[FOUNTAIN]Judgement of judges lacks in objectivityThe “Eoudong case,” the most controversial sex scandal of the Joseon period, stirred up a debate over sentencing standards. According to the Annals of King Seongjong, Eoudong, who was the granddaughter-in-law of Prince Hyoreong, the second son of King Taejong, was facing trial on charges of engaging in extramarital sexual relationships with a number of men, including government officials.
Some insisted on the death penalty for Eoudong while others argued that she should be punished by the law. Premier Jeong Chang-son pleaded that she deserved an extreme penalty for having behaved like a prostitute, but should be punished according to the law. Euigeumbu, which corresponded to a modern-day special court, judged the crime as adultery and sentenced her to 100 beatings and then to be sent into exile.
However, King Seong-jong opposed the decision. The king argued that if Eoudong was not killed, a similar case could happen in the future, and ordered Euigeumbu to find and apply an unwritten law. The court modified the sentence of Eoudong based on a Chinese law that sentenced a woman to capital punishment for betraying and running away from her husband and remarrying. As the king was the highest judge in the kingdom, Eoudong was sentenced according to his will.
In the early 1980s, the United States was debating the issue of sentencing. While some convicted of drug charges were sentenced to 20 years in prison, others charged with similar offenses were released on probation. Marvin Frankel, a federal judge in New York, proposed the creation of sentencing guidelines based on the nature of the crimes and the history of the offenders. Established in 1984, the U.S. Sentencing Commission defined the sentences of over 200 criminal acts. Today, judges give appropriate sentences according to this guideline by adding or subtracting points based on evaluation standards.
Under the current judicial system, sentencing is a unique right of judges. Judges can give different sentences according to their personal tendencies, competencies and perspective of the world. That’s why different judges produce different sentencing on similar cases. Therefore, the fate of an offender sometimes depends more on who the judge is rather than how bad the crime was. Judges are often criticized for being generous on “white collar crimes” by powerful political figures while being strict on “blue collar crimes” by average citizens.
The prosecutors have prepared a draft for American-style sentencing standards. The intention is to prevent subjective sentencing as seen in the case of Eoudong, where beating and hanging were discussed. I am curious as to how the judges will respond.
by Ko Dae-hoon
The writer is a deputy city news editor for the JoongAng Ilbo.