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Analyzing the United States and Japanese Criminal Justice System

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 1745 words Published: 18th May 2020

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The criminal justice system is vital to a country’s stability and many different types exist. However, each system shares the same goal of maintaining law, order, and peace. The United States and Japan share similarities and vast differences in regards to the three main parts of the criminal justice system: law enforcement, courts, and corrections. Law en

Analyzing the United States and Japanese Criminal Justice System

The criminal justice system is a set of institutions and procedures created by governments with the goal of maintaining social order, discouraging the breaking of laws, and punishing those who break the law with criminal sanctions and rehabilitation. Around the world, many different types of criminal justice systems exist. Each one of these distinct systems shares the common goal of maintaining law, order, and peace. The criminal justice system can be broken down into three parts: law enforcement, courts, and corrections. This paper will analyze all three parts of the criminal justice system between the United States and Japan.

Law Enforcement

 The United States model of policing is unique. Its decentralized multiple uncoordinated type of police structure allows for separate police forces to enforce the laws of the nation. The police forces are comprised of local, state, and federal police agencies. “There are about 18,000 federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies ranging from single officer police departments to those with over 30,000 officers” (Reichel, 2018, p. 163). Local police agencies are responsible for enforcing the laws of the state and the ordinances passed by the city government. State police agencies enforce the laws of the state; however since most local police agencies already enforce the laws of the state, state police officers have specific duties. These duties range from patrolling state highways, universities, and parks, to enforcing state regulations such as the sale of alcohol and tobacco. Federal agencies enforce the laws of the nation. Although one can argue that any law can be considered a law of the nation, federal agencies focus on enforcing laws that impact the state of our nation. The Constitution protects citizens from abuses of power by law enforcement officers. Under the Fourth Amendment, citizens are protected from unreasonable search and seizures. Citizens are also afforded the right to remain silent during an investigation under the Miranda law.

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 The Japanese police, also known as prefectures, operate under a decentralized single system.  This means that Japanese police officials are deployed over numerous regions. Each police force has a certain level of self-governing. In 1947, Japan created the Police Law which was later revised in 1954. The Police Law specified the obligations of the police which included the defense of life, possessions of individuals, deterrence, traffic, and the suppression and uncovering of crime and suspects (Nakahara, 1955, p. 5858). According to the Police Law, one of the main obligations of Japanese prefectures is the uncovering of crime. The Japanese police can legally detain a suspect for 23 days without an official charge (Terrill, 2016). The 1954 revision of the Police Law abolished the dual system of municipal and rural police (Reichel, 2018, p. 150). Instead, Japan adopted three main law enforcement agencies. The National Public Safety Commission, who under the direct authority of the prime minister, is responsible for all police operations in the country. Next, the National Police Agency serves as the supervising agency for the Japanese policing system. Their only job is to perform supervising duties. The last of the three police agencies is the prefectural division. The prefectural division is the main division of the police in Japan; they are the only police agency that performs actual police work. 


 The United States courts system is vastly different from Japan.  In the United States, a courtroom consists of judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and members of a jury. The jury members are selected by prosecutors and the defense and are narrowed down to a pool of 6-12 people. Nearly all criminal cases have a prosecution and a defense; however, some defendants choose to represent themselves in court. If a defendant cannot afford an attorney, the state will assign a public defender for the defendant at no cost. The prosecution has the burden of presenting evidence against the defendant and proves the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The defense is responsible for challenging the evidence presented, finding flaws in the evidence or investigation, and discovering possible violations in the law to prove that their client is innocent of the alleged crime. The jury is responsible for determining the defendant’s guilt or innocence after hearing all the facts of the case from both the prosecution and defense. Defendants are afforded the opportunity to appeal their case to a higher court if they are unsatisfied with the ruling. A case can sometimes be appealed up to the highest court of the land, the Supreme Court.

 In Japan, there are five types of courts that exist. The five courts are the Supreme Court, High Court, District Court, Family Court, and the Summary Court. Unlike the United States, the concept of stare decisis does not apply in Japan (Lorenzo, 1974, p. 295). The Supreme Court of Japan is the highest court in the country, similar to the United States. However, in Japan, the Supreme Court consists of one chief judge appointed by the Emperor and fourteen other judges. Judges of the Supreme Court of Japan must be at least 40 years old and only ten of them may be career judges (Britannica, 2011). The United States Supreme Courts consists of one chief judge and eight other judges. There are no age limits to be a Supreme Court judge of the United States and all judges may be career judges if they so choose. Japanese courts do not have a jury. All cases are decided by the judge who is responsible for issuing sentences, calling for evidence, and questioning of witnesses. Defendants who are not found guilty in Japan are compensated by the state depending on the number of days spent in custody. The conviction rate in Japan is currently an astonishing 99% compared to 93% in the United States in 2012 (Ramseyer & Rasmusen, 1998).


 The United States corrections system is comprised of correctional officers, probation officers, and parole officers. Each one of these positions is responsible for ensuring that the offender serves their sentence and supervises them while they serve it. The Japanese corrections is similar, however, there are reports of high torture rates and cruel and inhumane conditions in Japanese prisons. The United States criminal justice system is progressive. It protects the rights of the accused from the point of arrest to the point of conviction. Defendants are also afforded the right to a speedy trial and the right to be trialed by a jury. These rights are not afforded in Japan. Capital punishment is legal in Japan and in certain states in the United States. In Japan, executions are only carried out for murder cases and the method of execution is hanging (Muramatsu, Johnson, & Yano, 2018).

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 When examining the Japanese criminal system, it appears to be efficient due to low crime rates and 99% conviction rates. However, since the basic rights that are afforded in the United States such as the right to confront your accuser, to be innocent until proven guilty, and to have an attorney present at all times are absent, the conviction rates tend to be higher. Furthermore, in Japan, those who plead not guilty are at risk of severe punishment if found guilty. 


 While the Japanese criminal justice system has similarities to the United States, there are many differences in the three parts that form the criminal justice system. In the United States, citizens are protected from unreasonable searches or seizure from law enforcement. They also have the right to remain silent at any time during an investigation. In Japan, citizens are not afforded the same rights and are forced to plead guilty to crimes which they did not commit in fear of severe punishment. Unlike the United States, Japan does not have a trial by jury. Japanese judges have the responsibility to issue sentences, question witnesses, and challenge evidence. While execution is a method of capital punishment that is legal in Japan and numerous states in the United States, executions in Japan can only be conducted on murder cases. The only form of execution in Japan is death by hanging.


  • Britannica, T. E. (2011, February 18). Supreme Court of Japan. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/topic/Supreme-Court-of-Japan
  • Lorenzo, Richard M. (1974). The Judicial System of Japan, 6 Case W. Res. J. Int’l L. 294
  • Muramatsu, K., Johnson, D. T., & Yano, K. (2018). The death penalty and homicide deterrence in Japan. Punishment & Society, 20(4), 432–457. https://doi-org.ezproxy.fiu.edu/10.1177/1462474517706369
  • Nakahara, H. (1955). The Japanese Police. The Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology, and Police Science, 46(4), 583-594. doi:10.2307/1139737
  • Ramseyer, J. Mark & Rasmusen, Eric, (1998) “Why is the Japanese Conviction Rate So High?” (1998). Harvard Law School John M. Olin Center for Law, Economics and Business D              iscussion Paper Series. Paper 240. http://lsr.nellco.org/harvard_olin/240
  • Reichel, P. (2018). Comparative criminal justice systems: A topical approach. New York: Pearson.
  • Terrill, R. J. (2016). World criminal justice systems: A comparative survey. New York , London: Routledge.


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