Japan has jurisdiction over the fatal traffic accident caused by a U.S. military civilian employee this January.

Japan has jurisdiction over the fatal traffic accident caused by a U.S. military civilian employee this January.

    Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba


November 25, 2011 Ryukyu Shimpo

At a press conference on November 24, Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba announced that the Japanese and the U.S. governments have reached an agreement under the new framework by which Japan will be granted jurisdiction over serious crimes such as a fatal traffic accidents committed by civilian employees of U.S. military in Japan that have occurred “in the line of duty” if the United States authorities do not conduct a criminal prosecution and agree to give Japan “favorable consideration” to exercise jurisdiction.

Both governments agreed to improve the application of the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement.
At the Japan-U.S. Joint Committee meeting on November 23, they confirmed that this is an adjustment of the application of the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement, and while this improvement of the application of the law is expected to resolve the illogical situation in which neither the Japanese nor the U.S. governments conduct a criminal trial in the cases of crimes or incidents involving U.S. military civilian employees on duty, the United States continues to have jurisdiction in these cases due to the fact that no actual changes have been made to the Agreement that primary jurisdiction over this is determined to be with the United States.

Following the agreement reached by both governments under the new framework, the United States authorities stated that they would not conduct criminal prosecution over a case of a fatal traffic accident that occurred in Okinawa City this January. The Naha District Public Prosecutors Office then decided to indict the 24 year-old male U.S. military civilian employee alleged to have caused the accident on charges of negligent driving resulting in death. This latest announcement is part of the government’s effort to curb growing anti-American sentiments in Okinawa, which faces the issue of the planned relocation of the Futenma base within the prefecture.

Article 17 of the Status of Forces Agreement gives the United States primary jurisdiction in cases involving U.S. military civilian employees who cause accidents or commit crimes when on duty.
On the other hand, in 1960 the Supreme Court of the United States ruled it unconstitutional to bring U.S. military civilian employees, who are involved in crime or incidents on duty, to a court martial in times of peace. Subsequently, both countries lost the foundation to criminally prosecute these offenses. However, because the United States authorities did not issue Certificates of Official Duty at that stage, it was possible for Japan to indict offenders.
But as a result of establishment of Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act in 2000, since 2006 the United States authorities have resumed issuing Certificates of Official Duty.

Although the United States authorities issued such certificates for all the 62 cases of crime or incidents involving U.S. military civilian employees in Japan that have occurred “in the line of duty” during the five-year period of 2006-2010, and claimed its primary jurisdictions over the cases, none of those were brought to a court-martial, and 27 cases of those were processed as being not subject to punishment, with disciplinary action against the suspected civilian employees being taken in 35 cases.
 

≪Terminology related to the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement.≫
The U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement is an agreement between Japan and the U.S. that was approved and enacted in 1960 as stipulated in Article VI of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty. It is an agreement concerning the legal status of United States Armed Forces stationed in Japan, and the management and operation of military bases.
The Agreement gives the United States authorities primary jurisdiction over cases of crime or incidents caused by U.S. military service members and civilians “on duty” when both Japanese and the United States authorities compete for jurisdiction over the cases. It gives Japan the right to exert jurisdiction in cases only if the U.S. waives its jurisdiction, or in the case of crimes or incidents caused by U.S. military service members and civilians who are “off duty.” The opinion does exist that Japan has exclusive jurisdiction over the cases since the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled it unconstitutional to bring U.S. military civilian employees involved in crime or incidents on duty to a court martial in times of peace.

(English Translation by T&CT, Mark Ealey)

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