Dismiss alcohol factor in all crimesThe Supreme Court has upheld lower court rulings that didn’t take into account unstable mental and physical conditions in two cases of sexual offenses committed under the influence of alcohol. The court’s decision signifies a long-awaited rejection of a long tradition of granting lenience to sexual offenders when they commit crimes while drunk. Based on Article 2 of Clause 10 of the Criminal Law, our courts have customarily handed down lighter punishments for alcohol-induced sexual assaults against adults.
Earlier this year, however, the Supreme Court committee on assessing criminal penalties established new standards for violent sex crimes after drinking in what amounted to a de facto rejection of the article. After the court’s decision, the number of cases to which the clause has been applied has decreased.
First, we welcome the Supreme Court reaffirmation of this new principle. In fact, a stricter approach to various types of crimes committed while drunk was clearly demonstrated by persistent efforts from police to crack down on habitual predators and the courts’ more prudent application of clemency for those crimes.
In our society, however, a deep-rooted cultural generosity for crimes sparked by overconsumption of alcohol still prevails. Courts can hardly resist the temptation to be lenient about ordinary types of crimes committed under the influence of alcohol, except for sexual offenses and repetitive violence.
An official at the Supreme Court explained that too many crimes take place because of alcohol and judges cannot ignore the leniency clause of the criminal law, which is still in effect. Moreover, judges need to consider the alcohol factor when handing down rulings on spontaneous crimes, he said. At a recent confirmation hearing for nominees for Supreme Court justices, a lawmaker went so far as to find fault with the high court’s decision to review the appropriateness of the lenience clause for alcohol-triggered crimes.
Given the infamous tendency toward violence committed after consuming a lot of alcohol, the court should apply more rigorous standards. If drinkers are not held accountable for crimes they commit, even small ones, their misdemeanors will probably morph into felonies over the years.
According to statistics from the National Police Agency, about 40 percent of all violent crimes in the past five years were committed by drinkers. Overall, a total elimination of the alcohol factor for all kinds of crimes will help improve Korea’s drinking culture.