Yuta Takahata is a 23-year-old Japanese actor who has appeared already in a couple of movies (L  and Okaasan no Ki , albeit in very minor roles) and several TV dramas and TV movies. He is becoming a well-known face on TV, and is the son of veteran actress Atsuko Takahata and actor Ryosuke Ohtani.
Japan was shocked to learn last month, on August 23, that Yuta Takahata had been arrested for rape - the rape of a female staff member at a hotel he was staying at in Maebashi, Gunma Prefecture. Then, last Friday, on September 9 - just 17 days after his arrest - Takahata was released on bail after the Gunma public prosecutor's office decided to drop charges against him.
Far from denying the crime, Takahata explained his actions to the police, saying that he "couldn't control his desires," and then both his mother and Takahata himself publicly apologized for the incident. This suggests that it is a very clear cut case, and that conviction would have been likely in the case of a prosecution. During the time of his brief incarceration, it was conjectured that Takahata would get a prison sentence of about 7 or 8 years. The reason for eventually deciding not to prosecute him was not given.
Newsworthy as this all is, it was not that blogworthy - until today. The Tokyo Sports newspaper reported today that no less than 80 million yen was paid in an out-of-court settlement with the victim of Takahata's sexual assault.
"Out-of-court settlement." Now, I'm no lawyer, but in my mind, out of court settlements are things that happen in civil cases, not criminal cases. An out-of-court settlement is what divorcing couples do, or someone who accidentally put a dent in someone else's car does, or what siblings squabbling over a parent's will do. An out-of-court settlement is not something that happens in a criminal case like a rape.
Divorces, dents in cars, and the relative wealth of a group of siblings are not matters that involve many people besides those directly involved. However, crimes are a different story. Justice must be seen to be done, and an appropriate sentence must be meted out to punish the perpetrator and to send a message to society that such behavior is unacceptable to everyone, even if it does immediately and directly involve only a very few people.
Justice is supposed to be blind, i.e., justice should be done whatever the perpetrator's personal circumstances. However, the fact is that circumstances do often affect outcomes in the form of some degree of mercy. The ultimate mercy is forgiveness, and what, you may ask, is a decision not to prosecute a crime that the perpetrator has completely owned up to in the form of an apology if it is not forgiveness?
Forgiveness for what? In the context of 80 million yen having been paid to Takahata's victim for an "out-of-court settlement," the motive for the prosecutor not to prosecute can only be recognition of the Takahata family's having paid off the victim. Yet, if everyone accused of a crime in Japan had enough money to pay their victim a sum of money that would buy you a very comfortable brand new apartment in Tokyo, and in so doing avoid prosecution, the whole justice system in Japan may as well pack up its bags and go home.
But not every criminal has that kind of money. So the justice system waits around to "serve" the unfortunate majority of criminals who do not have stacks of money, are not famous, not blessed with famous parents, actor's looks or, in other words, are without the means to rush around behind the scenes pulling strings, paying people off - buying forgiveness - and in so doing corrupting the justice system.
Thinking that maybe my assumption about the reason for the prosecutors' decision not to do their job might be unfounded, I called the Maebashi District Public Prosecutors Office this morning and asked why Takahata was not prosecuted. After being put through to the relevant person by the operator and identifying myself, I was politely told by the male at the other end of the phone that such information "could not be disclosed." I politely pointed out that this was a case in which the public had an interest, but nothing concrete was forthcoming, so the conversation ended after less than two minutes.
Yuta Takahata was forgiven because he is rich and famous. And it was his birthday yesterday, too. Congratulations, Yuta-kun.
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