The Supreme Court's No. 1 Petit Bench in a 3-1 decision on Feb. 20 upheld a
high court ruling that sentenced a man to death for raping and strangling
housewife Yayoi Motomura, 23, and murdering her 11-month-old daughter Yuka in
Hikari, Yamaguchi Prefecture, in 1999. Juvenile Law prohibits sentencing to
death persons who were younger than 18 at the time they committed their crime.
The defendant, Takayuki Otsuki, was 18 years and a month old when he committed
the double murder.
A danger exists that the top court's decision could set a strong precedent for
trials dealing with heinous crimes by minors. This should not be allowed to
happen despite the gravity of such crimes because the possibility of
rehabilitation is very high for juveniles.
In 2 earlier trials, the Yamaguchi District Court and the Hiroshima High Court
gave Otsuki a life sentence on the grounds that he was only 1 month older than
18 at the time of the crimes and that there was a strong possibility that he
could be rehabilitated. But the Supreme Court remanded the case to the
Hiroshima High Court, saying that the defendant's age is no longer a critical
factor to avoid handing down a death sentence. In the retrial the high court
sentenced Otsuki to death.
On Feb. 20, the nation's top court turned down Otsuki's appeal citing the
seriousness of the crime and his responsibility, despite his being a minor when
he committed the murders and the possibility that he could still be
rehabilitated. The decision strengthens the trend of attaching more importance
to the seriousness of a crime's consequence and the feelings of the victim's
family in crimes committed by minors.
In 1983, the Supreme Court set down a standard that treated a death sentence as
exceptional and stated that the death penalty can be allowed when it is the
most just and logical choice. The standard stipulated several factors must be
considered when handing out a death sentence, including the motivation behind
the crime, the degree of cruelty, the seriousness of the crime's consequence,
the feelings of the victim's family and the age of the criminal.
No one will argue that Otsuki's crimes were not horrific. Still, the
possibility that he could be rehabilitated should have been given more weight.
The one dissenting justice pointed out that Otsuki's mental and moral maturity
were low for his age and stated that this should have been a mitigating factor
in deciding his fate. He said the court needed to look more into the
circumstances that contributed to his character and mental state. We agree, and
hope that this case does not set a strong precedent.
(source: Editorial, The Japan Times)