Lay judges send 2 passengers in car driven by drunk driver to prison over fatal accident

Posted on February 14, 2011. Filed under: Abuse Neglect Death | Tags: , , |

Drunk driving did not used to be a serious crime. That changed about 6 years ago. I would argue there are no tougher drunk driving laws in the world. I was surprised to see 2 passengers convicted, both will serve 2 years in prison for allowing the driver to drive intoxicated. These 2 men were charged with aiding and abetting. The following is from the Mainichi Shimbun.

SAITAMA — Two passengers in a car driven by a drunk colleague have been ordered in a lay-judge trial to spend two years behind bars over a fatal accident the driver caused in 2008.

The Saitama District Court convicted Isao Oshima, 48, and Junichi Sekiguchi, 46, of aiding and abetting dangerous driving resulting in death and injury.

“The two defendants gave consent to Tamagawa driving his car, which led to the deaths of those who were leading peaceful lives and injured others,” Presiding Judge Makoto Tamura said as he handed down the ruling.

The lay judges who participated in their trial handed down the severe ruling apparently because they weighed heavily on the responsibility of passengers in a vehicle driven by a drunk driver. It is believed to be the first citizen-judge trial of those charged with aiding and abetting dangerous driving resulting in death and injury.

Kiyoshi Tamagawa, 35, the driver of the car, is now serving a 16-year prison term for dangerous driving resulting in death and injury.

Oshima and Sekiguchi had pleaded not guilty to the charges over the accident that left two people dead and seven others injured.

The focus of the trial is whether they gave consent to Tamagawa driving his car after he drank heavily and whether they were aware that it would be difficult for him to drive safely.

The court recognized that when Tamagawa invited Oshima and Sekiguchi to go on a drive together, they agreed, with one of them saying, “Let’s do so.”

“Because the two senior people who were in a position to give work instructions to Tamagawa gave consent to his drunk driving, he strengthened his will to drive,” the court pointed out in its ruling.

Noting that the two drank with Tamagawa five hours before the accident, the ruling asserted that they knew he was unable to drive safely, and concluded that they were obligated to stop him from driving.

The defendants and their defense counsel denied that they made remarks to the effect that they gave consent to Tamagawa driving under the influence. However, the court dismissed their claim, pointing out that the defendants admitted during investigations that they made such remarks.

In explaining the sentencing, the court said, “The consequences of the accident are extremely grave. They have never expressed their feelings toward the victims, showing that they have not reflected on their actions.”

At the same time, however, they dismissed prosecutors’ demand that the defendants be imprisoned for eight years. “They only aided and abetted the dangerous driving. The demand by prosecutors is too heavy.”

The fatal accident occurred in Kumagaya, Saitama Prefecture, on the night of Feb. 17, 2008, when Tamagawa was driving his car at 100 to 120 kilometers per hour in the city after drinking seven glasses of shochu distilled liquor and a glass of beer. He then lost control of his vehicle on a curve and collided head-on with two oncoming cars.

In the accident, a couple in their 50s died and seven people, including Tamagawa himself and the two defendants, were injured.

Police reported Oshima and Sekiguchi to prosecutors on suspicion of riding in a car driven by a drunk driver in violation of the Road Traffic Law. However, relatives of the couple who died in the accident filed a criminal complaint with law enforcers, accusing the two of aiding and abetting dangerous driving resulting in death and injury.

Considering the grave consequence of the accident, the Saitama District Public Prosecutors Office indicted the two on the charges requested by the victims’ relatives.

The owner of the restaurant where Tamagawa drank before the accident has been found guilty of providing liquor to a driver in violation of the Road Traffic Law.

Story in Japanese

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