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Criminal defense in Japan - Fee and Service (Drug Case)-

Updated: May 3, 2022

How much does it cost if I retain a criminal defense lawyer in Japan?

What is the point of retaining you?

These are the most frequently asked questions from prospective clients.

The simple answer regarding the cost is that it depends on the difficulty of the case. The simple answer regarding the point of retaining a lawyer for you is to get timely and proper advice, which minimizes the risk of being prosecuted or convicted.

I previously gave an example of a shoplifting case. This time, I will introduce what a criminal defense lawyer can do for a client claiming innocence through a hypothetical drug possession case, which is one of the most frequently handled types of cases I have encountered during my practice.

This case is more complex compared to the shoplifting case introduced in the previous article, in that the alleged crime is relatively serious, and the client is claiming innocence and therefore coercive interrogation is predicted.

【Marihuana possession case】

1. Case

Jane is from Australia and has been living in Japan for 8 years. She recently started to live together with her boyfriend. On Friday night, when she was in her boyfriend's car heading to a bar in Roppongi, his car was stopped by a police officer. The police officer started to question Jane's boyfriend and subsequently asked him to let them search the car.

As a result, a large packet of marijuana, a digital scale and small empty packets were found in the dashboard of his car. The police arrested Jane and her boyfriend for drug possession for a commercial purpose. Her boyfriend and Jane are claiming innocence. I am retained as Jane's lawyer.

2. Legal Fee

1) Starter Fee: 600,000 yen (6000USD)

2) Success Fee; Not prosecuted : 600,000 yen (6000USD)

3. Explanation

1) Possible penalty for marijuana possession for a commercial purpose

If one is prosecuted for marijuana possession for a commercial purpose, it is punishable by up to 7 years in prison along with (depending on the courts discretion) a fine up to 2,000,000 yen (20,000USD). It is quite a severe punishment compared to that of marijuana possession for personal use. As a result, a harsh investigation is going to be conducted regarding not only who actually possessed the marijuana, but also whether one possessed it for personal use or for a commercial purpose.

Normally, the purpose for the possession will be directly proved by one's confession. The police and the prosecutor will try very hard to get a confession, once they have made a prediction regarding the case that Jane and her boyfriend actually possessed the marijuana for a commercial purpose.

In this case, since it is a large amount of marijuana, a digital scale was found and small empty packet were found in the car, it is likely the police and the prosecutor will make such a prediction.

2) The Difficulty of claiming innocence under the Japanese criminal justice system is notorious. It is infamous for prolonged detention and coercive interrogation, especially when a suspect is claiming innocence and the alleged crime is serious. Since drug dealing is perceived as a serious crime, the interrogation faced by Jane, who is claiming innocence, is expected to be prolonged and coercive. The detention is expected to be the entire of the 23 days maximum allowed from the time of her arrest. Bail is not available during the investigation period in Japan and also it is hard to avoid detention and extension of detention when one is claiming innocence.

3) The goal of defense: Avoid formal prosecution (formal trial)

In order to avoid formal prosecution, it is very important for Jane to get a competent criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible after the arrest, so that her lawyer can give her proper guidance regarding the Japanese criminal justice system, including her rights as a suspect, the police or the prosecutor's (sometimes underhand) tactics during the investigation and, if necessary, how to convince the prosecutor or the police of her innocence.

The most common advice from a Japanese criminal defense lawyer in such a case is probably just to remain silent, since the police and the prosecutor are notorious for typing up statements which twist the facts actually spoken by the suspects. Statements detrimental to the suspect are often admissible in court and can possibly be strong evidence for the prosecution. As a result, avoiding them making up inaccurate statements during the investigation phase is an especially important task for a defense lawyer. However, under the prolonged detention and coercive interrogation, just remaining silent during the investigation is hard for a detained client. Also, a detained client is sometimes subject to an investigator's illegal investigation methods such as obstructing their right to counsel and to remain silent, which is possibly basis for a claim of exclusion of evidence.

As a result, I visit clients claiming innocence at police stations normally at least once every two days to get an update from them regarding the police and prosecutor's investigation, give timely advice to clients and support clients legally and mentally during the detention period.

In addition, when there is strong evidence for the prosecutor, such as the fact that a large amount of marijuana was found in Jane's boyfriend’s car, along with a digital scale and empty small packets, just remaining silent is not sufficient to make the prosecutor give up putting them on trial. In such a case, I sometimes take a further step with the client by making our own convincing statement to the police and prosecutor in order to convince them of their innocence, or at least to give a strong impression that there is reasonable doubt about their guilt. In order to do so, it is important for us to discuss exactly what happened in the case, what could be supporting evidence for us, what could be detrimental evidence for us and what timing would be the best to start explaining the case from our side.

In Jane's case, careful discussion and consideration of the case is a must before deciding on an appropriate defense strategy.

4. Total Fee

If Jane is not prosecuted as a result, the total fee would be 1,200,000yen (Starter Fee of 600,000yen + Success Fee of 600,000 yen (Not Prosecuted)

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