Alcohol is generously accepted as a necessary evil. In Korea, it is also a reason for lighter punishment for some crimes, especially sexual violence. A gruesome case of child rape has recently prompted Koreans to wonder whether such long-standing leniency should stay.
The nation was shocked after it was learned last month that a 57-year-old man raped 8-year-old child, leaving her sexually disabled and having to rely on a colostomy bag due to her missing organs.
The repeat sexual offender, named Cho Doo-soon, was given a sentence commutation for temporary mental disorder caused by drunkenness
Clause 10 of the present criminal law states that those who lack legal capacity due to mental disorder are to be given a commuted sentence and is largely applied to sexual violence cases committed while intoxicated.
Among the sexual violence cases which the Seoul Central District Court ruled as guilty last year, all but one cited the aggressor`s drunkenness as a reason for commutation, according to the Korean Sexual Violence Relief Center.
Also, 48.7 percent of the drunken sexual abusers were given suspended sentences in the lower court ruling according to a Supreme Court document recently submitted to Rep. Woo Yoon-keun of the main opposition Democratic Party. The heaviest drinkers were generally given large commutations, showed the data.
The Health Ministry suggested to the Supreme Court that those who drink and sexually abuse children should be given heavier a penalty instead of a commutation.
The prosecution also supports the suggestion.
"Murderers are hardly given any favors for being drunk at the time of the crime," said a prosecution official. "It is irrational to regard a sexual crime as accidental or impulsive just because the aggressor was under the influence at the time of the crime"
In a recent television opinion survey, many viewers blamed the present law which in fact considers drinking, which is an aggravating factor in car accidents, as a commutation factor.
Korea, with its heavy drinking customs, is one of the few countries which is legally so generous on the loss of self-control due to alcohol, some say.
In the Unites States, a criminal may not be given a commutation because of drinking or drug abusing. The United Kingdom officially states that drunken criminals are to be handed down a harsher sentence.
"Criminals often abuse our society`s longstanding leniency over drunkenness," said an official of the Korean Alcohol Research Foundation. "However, drunkenness is different from other medical mental diseases and is a result for which one needs to take active responsibilities."
Drinking, resulting in criminal behavior, should not be taken lightly, he also said.
Some members of the Justice Ministry and the court also agree, despite the Supreme Court`s precautious stance.
"The court is bound by the social leniency towards drunkenness and by the prejudice that sexual violence crimes are caused by natural sexual impulses," said a judicial official last week during a seminar held by a civic group.
In fact, 48.7 percent of the drunken sexual abusers were given suspended sentences in the lower court ruling according to a Supreme Court document recently submitted to Rep. Woo Yoon-keun of the main opposition Democratic Party.
With heavy drinkers receiving large commutations, the defending lawyers in physical or sexual violence cases often advise their clients to claim to have unclear recollections of the crime due to alcohol, according to a court official.
Among such controversies, the Supreme Court is to host a seminar next Thursday on the legal judgment on the drunkenness commutation.
By Bae Hyun-jung