Matsumoto Branch & Suwa Branch, Nagano District Public Prosecutors Office
I became a public prosecutor in December 2010. Although I have only just begun my seventh year in this profession, I have worked at public prosecutors offices in four different districts: Osaka, Toyama, Tokyo (Head Office and Tachikawa Branch), and Nagano (Matsumoto Branch and Suwa Branch). In this way, public prosecutors are transferred repeatedly about once every two years. When people find out how many times I have been transferred, they always ask the same question: “Don’t you hate moving around so much?” In turn, I always respond by admitting the difficulty of such frequent transfers, but also by explaining how it can be enjoyable. When most people think of transfers, they tend to have a somewhat sad image of leaving behind a familiar neighborhood and saying goodbye to close friends. However, transfers are actually a chance to meet new people, as well as to discover beautiful scenery and enjoyable things which are new to me. Indeed, encounters and discoveries form the essence of my work as a public prosecutor.
In this article, I would like to touch upon the encounters and discoveries during my work as a public prosecutor.
Working as a public prosecutor is a series of encounters with people.
The majority of cases handled by a public prosecutor begin when a suspect has been arrested by police, after which the case is referred to the public prosecutors offices together with the suspect.
Upon receiving referral of a case, public prosecutors immediately investigate the case record which was sent. Next, they take a deposition, which consists of examining the suspect. Here, public prosecutors first encounter suspects.
What do you think of when you hear the phrase of examining a suspect? Some people may imagine a harsh barrage of ceaseless questions, while others may imagine a series of questions asked in a cold and calculating manner. However, although it is sometimes necessary to harshly question the suspect, this isn’t always the case. In particular, a deposition, an opportunity for public prosecutors to encounter a suspect, consists of more than simply hearing the suspect give an explanation on the case. Prosecutors need to obtain as much information as possible such as suspect’s personality and his/her state of mind, and it is the first step in forming a relationship with the suspect. A first impression has a major effect on the relationship which is subsequently formed—this is true for all encounters, not just depositions. In this respect, although depositions only last for a relatively short period of time, they are one of the most nerve-wracking encounters within the work of a public prosecutor.
When investigating a case, a public prosecutor renders dispositions to the suspect and examines witnesses including victims who are expected to provide important testimony in a trial. When dealing with witnesses, a prosecutor will encounter the full breadth of human characteristics. Some witnesses are reluctant to appear at the hearing because they don’t want to be involved in a criminal case. Other witnesses might be children or person with mental disabilities who are unable to clearly explain how they were victimized. A prosecutor also has to deal with expert witnesses in fields which are completely unfamiliar to the nonprofessional. Attempting to treat all of these diverse witnesses in the same manner would make it impossible to receive important information, and indeed it would render it impossible to even schedule an opportunity for hearing. In some cases, persuading witnesses to appear in a hearing or a trial requires repeated efforts over several dozen minutes. In order to build a trusting relationship, it may be necessary to spend a long time talking about matters which are not directly related to the case. Furthermore, when hearing experts, public prosecutors must prepare basic items in advance. While displaying a fundamental level of knowledge to the expert, public prosecutors must give in-depth questions to him/her so that public prosecutors will be able to withstand fierce cross-examination by lawyers. On the other hand, children and persons with mental disabilities tend to be easily influenced by the person doing the hearing, and the credibility of their testimony is often at the issue in a trial. Therefore, at prosecutor training sessions and other events taught by experts, public prosecutors learn how to elicit true statements without leading children and persons with mental disabilities during investigation. Sometimes, it is necessary to have an expert present during the examination.
In this way, public prosecutors encounter a wide range of witnesses, which makes it necessary to tailor their ways to deal with people according to personal attributes. This requires that public prosecutors always remain extremely attentive and alert, but it is very satisfying when hearing has proceeded smoothly.
As discussed above, public prosecutors encounter a diverse variety of suspects and witnesses. The statements given by these suspects and witnesses often reveal the existence of new witnesses who must be contacted in order to support that testimony. In this way, there is a repeated process in which a single encounter breeds other new encounters. This leads to the discovery of important objective evidence and to the discovery of the path to the revelation of the actual facts of the case, which are enabled to lead to the revelation of the truth.
Cases may be filed under the same charged offense or may appear identical in facts at a glance, but each case is distinct and different. Each case will always bring new encounters. Through earnest and repeated communication with suspects and witnesses, public prosecutors continue to seek new discoveries which will lead to the revelation of the truth regarding the case.
As I related in the introduction to this article, the essence of working as a public prosecutor is a series of encounters and discoveries. In addition to the suspects and witnesses that I discussed here, public prosecutors are also involved with an astounding number of other people. For example, I constantly work together with assistant officers who are involved in the same cases. I also cooperate with police officers when investigating criminal cases though we sometimes have strong disagreement over investigation policies, etc. Other people whom I encounter during my work include judges who preside over criminal lawsuits and make a final judgment, and lawyers who strive to make and prove claims from the different standpoints from each other at the court.
Each case brings a number of new encounters and discoveries for public prosecutors. Ultimately, public prosecutors seek to bring public safety to Japan; in other words, to realize a society where average people can lead an average life.
Personally, although I still have limited experience as a public prosecutor, I am striving to help create such a society while seeking memorable encounters and new discoveries.
Finally, I hope that this article serves as an introduction for the work of public prosecutors and creates more interest in the occupation.