passed. Going to trial now–in other words, pursuing a retroactive prosecution–violates the precedents established by the US Supreme Court. It enacts a clear double standard.

 

Japanese national Kazuyoshi Miura, despite great odds, has been found not guilty of the murder of his former wife. Charging and re-prosecuting the case disparages the integrity and the seriousness of the Japanese courts. It also denigrates the sanctity of the US Constitution, whose protections and freedoms have  outlasted the wear and tear of time, and have been a model to other nations, including Japan. The freedom from being put in "double jeopardy of life and limb" , is one of our oldest and sacred rights. It must be preserved.

 

 

Michael H. Fox is associate professor at Hyogo University, and director of the Japan Institute for the Study of Wrongful Arrests and Convictions (www.jiswac.org)

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