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3 years for stealing a pot noodle

by Jeremy Rosenberg on 2011-01-20

pot noodleI wanted to translate this article dated 19th January on 弁護士の良心 (translation “The conscience of a lawyer”) written by a criminal lawyer in Japan called Eishi Suzuki.  Here is the translation:

“This happened yesterday at court.

The defendant I was representing was being indicted on charges of stealing a pot noodle worth ¥105 (75p) from a convenience store.

The prosecution submitted a long custodial sentence would be necessary and requested a total of 3 years. In defence, I submitted that what the defendant required was not a harsh sentence but the provision of some time in an environment which could allow him to reconsider his actions. I then awaited judgment – slightly nervously as there were 5 trainee solicitors watching and I didn’t want to lose face!

You’re probably thinking “why such a harsh sentence for something so minor?”

The answer lies in “Prevention and Punishment of Theft Law” at section 3 titled “Serial Theft aggravated by prior multiple commission”. The section states, “ A person committing a similar type of theft 3 or more times within 10 years… shall be given a custodial sentence of 3 or more years.” This penalty dates back to 1930 (this shows in the outdated Japanese) but has not been reformed once since then.

In other words, my client has been termed a serial theft offender. Incidentally, under court procedure serious crimes deserving a custodial sentence of one year or above should only usually be dealt with under the supervision of 3 acting judges. However, on this occasion a theft can be dealt with by one presiding judge. The only other similar exception to this rule is is for the offence of serial gambling.

Whatever happens, despite each individual crime being quite petty, there is a serious punishment for this type of serial theft. However, even without the section 3 offence, this type of theft would still attract a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison due to the provisions for aggravated offences (these apply when the offender persistently commits the same offence, regardless of the crime), so I doubt there is any need for both laws to be in place.

The judge seemed like a woman with a good heart and seemed to listen intently while I called evidence from the defendant (I made reference to his upbringing, family relationships, interpersonal relationships, feelings of loneliness and isolation etc. ) and at the end she made a strong but kind statement to the defendant to dissuade him from future crime.

I await the judgement with interest.”

I will post the judgment as soon as I find out.

From → Criminal Law

  1. Robert Cline permalink

    Interesting comparison with the UK and the USA… In the USA this defendant would potentially be looking at life imprisonment under the “three strikes” rule.

    In the UK, if these were the only offences on his record, it would be very unlikely that he’d receive custody at all.

  2. If anything, punishment for such offences will probably become harsher as populations age and more elderly people, who are relatively affluent and vote often, feel threatened by the physical violence this kind of crime can involve.

    Is there any data on to what extent defendants such as this one eventually dabble in more serious crime?

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