Leah Ambler


The Japanese people will soon decide the fate of criminal defendants for the first time in over 50 years. Under the Lay Assessor Act beginning in May, 2009, randomly selected members of the Japanese public will preside over criminal trials alongside professional judges and be responsible for determining both verdicts and sentences. 's retention of the death penalty means that members of the public will ultimately have to decide whether a person lives or dies.

This article examines the potential impact of the new lay assessor system, or saiban-in seido, on capital punishment in , and considers whether it may reduce death sentences to the point of effectively abolishing them at trial stage in the District Court. The article posits that the introduction of the lay assessor system may create the momentum for to align its criminal justice system with that of other developed countriesthat is, abolition of the death penalty as an available criminal sanction.