Japan’s Supreme Court has upheld the high court’s decision to overturn the acquittal of a British man suspected of being a drug mule. 56-year-old Robert Geoffrey Sawyer was initially acquitted of all charges by a lay court but after an appeal by prosecutors, he will now be facing 10 years in a Japanese jail for smuggling drugs into the country.
Sawyer’s defense has been that he did not know he was in possession of 2.5 kilograms of illegal stimulants when he arrived at the Narita Airport back in 2010. The lay judge system was just a new model at that time, wherein civilians or laymen play the role of the judge with some assistance from three professionals. They ruled that there was reasonable doubt that he knew his luggage contained the drugs and found him not guilty of all charges. But after the prosecutors appealed to the high court, the decision was overturned.
On Monday, the Supreme Court upheld the decision, saying there was no doubt Sawyer knew he was acting as a drug mule and was even in contact with his handlers. They found it suspicious that he was traveling alone and that he had made no prior arrangements or itinerary for his stay in the country. “It would not be easy for a smuggling organization to collect stimulant drugs from a person displaying such behavior,” read the decision, meaning he had to have had instructions on how & where to make an exchange. He received a sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of five million yen (approx. US$51,000).
The international community has long criticized Japan’s legal system, which is heavily reliant on confessions, leading to an almost 99% conviction rate. But experts say this is an artificial percentage because the system is weighted towards prosecutors. The Japan Federation of Bar Associations has been working on getting legislation approved to have interrogations recorded, which is currently on a “voluntary” basis.
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