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Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2007
BAIL IN JAPAN
Innocence is presumed but bail is not a given
By JUN HONGO
There are some things money can't buy, but to get out of jail, bail can be an option for some.
Former Livedoor Co. President Takafumi Horie, awaiting his March 16 verdict, paid 300 million yen and was released from custody last April.
Not everyone, however, is allowed out on bail: some don't satisfy release conditions, or they simply don't have enough money.
Following are some basic facts about how the bail system works:
Why does the bail system exist?
Like other nations, someone under arrest in Japan is presumed innocent until proven guilty in court, and thus bail is part of an honor system to grant temporary release from custody under certain conditions. The bail money, payable by cash or Bank of Japan check, but not credit card, is held by the court in trust as a guarantee that the accused will appear when summoned.
Who has the authority to grant bail and how does one qualify to receive it?
A judge has the final say on a bail request. Before deciding, the judge solicits the recommendation of prosecutors, who may object to the release of a suspect. The judge must weigh the gravity of the perceived crime, the evidence presented and whether the suspect has a criminal record, poses a flight risk, or is capable of destroying evidence or obstructing witnesses.
Article 89 of the Criminal Code provides that when bail is requested, it must be granted unless there are reasonable grounds for denial.
Suspects accused of murder or other serious crimes that may result in a harsh sentence would ordinarily be denied bail.
The court can also deny bail if it determines the accused poses a threat to crime victims or others involved in a case.
On the other hand, the court can grant bail even if no request has been made. The accused must also be set free if the detention period is unreasonably long. Even under these circumstances, the accused must put up bail money.
Architect Hidetsugu Aneha, who was convicted of fabricating quake-resistance data for condominiums and hotels nationwide, reportedly had a difficult time coming up with 5 million yen in bail last September. He finally managed to pay on Dec. 22, three months after being granted release; but four days later, on Dec. 26, Aneha was handed a five-year prison term. He filed an appeal in January and remains out of detention.
How is the bail amount set?
There is no standardized rate, but 1.5 million yen is generally considered the minimum price, said Yasushi Kasai of the Japan Bail Support Association, a limited liability corporation that provides financial aid to those in detention.
Bail money varies by case. The amount is expected to assure the accused shows up at trial and other court appointments. The final fee is set by the judge.
How much does freedom cost?
Former Livedoor Chief Financial Officer Ryoji Miyauchi, Horie's right-hand man accused of various white-collar crimes, paid 50 million yen in bail last March.
Yoshiaki Murakami, founder of the Murakami fund, who is on trial for insider trading, paid 500 million yen to be freed last June.
Muneo Suzuki, a Lower House lawmaker ultimately convicted of bribery, made 50 million yen in bail in August 2003. The Tokyo District Court convicted him, but he remains in the Diet and out on bail, which was raised to 70 million yen, while he awaits a ruling on his appeal.
The largest bail amount ever in Japan was 2 billion yen paid by Mitsuru Asada, former chairman of meatpacker Hannan Corp., who was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2005 for swindling the government out of more than 5 billion yen by abusing a government beef-buyback program. He has appealed the ruling to the Osaka High Court and the case is pending.
People charged with misdemeanors have also faced hefty bail.
Both Issei Ishida, an actor arrested for possession of marijuana in 2001 who received a suspended sentence, and Katsuhiko Maeda, a former Orix Buffaloes pitcher charged in a hit-and-run accident and driving without a license last month, paid 5 million yen.
What happens to bail violators?
Those granted bail often have curtailed privileges. For example, they may not travel without notice or contact others involved in the trial. Failure to appear in court as scheduled or violation of any stipulation results in the bail money being forfeited to the court and the accused going back to jail.
Kasai of the JBSA said that while breaking bail regulations is not a crime in itself, doing so will likely make it impossible to be granted bail in the future and leaves a bad impression on judges prior to any trial verdict.
Heo Young Joong, an Osaka-based South Korean real-estate developer convicted in 1991 for his part in a scam that caused the now-defunct trading firm Itoman Corp. to incur huge losses, had his 600 million yen bail money seized when he visited South Korea without permission. He was later captured and sentenced to 7 1/2 years in prison. The Supreme Court denied his appeal in 2005 and he is now serving his term.
Are many people granted bail?
According to the 2005 Annual Report of Judicial Statistics published by the Supreme Court, 12.57 percent, or 10,411, of 82,808 detainees in Japan that year were granted bail.
While some big names in high-profile cases have been granted bail, some charged with less serious crimes have been denied release.
The Tokyo District Court last year denied bail to celebrated economist Kazuhide Uekusa, 46, who was arrested in September for allegedly groping a high school girl on a train in Tokyo. The court decided after hearing objections from prosecutors, who noted his prior sex offenses -- in 2005 he was fined 500,000 yen and had his mirror confiscated for trying to look up a 17-year-old girl's skirt at a subway station in Tokyo.
After four months of appeals, he was released Jan. 22 on 6 million yen bail.
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