The Korea Herald


[Feature] Public balks at lenience for ‘impulsive’ crimes

By Jo He-rim

Published : Nov. 4, 2018 - 17:43

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The recent string of murders and violent crimes making headlines are causing great frustration and anxiety among the public, who fear that they will receive light sentences after claiming they committed their offenses on impulse.

When a man surnamed Kim, 45, set fire to a convenience store in Seoul in July, he told the police he was angry at the owner for being “not kind enough” to him. The owner’s husband died from serious burns. In October, the court sentenced Kim to 13 years in prison.

The recent murder of a 21-year-old internet cafe employee is also alleged to have occurred when Kim Seong-su, 29, took it out on the victim for not cleaning his table immediately upon request and “not treating him nicely.” Kim, who left the scene after police arrived on the scene, returned with a knife and stabbed the victim multiple times.

Kim Seong-su, a suspect in the murder of an Internet cafe employee in Seoul last month, is led out of Yangcheon Police Station in Seoul on Oct. 22. (Yonhap) Kim Seong-su, a suspect in the murder of an Internet cafe employee in Seoul last month, is led out of Yangcheon Police Station in Seoul on Oct. 22. (Yonhap)

On the website of presidential office, more than a million people have signed a petition for strong punishment against such crimes of anger, showing empathy to the victims.

“Watching these crimes, I became very cautious with my words and actions with strangers and others. You never know when someone can get angry and you and hurt you,” Lee Bo-eun, an office worker in Seoul, told The Korea Herald.

Police define “impulsive crimes” as the opposite of “planned crimes,” according to Kim Chul-hoe, an officer at the National Police Agency.

“Basically, we conclude a crime was committed ‘impulsively’ when we find that there had not been any plans to kill or hurt the victim in a conflict situation,” Kim said.

When investigating a case, police find typically record the motive, such as greed, revenge or discontent, but impulsive crimes do not have a clear motive, Kim added.

According to the National Police Agency, the number of violent crimes -- such as murder, rape and arson -- that were unplanned and without clear motives totaled 8,343 among the 27,071 violent crimes committed in 2016. In other words, 1 out of 3 violent crimes in Korea were concluded to have been committed on impulse.

The increasing number of violent crimes triggered by a moment of rage has also added to concerns about mental health and safety.

According to Health Insurance Review & Assessment Service, some 5,986 people were treated for intermittent explosive disorder, a diagnosis that has become increasingly common since 2014 when there were 2,962 patients.

No such thing as ‘impulsive’ crime

But more and more people are calling for stern punishment, as those who commit violent crimes often claim their actions were not premeditated or that there judgments were impaired.

“I do not understand why the punishment is watered down for those who are apparently suffering from mental disorders or was under the influence of alcohol. Why does the court take their circumstances into consideration to water down the punishment?” Lee Ji-eun, 26, told The Korea Herald.

Last month, a 20-year-old surnamed Park beat a 58-year-old woman to death on a street in Geoje, South Gyeongsang Province. The victim pleaded for her life, but he continued beating her for 30 minutes. The woman later died of injuries, which included multiple fractures and cerebral hemorrhage.

The suspect claimed it was not a planned murder, and that he does not remember the incident because he was heavily intoxicated. Police transferred the case to the prosecution seeking char Park with crime of injury, accepting the suspect’s claim that he did not have an intention to kill the woman.

A person who inflicts bodily injury upon another, thereby causing his/her death, shall be punished by limited imprisonment of at least three years, according to the law.

The prosecution, however, indicted him for murder.

According to Article 250 of the Criminal Act, a person who kills another shall be punished by death, or be imprisoned for life or for at least five years. Since the upper limit of imprisonment is 30 years, the jail term is between five to 30 years.

“Basically, claiming to have committed a violent crime ‘accidentally’ will not affect the legal charge itself -- murder. But it can have an influence in the process of determining the punishment, as the judges consider the circumstances in which the offense occurred,” Hwang Tae-jung, a criminology professor at Kyonggi University, told The Korea Herald.

Some experts also say the idea of an “impulsive” crime does not make sense.

“I believe the terminology just refers to a crime ‘claimed’ to be committed on impulse. In my view these are cases where police investigation failed to delve further into the crime motives,” Lee Su-jeong, a professor of criminal psychology at Kyonggi University, told The Korea Herald.

“Saying a crime happened in a moment of rage, only appears to water down the seriousness of the crime. One may think, ‘I get angry often in my everyday life. The criminals are also angry like me.’ But not everyone kills their lover or beats up others up when they are mad,” Lee said.

By Jo He-rim (