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Apology letters to have less impact in court

The Supreme Court building in Seocho-gu, Seoul (Yonhap)
The Supreme Court building in Seocho-gu, Seoul (Yonhap)

A letter of apology will have a smaller impact in court, beginning in October this year, according to the Sentencing Commission, an independent agency affiliated with the Supreme Court, Thursday.

An apology letter is a widely used measure in court, through which defendants can show that they are sorry for their offending behavior and fully understand the seriousness of their wrongdoings.

However, while apology letters have been widely regarded as an effective measure to improve defendants‘ chances of getting the best possible result in court on sentence, many have been misusing them. In South Korea, some businesses even make money from operating a database of letters of apology.

The commission’s call came as criticism mounted against courts granting commutations to sex offenders based on letters of apology, which have become more frequent.

According to a 2021 report from Yong Hye-in of the Basic Income Party, more than 70 percent of sex offenders sentenced in 2019 were treated leniently because they submitted letters of apology.

The commission pointed out that the court should take stricter measures to discern whether the letters are sincere or not.

The commission also said that courts should be careful in taking into account donation records, another method that offenders often use to get better results in court.

Last month, the prosecutor‘s office also announced that they would take stricter measures against those who mislead with donation records and letters of apology.

In the meantime, the commission noted that the court should be cautious about increasing judicial leniency in sentencing sex offenders, particularly in cases with several victims -- like in cases dealing with illegal filming.

The commission suggested that the court should impose stronger penalties on sex offenders in workplaces as well, involving those who use their authority to sexually abuse their subordinates.

By Shim Woo-hyun (ws@heraldcorp.com)
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