253: Phoenix Wright's Objection!

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Phoenix Wright's Objection!

The courtrooms and investigations portrayed in the Phoenix Wright series may seem cartoonish or over-the-top, but, as Fintan Monaghan shows us, they accurately criticize the faults of the Japanese legal system and the series may actually bring about legal reform.

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I always believed the Show was some comedical relief "I bequeeth a boot to your head".

It's unfortunate to hear this actually reflects the Japanese legal system, a country which many Western people love and adore, due their anime/manga or whatever fetish they might phantom. I hope this will be rectified, spending a lifetime in jail, only to hear you have been framed and released after 35 years means you lag behind life certainly. Wasted.

My prayers goes to those who were victim of an abused court system.

Jesus Christ! That was horrifying! I mean the article was excellent and horrifingly illuminating but the points and issued raised are deeply disturbing. I can't believe confessions are the "king of evidence" I mean bloody hell you deprive a person of something long enough and they'll tell you they were Jack the Ripper, whether it is the truth or not.

Shit...their legal system actually resembles THAT?

A very timely article, as I was just playing Miles Edgeworth this morning. And...*ahem*...my title under my username.

As a long time fan of the series, I am shocked as hell to learn this. And now...that explains all the stuff from Apollo Justice. I was wondering why the series took a turn for the extremely serious for the last parts of that game.

Wow. I hope I don't get arrested if I ever go to Japan. I didn't realize just how close of a parody the games are. 150% rise in crime despite a 99% conviction rate? Its taken them this long to realize there's something wrong with that?

Good to see some video games working positively to affect society, but I can't help but feel that when it comes to such an important topic, they shouldn't have to in the first place.

I've played most of the Ace Attorney games-- if I recall correctly, at least two of them involved interrogating the spirits of deceased persons through psychic mediums. Courtrooms in Japan must be intense.

I'm actually having trouble believing what I just read...
The odds of being convicted are 99 to 1 ? Just how fair is that ?
I suspect quite a few of those convicted were actually guilty, but that much is just... too much

I knew Japan was screwed up, but not to this extent.

No wonder when polled, it turned out that Japan has the least amount of pride or confidence in their own country of all others that took part in the poll. (for lack of better link, I'm linking to this: http://www.japanator.com/not-so-glorious-nippon-japan-the-world-s-least-proud-nation-11696.phtml)

Now I'm also beginning to see why there are so many warnings given to foreigners about the police if they go to Japan. It's not just that they're unfair to foreigners as if often stated, but more that legal system is just completely messed up.

Phoenix Wright might have just been a higher quality series than I already thought it was. Whoever came with the idea sure has balls to address this problem. Heck, a high profile company like Capcom has balls for releasing this to the public and even worse, outside of Japan.

Onyx Oblivion:
A very timely article, as I was just playing Miles Edgeworth this morning. And...*ahem*...my title.

Yeah, same here. I was playing Trials and Tribulations myself last night.

If you are charged with a crime in Japan and brought to trial, statistics show that there is a 99 percent chance that you will be convicted. This alarming statistic reveals the highly dysfunctional legal system from which the Ace Attorney series clearly takes its inspiration; a system where even a victim of false allegations finds it impossible to escape conviction.

Wait a minute, before we start misleading people with the statistics. The high percentage could simply refer to the fact that police do not trial individuals unless they are sure they have compiled enough evidence to guarantee a conviction. Whilst other countries do not have a percentage as high, the police in most countries will try to avoid expensive trials as much as possible unless tehy have everything they need to prove the defendant is guilty beyond reasonable doubt. If at the end of a trial, someone is found innocent, it means the police investigation and criminal process has been a waste of money (they were chasing the wrong guys and they could have spent that money persuing real criminals).

The percentage is pretty high. I don't know how it compares to most other countries, but that could simply say that the Japanese police are even more cautious than other nations. I think Phoenix Wright is about as indicative of the flaws of the Japanese judicial system as Harvey Birdman: Atorney at Law or Perry Mason is of the American system. All these shows have the same damn court drama tropes anyway.

I hate statistics. It is so easy to create a wrong impression with them, simply if a reader has not thought to study the context in advance. I did a bit of reading of my own, and found that whilst the conviction rate in Japan is indeed 99% (compared to America's 60-80% and the UKs 72-6%), 70% of criminal cases took up by the police in Japan are not brought to the prosecutor in the first place (for various reasons such as lack of evidence, lack of witnesses, likelyhood of an accident etc.).

I am planning to look into this deeper, as comparing crime statistics between countries is especially difficult (certain things that count as misdemeanor in one country counts as a serious crime in another, which complicates matters).

maninahat:
Wait a minute, before we start misleading people with the statistics. The high percentage could simply refer to the fact that police do not trial individuals unless they are sure they have compiled enough evidence to guarantee a conviction. Whilst other countries do not have a percentage as high, the police in most countries will try to avoid expensive trials as much as possible. If at the end of a trial, someone is found innocent, it means the police investigation and criminal process has been a waste of money (they were chasing the wrong guys and they could have spent that money persuing real criminals).

True, which is why that statistic is only a part of the issue. The main issue is that it's too easy to skew the case in favor of the prosecutor. In other jurisdictions, the stated principle to err in favor of the defendant dissuades prosecutors from proceeding with flimsy evidence.

This is perfect timing, i just bought 2 of the games yesterday.

Good artical all the same.

Once again i learn something about Japan that seems to me to be just wrong.

While i wouldn't count it to be one of the worst countries, i am very convinced that, thanks to the strange influence of tradition, Japan is a weird and mostly, very very scary place to live.

...And thanks to this article i suddenly realized just how badly the police gets portrayed in japanese Manga, Anime and even some movies. Things like Death Note, Dragonball, Ju-On, Ghost in the Shell and others came to mind.

Typical how the author suggests that the best way to fix it is a jury system, which is probably the single worst idea in American court proceedings.

I read this very insightful essay on the subject called "Why is the Japanese Rate of Conviction So High?[/i].
http://129.3.20.41/eps/le/papers/9907/9907001.pdf

It concludes:
* Japanese prosecutors have limited resources and only pick the cases that are assured success
* Judges look down on prosecutors who have not prepared their cases well
* The overall incarceration level in Japan is low.

The article suggests that Japan's issues with crime (like the prosecutors refusal to take cases wherein the defendant's guilt is dubious) mostly stems from a lack of budget and staff. It does not suggest that the Japanese system is corrupted or biased to the point where a trial verdicts cannot be trusted (quite the opposite in fact).

There is no denying that pushing for a jury system may improve the system however. This should take a little weight off both the understaffed prosecutors and the hard pressed lawyers for the defence.

Fascinating. I had no idea...

maninahat:
I read this very insightful essay on the subject called "Why is the Japanese Rate of Conviction So High?[/i].
http://129.3.20.41/eps/le/papers/9907/9907001.pdf

It concludes:
* Japanese prosecutors have limited resources and only pick the cases that are assured success
* Judges look down on prosecutors who have not prepared their cases well
* The overall incarceration level in Japan is low.

The article suggests that Japan's issues with crime (like the prosecutors refusal to take cases wherein the defendant's guilt is dubious) mostly stems from a lack of budget and staff. It does not suggest that the Japanese system is corrupted or biased to the point where a trial verdicts cannot be trusted (quite the opposite in fact).

There is no denying that pushing for a jury system may improve the system however. This should take a little weight off both the understaffed prosecutors and the hard pressed lawyers for the defence.

And this just makes it doubly fascinating!

This whole system is deeply flawed, either way you look at it

Incredible, I never thought of Phoenix Wright that way. I didn't realize it was actually making non to subtle references to the Japanese court system. Well, you learn something new everyday. I know our system isn't the greatest but the bulk of the power belongs to the jury, not the prosecuter.

To think that my constant ranting about having proved reasonable doubt an hour ago in said games have a real world parallel is kind of disturbing...

I always assumed that Phoenix Wright was just over simplifying things so we could have "good vs. evil" in the court room.

That was a really interesting read. I've long been curious as to what had shaped the legal system within the Ace Attorney games. It's interesting, and not a little bit scary, to find some of the most outrageous seeming aspects of the series have their roots in actual situations in the Japanese legal system.

That was actually really, really intresting. I never imagined it could have been so closly linked (I knew about the high prosecution level...but, all the links, wow)

Goes to show really how PW could be so loved in Japan. Its almost trying to prove that, despite how bad the system, there is some hope

Interesting. I never considered a game as cartoonishly overblown as Phoenix Wright to have any real basis in the world whatsoever. In fact, I'm really surprised to hear, in particular, about the prosecutors overseeing investigations in some cases, since that tends to be a widely sneered at gimmick. (Particularly in courtroom fictional dramas)

The statistics are kind of alarming, though. It made me remember a documentary I saw once about this kind of thing that didn't really register at the time. It basically said that if you're accused of a crime in Japan and it goes to trial, you might as well consider yourself guilty and focus instead on trying to get the lightest punishment you can rather than proving your innocence. It's a little disheartening.

Of course, I come from Canada, where we'll believe you're innocent as long as we can't see your fingers crossed behind your back, so I admit to being fairly idealistic. "Yeah, he had the knife 'n all, but he said he didn't do it, and it's not like he'd lie, eh?"

Well...that's just great, now i want Phoenix Wright, And I don't even have a DS.

None the less it was an Interesting read and I don't think I will be underestimating the metaphorical power of a Japanese game again any time soon. I still can't believe that a country could have such an unbalanced legal system. Good thing I live in the US where, even if they get the wright guy, you can still get off with a slap on the wrist.

Whilst I would like to say that Japan's legal system is messed up and other righteous "the world should know better" stuff, I won't.

The world isn't perfect, but people are trying to fix the problems, I just hope they fix them before a lot more people get hurt.

This is why I was so shocked while watching Death Note. I was thinking, "Wait, do Japanese people still really believe that anyone charged with a crime is guilty? It's usually just some poor convenient schmoe who was beaten into a confession."

Confessions aren't even useful for capturing real criminals. The Yakuza know that the police are crap at getting real evidence and conducting a rigorous investigation and rely almsot entirely on confessions. As long as they can suck it in for a couple of weeks (I think it used - or even still - is the case that the police in Japan can hold you for what, 14 days without seeing a lawyer?), they're likely to walk and not to even be charged.

Frybird:
Once again i learn something about Japan that seems to me to be just wrong.

While i wouldn't count it to be one of the worst countries, i am very convinced that, thanks to the strange influence of tradition, Japan is a weird and mostly, very very scary place to live.

...And thanks to this article i suddenly realized just how badly the police gets portrayed in japanese Manga, Anime and even some movies. Things like Death Note, Dragonball, Ju-On, Ghost in the Shell and others came to mind.

Japan is not a scary place to live in at all. Just don't do anything obviously stupid, and you'll be fine. Trust me, I live there now, and the police have simply been more of an annoyance than anything, and they've only ever talked to me twice. They like to check to see if foreigners are carrying their ID, and that's all they've ever bothered me about, and they've only done that twice to me.

Jury trials are still not going to be very common. Only the most serious of criminal cases will have them, essentially Phoenix Wright-caliber cases, unlike all criminal cases in most Western nations.

Shalkis:

maninahat:
Wait a minute, before we start misleading people with the statistics. The high percentage could simply refer to the fact that police do not trial individuals unless they are sure they have compiled enough evidence to guarantee a conviction. Whilst other countries do not have a percentage as high, the police in most countries will try to avoid expensive trials as much as possible. If at the end of a trial, someone is found innocent, it means the police investigation and criminal process has been a waste of money (they were chasing the wrong guys and they could have spent that money persuing real criminals).

True, which is why that statistic is only a part of the issue. The main issue is that it's too easy to skew the case in favor of the prosecutor. In other jurisdictions, the stated principle to err in favor of the defendant dissuades prosecutors from proceeding with flimsy evidence.

maninahat:
I read this very insightful essay on the subject called "Why is the Japanese Rate of Conviction So High?[/i].
http://129.3.20.41/eps/le/papers/9907/9907001.pdf

It concludes:
* Japanese prosecutors have limited resources and only pick the cases that are assured success
* Judges look down on prosecutors who have not prepared their cases well
* The overall incarceration level in Japan is low.

The article suggests that Japan's issues with crime (like the prosecutors refusal to take cases wherein the defendant's guilt is dubious) mostly stems from a lack of budget and staff. It does not suggest that the Japanese system is corrupted or biased to the point where a trial verdicts cannot be trusted (quite the opposite in fact).

There is no denying that pushing for a jury system may improve the system however. This should take a little weight off both the understaffed prosecutors and the hard pressed lawyers for the defence.

The part about prosecutors not pursuing cases unless a conviction is almost guaranteed is indeed true... and a part of why they use so many tactics that the West would consider shaky. Though the 99% conviction rate still comes across to me as a system favoring the prosecution over the defense. No prosecutor is perfect, not even Edgeworth or von Karma. One piece of pressure put on prosecutors in Japan that is not mentioned above is another staple of the Phoenix Wright games: the 2-day investigation. While this was speeded up in the game to a 2-day trial, in reality, police have to offer their case to a prosecutor within 2 days of the start of investigation, and then the prosecutor must decide whether to proceed within another 10 days while the suspect is held. So a prosecutor has 12 days to decide whether to press forward with a trial that may take months or even years to be resolved and could make or break his/her career. No pressure there, eh? One can understand, then, how in those situations guaranteed convictions have a bigger importance to a prosecutor than in the West. That kind of pressure could drive them to be less scrupulous than your average Western prosecutor, too.

As someone who lives in Japan I can definitely agree that the general idea here is people caught by the police are "guilty until proven innocent". Recent events (IE people being found innocent years later due to DNA evidence) are changing that a bit, but you still wouldn't want to be falsely accused of a crime here in Japan.

maninahat:
It does not suggest that the Japanese system is corrupted or biased to the point where a trial verdicts cannot be trusted (quite the opposite in fact).

Well, if confessions are still regarded as "golden evidence" (IE enough to bring a case to court) then I'd argue that the verdicts can't really be trusted.

maninahat:
There is no denying that pushing for a jury system may improve the system however. This should take a little weight off both the understaffed prosecutors and the hard pressed lawyers for the defence.

Sadly I don't think a jury system will help too much unless people are taught that A) the defendant is innocent until proven guilty, and B) it's okay to disagree with other people in the jury. The government is doing a lot to help educate people about the new system though, so hopefully it will result in a lower conviction rate. I wonder if there are any new conviction statistics out yet now that the jury system has been in place for almost a year.

Very interesting article. I didn't realize Phoenix Wright was so heavily laden with subtle judicial commentary.

I love phoenix wright although ace atourny is old news, in fact phoenix wright himself is old news, he now is a supporting character, a dad who plays piano in a russian bar as a job, yes the piano thing is old news too but i like to live in the past and look at now as the future.

boholikeu:

Well, if confessions are still regarded as "golden evidence" (IE enough to bring a case to court) then I'd argue that the verdicts can't really be trusted.

Whilst nearly every trial relies on a confession in Japan, the country has a categorical rule that they cannot convict a man on confession alone (as is the case around the World). The status quo in Japanese law, as I understand it, is that a trail serves not to establish whether someone is innocent, but to establish how they are gong to be sentenced. If there is a likelyhood that the person is innocent, they don't bother with the trial in the first place.

The confession serves more like a plea bargain. One which would be advisable to take if you hear you are going to court. The trial is a forgon conclusion anyway, so you might as well save them some time and money. It's covered in that there article I posted.

Wow. This article totally makes the game more interesting. I mean I thought it was a silly court game but real world parallells give it so much more depth.

A very informative article, thanks Fintan. I wasn't aware of how crude the Japanese legal system was. I haven't played this game, but it seems kind of different from what we usually see, and it's an interesting concept. However, I feel like I'm not seeing the whole side of this story, and through reading the comments, I see this is true. Still a good article though.

suddenly Phoenix Wright makes so much more sense to me

Interesting, though not terribly surprising. I have never played "Ace Attorney" but this does make some other things I had been wondering about (from books, Anime, etc...) a bit more clear.

That said, there is never going to be such a thing as a "perfect" legal system. Heck, even if we did create a system that was perfect through some kind of psychic precognition or whatever, that in of itself would freak people out. While the point of movies like "Minority Report" was that the system had flawed, even if it worked perfectly it would still scare the bejeezus out of people if something like that could ever be implemented... not to mention other science fiction tropes like "thought police", "psychic detectives", and "brain scans".

Going back to the old days when Dinosaurs walked the earth, and I took Criminal Justice, I basically agree with the maxim that there are basically two types of functional legal systems. There is the kind of system that would rather see a guilty person go free than an innocent go to jail, and the kind of system that would rather see an innocent go to jail than a guilty person go free. There are arguements in favor of both attitudes actually.

Even in the US which is a system where we'd rather see the guilty go free than punish an innocent, we can't even come to an accepted consensus on what is fair. Ask a simple question like "should the law apply equally to everyone?" and people will say "yes" but then inevitably (as I've had demonstrated in class) pretty much everyone will come up with exceptions based on a "free hand" needed for certain jobs, or how rapists and child molesters should be continuously singled out and "punished" through omission even after their sentence, and whatever else.

I think the biggest problem with Japan's system as I was reading it probably isn't the lack of a Jury, but apparently that these Prosecutors don't seem to be in any way accountable to the people themselves. A DA/Prosecutor/State Attorney General gets too 'iffy' or out of control and they can wind up out of a job very quickly. That seems to work fairly well, though admittedly like everything it has a down side: and in the US it's that the pressure to hold office/keep getting re-elected leads to them doing what is popular as opposed to right. To some extent allowing for "mob justice" based on the whims of the people. I look towards the Rodney King thing as an example, whatever you believe about what happened the bottom line is that the officers in question were found innocent, due to a riot they were for all intents and purposes re-tried and found guilty... something that isn't supposed to happen. For that reason alone I consider that one of the greatest failures of the US justice system. While I think we get it right for the most part, I suppose Japan's system makes things like this less likely.

I did not know anything about the Japanese legal system. Very interesting.

Good Article.

Good article, but there's one minor nitpick I have.
Pheonix doesn't use any magic or spiritual stuff at all. It's all Maya and Pearl.
I can defiantly see how some prosecutors are held in higher regard than Judges. I'm playing the first game (Ace Attorney) and the prosecutor is Baron von Karma, the man who, in his fifty year career has not only never lost a case, but never received a fine or penalty. He outright bosses the judge around; "You have one job in this court, and that is to bang you gavel and say 'Guilty'."

(Ignore)

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