Ingram Weber

Publication Date

Spring 2009

Document Type


First Page



Japan's new mixed jury system (dubbed the saiban-in) is designed to democratize the criminal legal process. Many observers fear that professional judges will undermine this goal by using their influence to pressure lay persons into adopting the opinions of the court. This Article argues that fear of judicial domination has obscured a second set of objectives and that the saiban-in is also designed to maintain consistent and predictable decisions on verdicts and sentences and to ensure that those decisions reflect, but are not wholly determined by, the Supreme Court's vision of justice. These objectives indicate both an enduring commitment to the Continental legal tradition in which modern Japanese law originated and the persistence of a long-standing prejudice against lay opinion. Reviewing meeting minutes from the Justice System Reform Council, the text of the Lay Assessor Act, and subsequent decisions by the Supreme Court on saiban-in procedure, the Article shows that officials intended to create a jury system that would provide ample opportunity for laypersons to meaningfully participate in decisions without sacrificing the consistency, predictability, and elite notions of justice maintained in Japan's present approach to decision-making. The saiban-in may also stem a growing wave of public punitiveness and allow justice officials to continue to pursue policies focused on the rehabilitation of offenders. This Article concludes by speculating about factors that could disturb the saiban-in's delicate balance of lay and professional power.

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