By SHUNSUKE ABE/ Staff Writer
October 23, 2022 at 07:00 JST
The Japanese arm of the Innocence Project has reached out to crowdfunding to backstop its ability to finance research by lawyers and scholars into suspected wrongful convictions.
The Innocence Project Japan began soliciting for donations online on Oct. 3 so it can continue to help people who have been pronounced guilty in courts but maintain their innocence and seek exoneration through retrials.
The organization had been struggling to raise money for its activities. The process to call for a retrial entails hundreds of thousands of yen, even up to millions of yen in some cases, as the written opinions of experts and the results of additional experiments need to be submitted.
But the effort is proving successful. It gathered more than 3 million yen ($20,700) after just a few days and has already surpassed its initial goal of collecting 2 million yen within October.
“This will offer a chance for us to take a step further forward,” said Kana Sasakura, a legal professor at Konan University in Hyogo Prefecture, who serves as vice chair of the Innocence Project Japan. “We want to bring reform to the nation’s criminal justice system by working on individual cases to rescue people (wrongfully convicted).”
The nonprofit organization was launched in the 1990s in the United States and then spread throughout the world. The Japanese arm was founded in 2016 at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto.
The U.S. Innocence Project has proven the innocence of more than 370 people through its own DNA analyses.
The Innocence Project Japan is comprised of 40 specialists, including not only lawyers, but also experts in forensic science and courtroom psychology.
The organization has screened 450 cases. It assigns its group members to potential false charges and has them scrutinize rulings and court documents. Former defendants can then be referred to specialists or given advice on forensic tests.
In one successful case, Mika Nishiyama, a former assistant nurse at the Koto Memorial Hospital in Shiga Prefecture, was found not guilty through a retrial in 2020.
Nishiyama was sentenced to 12 years in prison on a charge of murdering a 72-year-old patient with an artificial ventilator in 2003. But the patient’s death may have been due to natural causes.
“Receiving guidance from top-notch academics on how to get prosecutors to disclose evidence as well as how to figure out court decisions made all the difference,” said her attorney, Ryota Ikeda.
Prior to the campaign, the Innocence Project Japan changed its official Japanese name.
For more details, visit the group’s Japanese website at (https://innocenceprojectjapan.org).
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