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Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2010
Lay judges and the celebrity
The trial of actor Manabu Oshio, charged with aggravated abandonment leading to death in a case in which a 30-year-old woman died after taking the illegal drug MDMA or Ecstasy, was the first trial involving a celebrity under the 1-year-old lay judge system.
The Sept. 17 ruling at the Tokyo District Court shows that the six lay judges — four men and two women — who sat with three professional judges made their decision strictly on the basis of evidence, without being swayed by media coverage of the high-profile trial.
The court gave the 32-year-old actor 2 1/2 years' imprisonment although the prosecution had demanded six years in prison. The ruling determined that he obtained the drug from a man on July 31, 2009, in an apartment in Tokyo's Roppongi Hills, let Ms. Kaori Tanaka take the drug on the afternoon of Aug. 2 the same year and failed to seek appropriate help when she overdosed. But the ruling denied that his abandonment of the woman caused her death. Mr. Oshio appealed the ruling.
The ruling said that Mr. Oshio had the responsibility to call for an ambulance when Ms. Tanaka showed signs of an overdose after the two took the drug and had sex in the apartment. The lay judges were under strong pressure to understand testimony given by expert witnesses. The chance Ms. Tanaka's life could have been saved if paramedics had reached the scene quickly differed from one opinion to another — more than 90 percent, 30 percent to 40 percent and between 10 percent and 60 percent.
Weighing these expert opinions, the lay judges concluded that it was not sufficiently proven that the woman's life would have been saved without fail if the actor had called for an ambulance quickly. They thus upheld the principle of "No punishment is meted out when there is uncertainty about guilt."
Statements by the lay judges at a news conference after the ruling show that they faithfully followed the reported instructions from the presiding judge to make a judgment solely by considering the evidence and testimony in the courtroom. They left a good example for other citizens serving as lay judges to follow.