On October 14th, the murder case at a PC room in Gangseo-gu raised an issue about the concept of “mental weakness” in Korean society. The incident became controversial, since the suspect, Kim Seong-su, submitted a certificate of depression to the court, claiming that he was mentally and physically weak at the time of the crime. On October 17th, the public posted a petition on the Blue House (Cheong Wa-dae) petition board to prevent commutation due to the mental weakness, and more than one million people signed the petition. One of the reasons why this issue caused public rage is that the criminal seemed capable of discriminating between things. Therefore, it is time to redefine the notion of mental weakness and think about the risks of reduced punishments. Also, it is essential to consider the necessity of the law despite the flaw and contemplate the proper solution to revise the law.
What is “mental weakness?”
The dictionary definition of the mental weakness is a state in which there is no ability to distinguish right from wrong. Criminal Law, Article 10, Clause 1 states, “An action of those who are not capable of discriminating between objects or of making decisions due to mental or physical disabilities is not punished.” Also, Clause 2 of Criminal Law states that a person who is suffering from the mental disease can receive a reduced punishment. For the former section’s example, there was a person with a developmental disorder who threw a three-year-old out of the window and was given an “innocent” verdict in Korea.
However, most of the cases which resulted controversial punishment are related to the Clause 2 of Article 10. The most recent controversial case was the murder at “Gangnam Station” which is the case that criminal got reduced sentence because of "mental illness.”
Nowadays, there are different opinions among lawyers and psychiatrists about Article 10 of the Criminal Law. According to Jeong Su-keun, a lawyer of the law group “Law-Dam,” there is a difference between Clause 1 and 2. He said, “People with developmental disorders are in the criteria of the Clause 1. The feeble-minded because of the depression is applied to the Clause 2. Even if the criminal had a normal ability to distinguish objects or control behaviors at the time of the crime, it can be regarded as a mental and physical disorder.” Also, he added, “The legal professionals see even depression as a state of mental weakness. Therefore, it is time to clarify the definition of the mental weakness and set a strict standard.”
The danger of the Criminal Law regarding the "psychosomatic weakness"
The most improper verdict case is about the criminal Cho Doo-soon, who is a sex offender and claims to have mental weakness. As the issue was criticized by the public, Criminal Law was strengthened. The lawyer Jeong Su-keun of Law Dam said, “Although there was a mental disability, the criteria for the Criminal Law should be strengthened because it should not be regarded as a mental disability if they had a normal ability to distinguish objects or control behaviors.”
Meanwhile, Kim Seong-su, the suspect of the murder at the PC room in Gangseo-gu, had submitted the certification of depression. However, considering the circumstances, it appeared to be a deliberate crime, not an accidental crime. The lawer Jeong Su-keun remarked, “Isn’t it possible that the attack focused on the face was planned?” It is highly likely to be a planned crime since Kim Seong-su had an argument with the victim on the day of the crime. Then he returned home to prepare weapons locating near the victim by wandering around the PC room.
Similarly, besides the case above, Kim Seong-min, the criminal of “Gangnam Station murder case” in 2016, claimed he was seized with delusion as the result of schizophrenia which is one of the mental diseases. The court recognized the case as mental weakness despite the brutal nature of the case, and sentenced him to 30 years in prison, lower than the one demanded by the prosecution. However, considering that the case was brutal murder, the verdict appeared to be wrong. Both of these incidents represent they deny responsibilities of crime even they offended by abusing the name of “mental weakness.”
Hwang Won-joon, the psychiatrist of Korea Mental Health Institue, said “Having a mental diseases including depression, and a state of mental weakness are totally different. Depression is a wider range of diseases with varying degree from mild to severe state. It should not be included in the concept of mental weakness.” He added, “The mental disability and psychosomatic weakness should not be confused and abused as a means of reduced punishment. It can serve as another stigma to many mentally ill people.”
Solution to correctly implement Criminal Law regarding “mental weakness”
The fundamental purpose of this Criminal Law is to protect the real “mentally ill person,” not the “person who pretends to be mentally ill person.” Despite the danger of the law that would reduce punishment for the person who is not the real “mentally weak person,” the enforcement of this criminal law is essential. The death of a schizophrenic in the U.S. could imply the necessity of the mental weakness law. On October 4th, a mentally disabled man was killed by the police as they misinterpreted his actions. This was a case that could not protect a real disabled person from the law. Therefore, many people claim that it is hard to punish crimes committed in the absence of discretion. Furthermore, there are people with mental illness who cannot really judge good or bad, not those who abuse it. That is, criminal laws for the feeble-minded person should be enforced, but the standards of the law should be strengthened.
More than one million people participated in the online petition to prevent a commutation of the suspect Kim for the reason of mental weakness.
/Extracted from the Blue House (Cheong Wa-dae) petition board
The lawyer Jeong said, “People could purchase medical opinion papers to prove psychosomatic weakness for reduction. So, the diagnosis verification process is required to prevent abusion.” The psychiatrist Hwang said, “I agree to the cooperation of law and medical science. For law school students, it is good to take a basic lesson because it could have an important impact on legal judgment.” He added, “In actual legal judgments, the law should be made of a legal decision by consulting a psychiatrist with an accurate and objective opinion on the assessment of the loss of the mind.”
Cho Moon-kyung firstname.lastname@example.org
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