On November 16, 2010, defendant Hiroyuki Ikeda was sentenced to death in Japan for conspiring with another man to kill two other men before dismembering and dumping the bodies. While the death sentence itself is not necessarily noteworthy—50 executions have taken place in Japan since 2000—the method by which the sentence was handed down is groundbreaking. Ikeda is the first man sentenced to death by a Japanese jury since the present lay judge system was implemented in May, 2009.
The lay judge system is a panel of 6 ordinary citizens and 3 professional judges who were selected to adjudicate the most serious of crimes, including murder. The panel both renders a verdict and hands down sentences by majority vote. A guilty verdict must be supported by at least one of the professional judges and at least 2 of the lay-judges, otherwise the defendant is acquitted. After an indictment, a pool of 50-100 potential lay-judges are selected from registered voters and the presiding judge questions the candidates to narrow the pool to evaluate their ability to render a fair judgment. Later in the process, lawyers and prosecutors join in to further narrow the candidate pool. The purpose of the system is to create speedier trials and expedite the adjudication process.