A 63-year old woman in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture is filing a lawsuit against the government for exposing her to grisly evidence photos while serving as a lay judge on the trial of a burglary and murder case, which presented colored photos from the crime scene, back in March. The woman claims that the detailed images caused her to develop acute stress disorder and made her vomit for days.
Former lay judge Hifumi Aoki said she was “physically and emotionally devastated” because of the experience. The hearing for the murder case was served at the Koriyama Branch of the prefectural district court. Evidence presented included an audio recording of a victim who called for an ambulance. As for the photos used as evidence, Aoki claimed that she was not mentally prepared for what she would see. “I hope I’ll be the last to go through such a painful experience.”
The jury concluded that the murder suspect was guilty, thus giving him the death penalty. Even though the case was already closed, Aoki said that she had flashbacks of images from the photos. The stress disorder she developed caused her to seek long-term treatment. And with a number of absences, she was eventually laid off from work. “I want everybody to understand how painful and poignant this experience was to me,” she said. The first hearing of Aoki’s lawsuit was held on Tuesday at the Fukushima District Court. She had prepared a seven-page speech with detailed accounts of her experience following the trial, however she was not able to read the entire thing, due to how much of a reminder it was. She hopes that there will be a change in the judicial system to protect other judges from what she experienced.
The government argues that there is no fault in the current judicial system, as it allows public participation to observe due process. Lay judges may also be excused from a trial, given a valid reason presented, but they are also warned that refusing to participate without a real cause can lead to fines. Thus, Aoki said she could not refuse the case in fear that she “would be treated as a criminal.” Aoki is demanding 2 million yen (approx. $20,000) as compensation.
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