The John M. Olin Center

Paper Abstract

240. J. M. Ramseyer and E. Rasmusen, Why Is the Japanese Conviction Rate So High? 10/98; subsequently published in Journal of Legal Studies, Vol. 30, No. 1, January 2001, 53-88.

Abstract: Conviction rates are high in Japan. Why? First, Japanese prosecutors are badly understaffed. Able to bring only their strongest cases, they could be presenting judges only with the most obviously guilty defendants. High conviction rates would then follow naturally. Crucially, however, this is not the full story, for Japanese judges face seriously biased incentives. A judge who acquits a defendant runs significant risks of hurting his career and earns scant hope of positive payoffs. Using data on the careers and published opinions of 321 Japanese judges (all judges who published an opinion in a criminal case in 1976 or 1979), we find skewed incentives to convict. First, a judge who - trying a defendant alone -- acquits a defendant will spend during the next decade an extra year and a half in branch office assignments. Second, a judge who acquits a defendant but finds the acquittal reversed on appeal will spend an extra three years in branch offices. Conversely, a judge who finds a conviction reversed incurs no substantial penalty. Unfortunately for innocent suspects, the absence of an unbiased judiciary also reduces the incentives Japanese prosecutors have to prosecute only the most obviously guilty defendants.

240: PDF