Insanity Defense's Purpose in Question
Insanity Defense's Purpose in Question
  • Reporter Chae Seung-hyun
  • 승인 2018.12.12 12:08
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Illustration about insanity defense / Newsis

 

Due to recent events like the ‘Seoul Gangseo-gu PC Room Murder’ incident, voices demanding the abolition of the insanity defense law is rising. The law in question, insanity defense, also called the mental disorder defense, reduces a sentence given to a mentally ill criminal. Insanity defense argues that the defendant is not responsible for the crime and action because the defendant at the time was under episodic or persistent psychiatric disease that undermined one’s judgement.
For the precise definition of insanity defense, in Article 10 of the Criminal Code, (1) An act of a person who is not capable of discriminating against an object or who is unable to make a decision shall not be punished. (2) An act of a person who lacks the ability to fight with a mental and physical disability shall be commended for. (3) The provisions of paragraph 2 above shall not apply to persons who foresaw the occurrence of risk and caused mental and physical impairment on their own.
The most common case of the insanity defense being used is drunk driving. By definition, being drunk incapacitates a person and makes the person not able to take responsibility for their actions. However, because the law is abused for inappropriate purposes, special laws were made. In particular, due to the ‘Cho Doo-soon case’, which will be explained a bit later on, a law stating no reduction of sentence related to sex crimes was passed.
The Insanity defense is not only used in drunk driving, but also in mental and physical crimes like murder and rape. One of the most symbolic cases of this is the so-called, ‘Cho Doo-soon case’. Cho Doo-soon, who lured a girl in 2008 to rape, assault, and wound her, was sentenced to 12 years in prison, lower than the prosecution’s sentence of life imprisonment. The prosecutor claimed Cho committed the crime after drinking, even though he knew his propensity to avoid normal behavior when he was drunk. But Cho responded, “I am an alcoholic and I committed a crime in a state of mental and debilitating condition,” and the court accepted Cho’s argument. 
Due to this case, the National Assembly proposed a revision bill on the abolition of insanity defense on alcohol-related crimes, but the law failed to pass. More than 10 related revisions have been proposed, but the bill is still pending. This is because it runs counter to the principle of “responsibility.” The principle of the responsible principle is that a crime is not established without responsibility, and a criminal sentence is determined by responsibility. In other words, when drunk, the condition is judged to be irresponsible and therefore not criminal. The Ministry of Justice and others are saying that the revision of the law should be considered carefully, as applying the principle of reduction on a collective basis could undermine the principle of responsibility.
Now, because of the PC room case, there are even more people voicing their discontent on the insanity defense law. National petitions demanding such laws to be abolished as 1.2 million people react. However, experts have expressed concern that the anger triggered by the incident will soon turn into a moratorium on mental and physical disabilities. We should also be wary of stigmatizing people suffering from mental illness as potential criminals.
It is true that the whole insanity defense concept is abstract and not concrete. Some point out that the court needs to specify even more, clauses on relevant laws, as it often lowers sentences for mental illness. The current law does not precisely define being ‘mentally ill’ and the actions considered ‘mentally ill’. However, it is not necessary to abolish the entire insanity defense, but to review its contents and purpose. Society should also watch investigations and court rulings closely and think calmly rather than being excited and making rash decisions. 


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