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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Japan acquittal doesn't let Miura off the hook in California: expert

Staff writer

Differences between the Japanese and U.S. criminal justice systems made it possible for the Los Angeles Police Department to arrest Kazuyoshi Miura for the 1981 fatal shooting of his wife in California, despite being acquitted of her slaying in Japan, an expert says.

Shinichi Shima, a criminal defense attorney and professor at Surugadai Law School in Tokyo, said that while Japan's Penal Code applies to any Japanese who commits a crime anywhere in the world, U.S. law covers anyone suspected of committing a crime in that country.

Thus a Japanese who commits murder in California is therefore subject to both Japanese and California laws, said Shima, an expert on the U.S. criminal justice system.

Although Japan's Constitution guarantees protection from double jeopardy — being tried twice for the same offense — Miura's acquittal is only valid in Japan, Shima noted. Miura is in custody in the U.S. commonwealth of Saipan, pending handover to California.

"It is possible for U.S. authorities to find Miura criminally liable, which does not theoretically constitute a problem under either Japanese or U.S. law," he observed.

But a case like Miura's — in which a defendant is declared innocent by a Japanese court but later arrested by another country's authorities for the same crime — is "not so common," Shima said.

Another difference between the two countries' penal codes concerns the statute of limitations, according to Shima.

In Japan, the statute of limitations for murder is now 25 years. The U.S. has no statute for murder and other capital offenses.

Heinous crimes like first degree murder that are punishable by death or life-imprisonment without parole are prosecutable at any time, Shima said.

Since Miura allegedly murdered his wife for insurance money, he will likely be charged with first degree murder, which carries a maximum penalty of death, Shima said.

Once transferred to Los Angeles, Miura will appear in municipal court, where a judge will determine if there is probable cause for holding him based on evidence presented by prosecutors.

If Miura is indicted, he would face pretrial hearings. Miura, if he admitted guilt, could waive his right to a jury trial and throw himself on the mercy of the court.

If found guilty by a jury, Miura would have the right to appeal the terms of the sentence, but not the conviction, Shima said.

Under California law, a person can be tried for conspiracy even if the planned crime was not carried out, Shima said.

Apparently acting on new evidence, the LAPD and prosecutors appear confident of a conviction, he said.

The maximum penalty for conspiracy to commit murder, if the slaying occurs, is also death, according to Shima.

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