Posted February. 18, 2010 08:21,
The Supreme Courts case assessment committee yesterday said courts have frequently given lighter sentences than set by law because of incorrect guidelines.
Public outrage began mounting last year over the relatively softer punishment given to a 57-year-old man convicted of raping an eight-year-old girl.
In addition, the committee said certain courts handed out lighter sentences without following guidelines for no specific reason or failed to specify in their rulings how they decided on sentences.
○ Light punishment for child molesters
The committees internal report called illegal sentencing guidelines on child sex crimes adopted in July last year that recognize the use of a scheme or physical force as factors justifying a lighter sentence.
The guidelines conflict with criminal and other laws governing sex crimes that require judges to sentence under law those who commit sex crimes through deception or physical force.
In December last year, a provincial court sentenced a teacher to 18 months in prison for sexually molesting two of his nine-year-old students, less than the legal minimum of three years.
The judges panel handed out the relatively lenient sentence based sentencing guidelines that considered the use of deception or physical force less coercive than assault or threats.
The committees report also said courts in Seoul, Suwon, Daegu and Daejeon gave child sex criminals lighter sentences than required by law in November and December last year, when the judiciary was under fire for giving relatively light punishment to such criminals.
Critics say recognizing the use of deception or physical force as less coercive than that of assaults or threats to justify lenient punishment disregards the nature of sex crimes against children.
We believe that giving light punishment to a person who enticed a child and committed a sexual crime is problematic, a committee member said.
○ Failure to follow guidelines
The report also said certain judges handed down punishment that failed to meet sentencing guidelines.
For example, one man approached an 11-year-old girl for directions before luring her with money and molesting her. A Gwangju court sentenced him to 30 months in prison, however, though the legal minimum was four to six years.
The court defended its decision by saying the man was remorseful of his crime, his previous lack of a criminal record, and his deposit of money in court as compensation for the victim.
Under sentencing guidelines, however, none of those factors allowed the court to hand down lighter punishment. The reasons for the reduced sentence as specified by the Gwangju judge also violated sentencing guidelines.
A prosecutor said, If courts fail to abide by sentencing guidelines or arbitrarily interpret them, the intended purpose of the guidelines of making trial results more predictable will not be served.