Saturday, August 14, 2010
Confession without proof not acceptable
In Thailand as in Japan too much reliance is placed on confession
In the mind of the Courts, the police, and the general public the confession of an accused person is the ultimate proof of guilt. Police in Thailand, work hard to get a confession of guilt, which shortcuts the need to have credible evidence. The prisoner is offered a reduced sentence, prison rather than execution, if they will sign a confession. But experience world wide shows that a confession of guilt is not necessarily a proof of guilt. Recently I attended a trial where the judge offered leniency for such a confession. Conviction should not rest on a confession alone, and this awful trading of a reduced sentence for a confession is not justice.
A recent case in Japan illustrates the issue.
In December 1991 Mr. Sugaya, then a 45-year-old divorced school bus driver with no friends, was arrested by Japanese police in connection with the grisly murder in 1990 of a 4-year-old girl. After 13 hours of interrogation, during which Mr. Sugaya says the police kicked his shins and shouted at him, he tearfully admitted to that murder and to killing two other girls. He was convicted of one murder and sentenced to life in prison.
But last year, after prosecutors admitted that his confession was a fabrication made under duress and that a DNA test used as evidence had been wrong, Mr. Sugaya was released. A court later acquitted him.
The disclosure that Mr. Sugaya had been wrongfully imprisoned for more than 17 years shocked Japan even more than his conviction as a serial killer had.
Mr. Sugaya said the question he is now asked the most is why he confessed so quickly to crimes he did not commit. Describing himself as insecure and “excessively spineless,” he said his willpower just seemed to collapse after what he said were hours of police officers screaming at him so loudly that his ears still ring 19 years later. He said he finally confessed to all three killings just so the ordeal would end.
During his years of imprisonment, he said, he met other convicts who told him they too had been convicted because of false confessions. Now at the age of 63 he tours Japan to relate his experience in order to save others from sharing his fate.