Some games don’t follow the rules of nature, especially physic laws. But we all cope with that. If all games were realistic, where would the fun be? The Ace Attorney series is a nice example of a fairly realistic game, even though the legal accuracy of Ace Attorney can sometimes be troubling, and the series can occasionally get things wrong about the law.
In the Ace Attorney series (excluding the spin-off, Ace Attorney Investigations), the player assumes the part of a defense attorney. The focus is on Criminal Law, which perhaps appeals more to the public. After all, who would want to defend a husband against his wife in a divorce? The player must collect evidence and talk with potential witnesses to build their client’s case, and earn a Not Guilty verdict by the end of the trial.
Ace Attorney makes advocating seem easy and fun, which might misguide a lot of younger players. There are a lot of true law learnings that may confuse a non-jurist fan of the game instead of teaching something reliable. (Case in point: Don’t believe the fourth game in the series. A jurist is anyone with a law degree, and not the one who participates in a jury trial.)
Let’s take a look at some of the mistakes about the law Ace Attorney makes.
Double Jeopardy in Ace Attorney
The Double Jeopardy Clause means that if someone is prosecuted once for a crime, they can’t be prosecuted again for the same crime. It doesn’t matter whether they were acquitted or convicted. This is true both under the American Law system and the Japanese Law system. (Keep in mind that the game is Japanese, and thus stays true to the Japanese Law most of the time.)
In the second case of the third game, “The Stolen Turnabout,” Luke Atmey pretends he’s the great phantom thief known as Mask☆DeMasque. He has been conveniently caught on tape while stealing a Sacred Urn on the exact same night as the murder of Kane Bullard. Atmey is the real killer, who has forged an alibi in order to use the double jeopardy clause. They explain in-game that if Atmey is convicted of larceny, he can’t be prosecuted for murder. He could use this conviction as an alibi. That is why he desperately tries to get convicted of the comparatively minor offense.
That’s not how double jeopardy works! Of course it’s not possible for a single person to be in two different places at the same time. If the prosecution wanted to convict him of murder, no one could prevent them from putting him on trial. Atmey’s attorney would happily present his alibi. Though, once the court found out the alibi was a fake, there is nothing preventing him from getting convicted of murder.
By the end of the same case, Ron DeLite, who was wrongly charged with the murder of Bullard, is acquitted with the players’ help. And that’s not all: his sentence also included a line or two stating that DeLite was not Mask☆DeMasque, since the thief was actually Atmey in disguise.
And that’s where double jeopardy comes in. DeLite is Mask☆DeMasque! But given the verdict in the trial, he can never be charged again for his actual crimes.
Because the trial is initially only about Bullard’s murder, it shouldn’t suddenly involve larceny and false identity. The court session has to discuss only the initial charges, and nothing else. Since his sentence (albeit wrongfully) says that he didn’t kill Bullard, didn’t steal the Urn and, most important of all, was not Mask☆DeMasque, he is acquitted of all of these charges. With this acquittal, if he’s ever tried again for any of these charges, he can invoke the double jeopardy clause and get away with it. And he’ll be laughing while doing so, just like Mask☆DeMasque would.
Retrial in Ace Attorney
A retrial is a second trial of the same subject. Although confusing, it isn’t forbidden by the Double Jeopardy Clause we’ve just covered. A retrial can only happen after a mistrial. A mistrial is a cancelled trial that can happen for a number of reasons. Usually something goes pretty badly at the first trial, which violates the due process of law. A second trial brings justice to the ones who need it.
The first instance of a retrial happens in the “Recipe for Turnabout” case. Maggey Byrde, defended by our beloved Phoenix Wright, is convicted of the murder of Glen Elg. However, Byrde’s defense attorney isn’t Phoenix Wright, but an impostor with a cardboard badge (No kidding). This means that the defendant does not have a proper lawyer. This is one of the biggest offenses to the due process of law. Therefore, this trial was most probably declared a mistrial and a new trial is called.
It is important to notice that some fans render this retrial as an appeal of sorts, made by Wright on behalf of Byrde. That is a misconception. An appeal means that a higher court will review the facts of the case, and never the same court. As we can clearly see, the same judge presides over both trials. This makes it a retrial, and not an appeal.
The second instance happens in Ace Attorney Investigations 2, which unfortunately hasn’t made it to western gamers yet. In this third case, known among fans as “The Inherited Turnabout,” the defense attorney Gregory Edgeworth and his assistant Tateyuki Shigaraki investigate the murder of Isaku Hyoudou. The defendant, Issei Tenkai, is found guilty of being an accomplice to the murder. Almost 19 years later, they haven’t found the actual killer yet, but they suddenly decide to force a “retrial” when new evidence shows up.
This is not a retrial at all. It would be a retrial if Tenkai is put on trial once again, but he isn’t. Manfred von Karma forged evidence at that trial. This would make it a mistrial and open the possibility of a retrial for Tenkai. But that’s not the case here.
Due to the nature of the spin-off, we don’t get to see the actual trial. We can infer that the mighty prosecutor Miles Edgeworth will not charge a different person than the one he finds out is the real culprit, Yutaka Kazami. Since Kazami is the one being put on this second trial, this can’t be labeled a retrial. Why? Because there was no declared mistrial to begin with. (This is not to mention that, once again, we are talking about different defendants!)
The third instance occurs in the case dubbed “Turnabout for Tomorrow.” Simon Blackquill is convicted of the murder of Metis Cykes. Seven years later, Wright convinces a crazy Aura Blackquill that there could be a retrial for the murder, this time with Athena Cykes as the defendant.
Retrials are not that easy to get. On top of that, Athena Cykes had been only 11 years old at the time of her mother’s murder. Japan’s age of criminal responsibility is 14 years. She could not be tried as an adult in this “retrial” anyway. Also, just as in “The Inherited Turnabout” mentioned above, they are not putting the same person on trial. Hence, it can’t be a retrial. This time, there’s not even forged evidence to classify the first trial as a mistrial.
Statute of Limitations in Ace Attorney
Nothing lasts forever. This includes the possibility of someone being put on trial. Everyone makes mistakes every now and then, but people can repent and change. Someone figured out it wasn’t fair to imprison a repented person for a crime they had committed too long ago, so the statute of limitations was created. Each crime has a different time for its statute of limitations, based on its penalty, and it changes from country to country.
When the Ace Attorney games were first launched, Japan’s statute of limitations for murder was 15 years. (Later, it became 25 years. As of now, murder is completely free of the statute of limitations. Let’s take this information with a grain of salt; the creators absolutely couldn’t see this coming). After that, you could get away with murder.
In the fourth case of the first game, “Turnabout Goodbyes,” we find out the murder of Gregory Edgeworth, which happened on Dec. 28, 2001, hasn’t been solved as of Dec. 25, 2016. Since the statute of limitations for murder is 15 years from the time the crime occurred, Wright and Miles Edgeworth have to work together to find out the identity of the real murderer by Dec. 28, 2016.
The authors of Ace Attorney were right in counting 15 years instead of 25, or not counting at all. However, this is not how you count the statute of limitations of a crime! While it might be different for a civil procedure, when counting the statute of limitations of a crime, one should include the first day (meaning the day of the crime) and exclude the last day (the exact same day, just 15 years later). That means that the statute of limitations for Gregory Edgeworth’s murder runs out on Dec. 27, 2016, not on December 28!
When Wright and Miles Edgeworth find out the real culprit is Manfred von Karma, he is already unable to be prosecuted for his crime. Can you understand now why Franziska von Karma was so angry at our protagonists in the second game?
On a related note, it’s also important to notice that the mere arresting of the (highly probable) culprit does not interrupt the counting. For a crime to be triable, the prosecution must charge the defendant with whichever crimes they’re investigating and the judge must accept the terms of this charging before the statute of limitations runs out. So just pointing out the culprit isn’t enough.
This also happens in the aforementioned case “The Inherited Turnabout.” Miles Edgeworth once again uses the statute of limitations in his favor. Hyoudou’s murder occurs on Dec.23, 2000. Tenkai’s trial begins on Dec. 26, 2000 and was only over on Dec. 28, 2001. Kazami, the suspect at that time (later revealed to be the murderer), flees to Zheng Fa (a fictional country), and stays there for three years.
A funny thing about the Japanese statute of limitations is that the counting is suspended when the suspect flees the country, and they only resume counting when the suspect returns to Japan. So, on April 2, 2019, Kazami boasts that he is the culprit, believing that he can’t be charged anymore.
Unfortunately for him — and the game does an awesome job of being so nit-picky — the statute of limitations in Japan is also suspended when an accomplice is being tried. His 15 years would only be over on Dec. 25, 2019, if we consider the three whole years he spent abroad.
Here is the math: three days pass between the crime and the beginning of the trial. You then count 14 years, 11 months and 27 days after the last day of the trial (not including that last day). Add three years of staying abroad, and voilà! Who said there’s no math in the legal world?
While the legal accuracy of Ace Attorney isn’t always perfect, the series does still cover some very real legal issues. And you thought Ace Attorney was just a game.