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Category of Juvenile Offenders as Subjects of the Jurisdiction

There are three categories of juvenile offenders in Japanese Family Court jurisdiction: “juvenile criminals” (Hanzai Syounen) who are juveniles 14 years old but younger than 20 years old who have committed a crime for which they can be arrested; “child offenders” (Syokuhou Syounen) who are under 14 years old and have violated laws and regulations in a criminal fashion; and “juveniles liable to commit a crime” (Guhan Syounen) identified as those who might be vulnerable to committing crimes in the future.

For the first category, Hanzai Syounen, Article 41 of the Penal Code stipulates that persons 14 years old and older are criminally accountable (Toshihiro 2015). It may be noted that Japan’s Penal Code was established at the end of the nineteenth century using the model of Germany, which included a fixed age for criminal accountability. All juvenile criminals are referred to the Family Court by the police or public prosecutors. The Family Court judge implements the preventive and protective measures available to a juvenile criminal, yet the juvenile will be prosecuted at the ordinary criminal court if sent back by the Family Court. Punishment at the Criminal Court for juveniles under 18 years of age at the time of commission of an offense shall mitigate in the following two circumstances: (1) in case a juvenile is to be punished with the death penalty, life imprisonment shall be imposed; (2) in case a juvenile is to be punished with life imprisonment, imprisonment with or without work for a definite term may be imposed. In this case, the term of imprisonment imposed shall be neither less than 10 years nor more than 15 years. Furthermore, in case a juvenile is to be punished with imprisonment with or without work for a definite term with a maximum term of 3 years or more, the juvenile shall be given a sentence that prescribes the maximum and minimum imprisonment terms determined within the limit of said penalty; provided, however, that in case the juvenile is to be punished with imprisonment with the minimum term exceeding 5 years, the minimum term shall be reduced to 5 years.

The second category (Syokuhou Syounen) comprises all juveniles under 14 years of age who commit an act that would constitute a crime under the Penal Code for a person 14 or older. In this group, Criminal Procedure Law is not applicable during the evidence-gathering process on the part of the police and investigators, as committing a crime when under the age of 14 years does not constitute being able to engage in “the formation of the crime” (Takahashi 2010a, b). According to the Penal Code (Article 41), the minimum age of criminal responsibility is 14 years of age. Furthermore, the Juvenile Law does not contain any related codes. For this reason, the police may investigate child offenders on the basis of Article 2 of the Police Act and Article 1(1) of the Police Duties Execution Act, which are stipulated in duties that protect the lives, bodies, and property of individuals, prevent crime, and maintain public safety. Juveniles in this second category are initially placed in the custody of a Child Guidance Center provided for by the Child Welfare Act and set up by local governments. Child guidance centers employ casework methods. As a rule, compulsory placement of the child by a center is not allowed without parental consent. The center refers juveniles to the Family Court only when it concludes that they require protective measures by the court.

The third category includes juveniles who run away, incorrigible youth, and others for whom discipline in the home has failed. “Juveniles liable to commit a crime” (Guhan Syounen) have committed a minor offense that usually results in protective measures. A child is considered to be “liable” or inclined to commit a crime when any of the following reasons exist; these reasons reflect the personality and environment of the juvenile and increase the likelihood that the juvenile will commit a crime or violate laws and regulations of criminal nature in the future: (1) has a propensity not to submit to legitimate supervision by the custodian; (2) stays away from home without a justifiable reason; (3) associates with persons with a criminal nature or with immoral persons; frequents places of “ill repute”; and (4) has a propensity to engage in activities that hurt his or her own morals or the morals of others. There are three kinds of procedures for “the juveniles” after police investigation according to Article 2 of the Police Law. First, the juveniles under 14 years of age in this category shall be referred to the director of the Child Consultation Center (Toshihiro 2015). The Family Court may only subject a juvenile who is under 14 years of age to a hearing and decision when a prefectural governor or a child consultation center’s director refers the juvenile to the Family Court. Second, the juveniles 14 years old and above (up to under 18 years of age) in this category shall be referred to the Family Court. However, the police or the Custodian of a juvenile in this case may directly notify the Child

Consultation Center of the juvenile if it is found to be appropriate to subject the juvenile to the measures under the Child Welfare Act in preference to direct referral or notification to the Family Court. Third, juveniles over 18 years old in this category, as a rule, shall be referred to the Family Court (Toshihiro 2015).

Even though “status offenders” (Huryoukoui Syounen) do not belong to the aforementioned categories of juvenile offenders, they remain subjects to juvenile justice. According to Article 2(6) of the Juvenile Police Acting Rule (National Safety Committee No. 20, 2002), the police, for the purpose of juveniles’ sound development and preventing crimes, shall act in the capacities of “warning,” “measuring,” and “giving advice” to the status offenders. The status offenders handled by police officers numbered 731,174 juveniles in 2014. Status offenders have committed an act that would not be a crime if committed by an adult. Juvenile delinquency refers to antisocial or criminal acts performed by juveniles. Status offenses may include underage consumption of alcohol or tobacco, truancy, running away from home, or the general inability to be controlled by adults.

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