Amid a growing number of incidents in which train passengers suspected of groping people inside trains flee the scene -- sometimes onto tracks where they are hit by incoming trains -- legal experts warn that people should not run away if they are innocent.
In the past, it was commonly believed that people had no choice but to run away if they were falsely accused of groping on a train because of the high conviction rate in train groping cases, but this notion has been changing recently.
Attorney Yoshitaka Miura in the Chiba Prefecture city of Nagareyama wrote on his online blog that people should not run if they are ever suspected of groping a person on a train and advised his readers instead to "contact a lawyer you know and leave the site before the station staff takes you to the station office." This entry has been viewed over 150,000 times. After receiving many comments saying that they didn't know any lawyers, Miura wrote he would give his mobile number to readers if they emailed him their name, address and phone number. Miura said some 50 people sent him emails with their contact information.
"The emails were from those who said they were worried about their husbands (who commute by train), and also from mothers in rural areas who said they wanted to tell their sons (about me)," Miura said.
Once a person is arrested on suspicion of groping and they deny the allegations, they would normally be detained for 23 days before public prosecutors decide whether to indict the person. Once indicted, the conviction rate in suspected groping cases is over 99 percent. There were times when even legal experts said running away before getting arrested was the best option if the person was innocent.
"But today, you shouldn't run," emphasizes Iwao Ikoma, a lawyer working in a group to tackle false accusations of people involved in train grouping cases. His comment comes from the backdrop of the increasing number of cases where suspected gropers would not be detained if they deny the allegations amid growing criticism against the Japanese law enforcement system in which suspects are detained practically until they confess.
"In many cases I have handled, the person (suspected of groping) was not detained if they denied the allegations as long as they had never been involved in another similar incident and could prove their identification. Even if such a person was initially detained, in many cases they were let go," Ikoma says.
Even if the person is arrested, as long as a court does not issue an order of detainment requested by prosecutors, they would be freed within 72 hours.
Both lawyers stress that running away from the scene is a bad idea. If the person hurts someone while fleeing, they could be subject to the crime of inflicting bodily injury. If they enter someone's home premises, they could be charged with trespassing, and if they jump onto railway tracks to flee, they could be accused of obstruction to traffic. Moreover, East Japan Railway Co. says the company could sue the person if they interfere with train operations and demand compensation for damages.
So, what can train passengers do when they are accused of groping if they are innocent?
Ikoma advises to "leave the scene cleverly instead of running away." Once the person is taken to the station office, there is no way to avoid being arrested.
"If you identify yourself with your name card and march off the site, you would not get arrested," Ikoma says. "It would be even better if you could call a lawyer." Ikoma adds, in case you are taken to the station office, that "It would be effective to contact your friends and family and ask them to look up attorneys well versed in falsely accused cases of groping," as it would be difficult to even contact your family after arrest.
The person can ask for a duty lawyer after arrest. According to attorney Yuichiro Yasutake, the first meeting with a duty lawyer is free of charge, and the person can pay that lawyer to represent them in trials. Yasutake adds, "There is a support system for those who can't afford a lawyer."
It is also important to maintain good relationships with those around you on a daily basis, Ikoma points out. He says he has seen cases where the suspected person was handed a not-guilty verdict after his wife and friends helped to find an eyewitness.
In reality, however, avoiding arrest or proving one's innocence is still a difficult task in suspected groping cases. Still, there have been gradual changes to the long-held belief of "no choice but to run."