253: Phoenix Wright's Objection!

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Nice article! As another Japan 3+ year resident, I've always thought the legal system was pretty screwed up. Like others have said here no system is perfect, but a lot can be said for a system being less imperfect when lives end up getting ruined in the process.

Brilliant article. Excellent read, I had no idea that the court system in Phoenix Wright was a parody, and not just a crazy made-up legal system with so many holes in it you could fly a fleet of 747s through.
Escapist! Sign this guy up!

This was quite the eye-opener. After reading this article, I played through a bit of Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth (Decent game, btw), and I could actually point out the parody elements in one of the cases.

A very solid read, to be sure.

Am I the only one who thinks that the idea of an employee of a human rights organization in Japan writing articles for a gamer subculture magazine is INCREDIBLY AWESOME? Good job, Mr. Monaghan!

And it's nice to see such a fruitful discussion arise from such an interesting article. Special thanks go to the Japanese residents on this forum -- your insights will help us form a better picture of the whole issue.

I was playing Trials and Tribulations just before I read this and I just learned that Ace Attorney is way deeper than I thought.

and yet japan has the LOWEST CRIME RATE in the world. (possible exaggeration, but it is lower than ours by a LOT) Maybe they are on to something there huh? Sure false convictions are a bitch, but if the criminals know they can't get out due to some fucked up amendment to the constitution that gets it all wiped from the system just because the arresting officer slipped up during the miranda rights maybe they will think twice before doing things.

Poor Maggey Byrde, even when mentioned in passing, her luck is bad - that is, that: 1) her name was misspelt, and 2) to the best of my knowledge, she's only been accused of murder 3 times (Case 1 of JFA, Case 3 of T&T, and Case 1 of Investigations).

Somewhat more on topic - I was always aware that it was based on the japanese legal system. On the other hand, I never realised it was _that_ closely based on it.

So...I take it this means the "she was wearing skinny jeans" defense doesn't fly in Japan?

This was a very interesting article, I had no understanding of the Japanese legal system. But hell its not just the police froce that is incopatant, the judge is to, but I think that is more just a devise to make the prosecutors more interesting.

Very good article. I actually already knew that the game was based on the Japanese legal system, though I only had an inkling as to the extent of the truths in the Phoenix Wright series. This is highly enlightening!

There is one thing to be said of such a high conviction rate is extremely efficient in terms of state resources. That doesn't make a lick of difference if they're convicting innocent people.

Good article and counter article. I always thought Singapore was the city you didn't ever want to be accused of a crime in.

Fantastic article!

It's almost uncanny that a year after Apollo released, Japan switches to the newer jury system. Obviously the change was in motion for quite some time, but it almost makes you feel like Phoenix is actually having some real-world influence.

This is probably the first thing I thought:

Damn, I didn't think the system over there could be so harsh, In Australia (if you ask me) it's too light.

Phoenix Wright made me want to become a lawyer :(

Although I know that the cases would never ever ever be that interesting.

Fintan Monaghan:
3 professional judges and 6 lay-judges. ...it is hoped these lay-judges will bring fresh perspectives and won't be so entrenched in the status quo.

Well at least one entrenched judge must change their perspective or the fresh lay-judges won't mean anything! :S

Sounds to me like the core problem is coerced confessions at any rate. Unless the defendant can find video proof that their client was in another country at the time of the murder. Then, of course, he'd have to hide it so the persecutor doesn't see it before trial and abandon the case (and WOW how open to abuse is a system where a guy can say 'Well I think he did it, but I can't easily prove it, so it's not going to court just in case I loose'). And THEN, with video proof contrasting the confession, he could sue for coerced confession of his client.

Of course, more likely in a corrupt system, the court would sue the client for falsely confessing.

Wow, what an ugly open secret.

See, THIS is the kind of thing that needs to be on the news. Everyone's so quick to say "Video games killed this kid!" But look at this! Unlike the horribly stupid murder cases that are linked to video games, there is a link between this and a game! These games CHANGED something. They made the legal system try something new! No one would believe this if they heard it, the respect level of video games is too low... But, if there was this story on the news, it would be GREAT!

OT: I was amazed while reading this... I thought it was all 100% made up. I always wondered why there was no jury in the games...

Noxshadow:
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'."

Are you sure you played? You've got a few contradictions in your testimony. ;)

Phoenix does use some spiritual stuff in the second game at least, and if you pay attention while finishing the first game, you'll see that you're wrong about something else in your post as well.

I am a huge fan of the Ace Attorney series, and I always dismissed the courtroom system seen in the game as fictional and ridiculous. This article was eye-opening and quite scary; that this is the situation in Japan, with some exaggeration is confronting.

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.

there's a problem with this: even if 99% of people brought to trial are guilty, they should not all be convicted. this may seem like a contradiction, but bear with me:

somone gets arrested for murder. he's innocent, but several people have confessed against him and he's brought to trial. knowing the japanese legal system, he decides to just plead guilty so he'll get less punishment. an innocent man goes to prison because he doesnt believe he stands any chance of proving his innocence. and he's not even wrong to do so: with a 99% conviction rate, it's the only logical conclusion.

any legal system that makes conviction almost a certainty is inherently unjust. the prosecution may be absolutely, 100% sure of guilt in every case they take to trial, but it's inevitable some innocent people are brought before court as well. these people stand no realistic chance of proving innocence due to the system that is in place, and might not even want to try, because they believe they have no chance.

in the end, regardless of the guilt or innocence of the defendant, the fact that they stand next to no chance of being proclaimed not guilty makes this system unjust.

VondeVon:

Fintan Monaghan:
3 professional judges and 6 lay-judges. ...it is hoped these lay-judges will bring fresh perspectives and won't be so entrenched in the status quo.

Well at least one entrenched judge must change their perspective or the fresh lay-judges won't mean anything! :S

OBJECTION!

(Just had to do it... ;) )

It's actually the other way around. If the majority of the lay judges find the defendant not guilty, the acquittal stands. One professional judge has to agree to a guilty verdict in order for it to stand. That could mean quite a bit. The ones who have to change their perspective are the lay judges (jurors). Japanese culture is one very steeped in consensus building and respect for authority, and it has already been pointed out that the prosecutor has the "authority figure" advantage over the defense. If the authority figure or even one of the professional judges tells the jury the defendant is guilty, they could be swayed to a guilty verdict so as to not challenge authority. They have to realize that in this situation, they ARE the authority. What they say goes. If they can be convinced of that, this could be a very positive change for the legal system here.

Sounds to me like the core problem is coerced confessions at any rate. Unless the defendant can find video proof that their client was in another country at the time of the murder. Then, of course, he'd have to hide it so the persecutor doesn't see it before trial and abandon the case (and WOW how open to abuse is a system where a guy can say 'Well I think he did it, but I can't easily prove it, so it's not going to court just in case I loose'). And THEN, with video proof contrasting the confession, he could sue for coerced confession of his client.

Of course, more likely in a corrupt system, the court would sue the client for falsely confessing.

Wow, what an ugly open secret.

I do agree with you on forced confessions. While maninahat is correct about the constitution outlawing forced confessions, it's become a staple of the justice system anyway. Everyone knows it's a problem that such a strong part of their legal culture is against their own constitution, but they are very reluctant to do much about it. After they get the confession, it's then only a matter of finding a couple other smaller pieces of evidence to back up the confession and the conviction is almost guaranteed. What I find most sad about this is that in such a legal system that's so hard to defend one's self in, the death penalty still exists. Japan doesn't use it near as often as places like China or some US states, but they should really do a better job to be as correct as they can be when potentially innocent lives are on the line.

EDIT: The bolded word... is that misspelling intentional?

Saxnot:

maninahat:

there's a problem with this: even if 99% of people brought to trial are guilty, they should not all be convicted. this may seem like a contradiction, but bear with me:

somone gets arrested for murder. he's innocent, but several people have confessed against him and he's brought to trial. knowing the japanese legal system, he decides to just plead guilty so he'll get less punishment. an innocent man goes to prison because he doesnt believe he stands any chance of proving his innocence. and he's not even wrong to do so: with a 99% conviction rate, it's the only logical conclusion.

It could happen, although his case (which relies simply on the testimony of a couple of witnesses) will probably not be selected by an intelligent prosecutor, over say, a different case in which they have DNA evidence, eye witnesses, and a clear motive, means and oppurtunity. Prosecutors get to cherry pick from many cases fowarded to them, and seeing as how one mistake could end a career, they will only pick the most obviously guilty.

any legal system that makes conviction almost a certainty is inherently unjust. the prosecution may be absolutely, 100% sure of guilt in every case they take to trial, but it's inevitable some innocent people are brought before court as well. these people stand no realistic chance of proving innocence due to the system that is in place, and might not even want to try, because they believe they have no chance.

I suppose, but the Japanese system suggests that there are actually less miscarriages of justice and faulty convictions. If they only trial open-and-shut cases, then there is only a very low chance of the person being wrongfully accused (for just in the wrong place at the wrong time). Compare that to a Western trial by jury, in which you get cases of varying degrees of certainty. In a Western trial, the evidence is more likely to be sparse or circumstantial. If the jury happen to favour the prosecutor's reasoning, or find the limited evidence enough to make a decision, then there is a greater chance of an innocent man going to jail, or a criminal going back onto the street.

This might sound like a criticism of Western justicial systems, though these short comings actually highlight the real problem with the Japanese legal system. If the Japanese only ever bring dead-cert defendants to trial, what about all the other cases in which the evidence is lacking? Does that mean many, many potential criminals are escaping trials and convictions, simply because the prosecutor didn't want to risk his job bringing them to justice?

If the role of court systems in Japan were changed to something similar to a Western court, that would take pressure off the prosecutors to get convictions 100% of the time, encouraging them to take on less clear cut cases. That way, more criminals could actually be sentenced.

mjc0961:

Noxshadow:
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'."

Are you sure you played? You've got a few contradictions in your testimony. ;)

Phoenix does use some spiritual stuff in the second game at least, and if you pay attention while finishing the first game, you'll see that you're wrong about something else in your post as well.

>:(
I play the games on my DS. That doesn't mean I want to go and cross-examine myself and go searching for evidence in the game.

Wow... fantastic! Never knew how close this would be to reality! Now I can justify my love for these games even more :D

Shjade:
So...I take it this means the "she was wearing skinny jeans" defense doesn't fly in Japan?

Well, it's Japan. Maybe the "she was twelve and wearing a naked apron" defense might just cut it.
Seriously, that country. I don't know whether to give it a high five or an intervention.

Interesting article. But I've done some resarch before on the subject, and really it's not that way as much as you'd think. Sure, the social hierarchy is a little different in the legal system in Japan than it is here in western civilizations, but that really serves little to no consequence. The real problem is that Prosecutors don't take chances over there. To them, it's the spotless resume that matters more than getting the bad guys. As such, they really only take cases they're sure of. Call it lazy, or whatever you want, Japan still has some of the lowest crime rates today.

no system is perfect ours in america far is from perfect but after reading that i dont think i ever wanna go to japan
damn 99% conviction rate

Woooooooooooooooooooooooooow... I can never look at my favorite DS game series the same way again.

Good article, very well written.

Noxshadow:
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'."

Well, Manfred did receive one penalty. He did win the case though.

EDIT: Also, to reply to the article:

Despite ultimately coming to realize that the truth is more important than convictions, Edgeworth remains as proud and supercilious as ever. The prosecutors of Ace Attorney, virtually without exception, are portrayed as unscrupulous egomaniacs.

I don't know, I thought Edgeworth cut down on the superciliousness later on. Yeah, he's still supercilious, but he's not as supercilious, and being that way is part of the character's charm...Ace Attorney Investigations wouldn't have been as entertaining without his constant snarking.

Klavier (prosecutor in Apollo Justice) is definitely pretty decent though. Some fans have actually complained that he's too nice, to the point where he makes the game too easy with how much he's willing to help you out.

I actually just got done writing an essay on the legal systems in different countries as a comparative politics take home final. One of the sources I cited stated "In this way Japan can still be considered an Imperial country because of the power many of the elites possess through the court system."

I hadn't read this article at the time, if I had I definitely would have cited it as well. That might have hurt my grade but definitely would have may my essay more awesome.

Great article.

I never really thought about the legal system in Japan, even though I was born there.

Now I know.

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

OBJECTION! At least one game is also on the Wii!

JonnWood:

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

OBJECTION! At least one game is also on the Wii!

Objection!

I lived in Japan for two years, and I've had things like this happen to friends of mine. I think they have a ten day holding period, but that can be renewed countless times. I've been stopped by the police before being "in the wrong neighborhood," and I've heard rumors that they try to make foreigners sign confessions that are written purely in Japanese. I'm thankful that this article was written to let the Western world know what really goes on in the Japanese legal system. I will admit I'm a bit jaded, but I'm hoping that the lay judge system will bring changes. I know it won't immediately, but it's something to look forward to.

That said, I never would have made those connections to Phoenix Wright! I lived there when the games were coming out, but I still never thought of it. Very insightful!

toriver:

VondeVon:

Fintan Monaghan:
3 professional judges and 6 lay-judges. ...it is hoped these lay-judges will bring fresh perspectives and won't be so entrenched in the status quo.

Well at least one entrenched judge must change their perspective or the fresh lay-judges won't mean anything! :S

OBJECTION!

(Just had to do it... ;) )

It's actually the other way around. If the majority of the lay judges find the defendant not guilty, the acquittal stands. One professional judge has to agree to a guilty verdict in order for it to stand.

Really? I think I prefer that to "the majority vote must include at least one professional and one lay judge".

...Wait, I've been assuming the lay judges are the young new ones.. they are, aren't they?

toriver:

EDIT: The bolded word... is that misspelling intentional?

Freudian slip. :D

VondeVon:

Really? I think I prefer that to "the majority vote must include at least one professional and one lay judge".

...Wait, I've been assuming the lay judges are the young new ones.. they are, aren't they?

Yes. Each jury trial consists of 3 professional judges and 6 "lay judges", or citizen jurors. They essentially work together to determine a verdict. If the majority of the lay judges agree to a "not guilty" verdict, it goes through regardless of the decision of the professional judges. If the majority agrees to a "guilty" verdict, at least one professional judge has to agree. But in the current judicial culture in Japan, that shouldn't be difficult at all.

Assisted on his adventures by two Hakama-clad spirit mediums...

No, Hakama are like trousers; they don't wear those.

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