In Korea, the age of consent is 13. Well, sort of…

[Example Situation]


Mr. Cho (married but separated; age 42) is the head of a small talent agency in Seoul. Right now, his son (age 13) is recovering in the hospital after a minor car accident. While on a visit to his son, Mr. Cho shares an elevator with a stranger named Soojin (female; age 15). He abruptly asks if she’d be interested in becoming an actress. Soojin is flattered and takes his card. (FYI, Soojin is neither interested in academics, nor is her sick mother able to amply support her.) Fast forward 3 months: Mr. Cho is having sexual relations with Soojin (who has now left home). There is no outward evidence to suggest Soojin has ever been raped or told to leave her home. Eventually, Soojin becomes pregnant with Mr. Cho’s child and gives birth. Soojin’s mother later finds out and reports Mr. Cho to the police. Q: Discuss Mr. Cho’s criminal liability under Korean law.

Note 1: “Child or juvenile” is a person under the age of 19.

Note 2: All ages in this post are in international age (not “Korean age.”)

I. The Ruling

In a similar case, the Supreme Court of Korea reversed and remanded an appellate court decision which had found Mr. Cho guilty of “Sexual Intercourse with a Minor by Means of Authority” under Article 7(5) of the Act on the Protection of Children and Juveniles Against Sexual Abuse. In the Court’s view, Mr. Cho was not guilty. (FYI, the appellate court had found him guilty and sentenced him to 9 years in prison. The trial court had also found him guilty and sentenced him to 12.)

II. Reasoning

  • There was only Soojin’s statement alleging she had, in fact, been forced into having sex.
  • While Mr. Cho was being detained for another crime, Soojin frequently visited him + sent him mail. In the mail, Soojin often expressed (romantic) love. She also looked after Mr. Cho’s 13-year-old son.
  • During the course of their “relationship,” they often expressed “love” for each other via text message.
  • Soojin had many opportunities to return home and/or report Mr. Cho to the police.
  • It was difficult to believe Soojin’s allegation that she had, in fact, been afraid all this time. According to her, she could not help but continue to see him because she did not have enough money for an abortion.

All in all, the prosecution failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Cho committed a crime. It was hard to rule out the possibility that Soojin really wanted to be in a relationship with Mr. Cho.

UPDATE: Believe it or not, this case is still ongoing (TRIAL: Guilty —> APPELLATE: Guilty —> SUPREME: Not Guilty —> APPELLATE: Not Guilty —> SUPREME: ?). It’s unlikely the decision will again be overturned. The events originally took place in 2011, and it’s 2015 right now.

III. Explanation of the Title: The Two Laws Coexist!

According to Article 305 of the Criminal Act, the age of consent in Korea is 13. But there is a fine print: Article 7(5) of the Act on the Protection of Children and Juveniles Against Sexual Abuse.

Article 7(5) basically refers to situations where sexual intercourse seemed “consensual,” but it would have been very difficult (ordinarily) for a minor to say no.

In Article 7(5), the term “authority” (위력) refers to “the use of one’s social, economic, or political status/power.” Maybe something like: Your boss pours you a shot of soju, and you find it hard to “just say no.” You want to say no + you can say no, yet you gulp it down like a soft drink.

For Article 7(5), I have translated “위력” as “authority” and “위계” as “deception.” “위력” is normally closer to “power” or “force,” but I feel “authority” makes a little more sense in that context. (FYI, KLRI translated it as “force.”) When in doubt, one should always refer to the original/Korean version of the law. Translated versions of Korean law have no authority. They exist for reference only.

Power Tidbit: The age of majority in Korea is 19. For the purposes of Article 7(5), however, one is already deemed 19 on January 1st of the year in which one is to turn 19. Article 7(5) does not apply to them even though they are technically still 18 years old.

DID YOU KNOW? Recently here in Korea, a 9-year-old boy confessed to throwing a brick from the rooftop of an apartment building. The brick hit two people (on the ground) who happened to be feeding stray cats. One person was killed, the other severely injured. The age of criminal responsibility in Korea is 14. The boy can’t even be tried as a juve because he is not yet 10. The victims can only sue the boy’s parents. FYI, two other kids were with him that day (ages 8 and 11, respectively.) The 11-year-old is expected to be tried as a juve (for being an accomplice.)

<BONUS MATERIAL: What Exactly Constitutes Rape in Korea?>

In Korea, the crime of rape specifically requires “violence” (폭행) or “intimidation” (협박) be used as a (direct) means to engage in sex. Here, “violence” is the use of physical force, while “intimidation” refers to threats. The “lack of consent” element is proven as evidenced through the presence of either of these means. So unless there is proof of “violence” or “intimidation,” the crime cannot be rape. Example:

Jack and Jill are boyfriend and girlfriend here in Korea. One night in a motel room, Jack gets extremely angry at Jill over a trifle. He yells/curses at her and even punches the wall (out of anger). He leaves the room to cool down. After 20 minutes, Jack comes back and demands they have intercourse. Jill says no. Jack keeps demanding. Jill eventually obliges.

In a scenarios such as the one above, it’s unlikely that a Korean court will find Jack guilty of rape. Neither “violence” nor “intimidation” was (directly) used as a means to engage in sexual intercourse. Korean courts are still somewhat strict in their interpretation of rape. Initially saying no, but later obliging is more likely to be considered a change of mind.

Thanks for reading!

Criminal Insult in South Korea

[Example Situation]


Denise and Patty attend the same church here in Korea. Denise recently heard (from someone) that Patty has been badmouthing her behind her back. Denise is furious and wants to confront Patty ASAP. One Sunday before service, Denise accosts Patty. Denise (then) glares + shakes her fist at Patty. Many people are able to witness this. They wonder: “What could Patty have done to anger Denise like that?” The following day, Patty files a criminal complaint against Denise for the crime of “Insult” (모욕). Denise is indicted. How is a Korean court likely to decide?

I. The Ruling: “Guilty!”

In a similar case, the Seoul Central District Court found Denise guilty. She received a criminal fine of KRW 300,000 (USD 265) for the above incident + a previous incident where she verbally insulted Patty in public. (A prison sentence for this crime alone is rare.) This was an appellate court decision. The trial court had also found her guilty.

II. Reasoning: “If Looks Could Insult…”

The crime of “Insult” can be perpetrated even through mere gestures/actions. It need not be perpetrated verbally or in writing.

Denise’s actions were enough to satisfy the definition of “insult” under Article 311 of the Criminal Act. “Insult” refers to “expressing derogatory feelings or passing abstract judgments (via opinion) that are capable of harming another person’s social reputation” (Supreme Court Decision of November 28, 2003, 2003Do3972).

Guru Note 1: Unlike defamation, the crime of “Insult” deals with opinion only. Not statements of fact (that can be proven or disproven). But the difference is sometimes very subtle. For instance, branding a group “pro-North Korean” would be closer to defamation than “Insult.”

Finally, the perpetrator can always try to invoke a defense saying it was “justifiable under the circumstances.” (More on this in Part IV.) In this case, the court did not feel Denise’s actions/gestures were.

Guru Note 2: Here, Patty can also file a civil suit against Denise for “psychological pain and suffering.” Had Denise been able to settle with Patty, Patty would have dropped the criminal complaint (i.e., criminal case closed), and a lawsuit would no longer be an option either. The settlement amount would probably have been around 1-2 million won.

III. Alternate Realities: “What If…?”

– Alternate Reality A: Had Denise brandished scissors (instead of her fist), that could constitute the crime of “Intimidation” (협박).

– Alternate Reality B: Had Denise touched (with her fist) Patty’s glasses, causing them to fall, that could constitute the crime of “Violence” (폭행).


Season 23 Episode 10: “Politically Inept, with Homer Simpson”

IV. “Insult” (모욕): An Overview

1. a) The most common form of this crime (right now) is online name-calling. FYI, there is no separate “cyber” form of this crime, so Article 311 applies to both online/offline insults. b) The legal threshold for “Insult” is shockingly easy to satisfy. For example, publicly calling or implying another person to be a “douchebag” would easily qualify. Hurling invective, racial slurs: most definitely. c) The perpetrator need not know the actual name of the person he/she is insulting. The insult just needs to be clearly directed at someone. For instance, insult directed at a specific online username or in-game character would pass muster.

2. a) This crime requires the insult to be made in public. So, insulting another person 1:1 is normally okay. b) This crime can be perpetrated by anyone in Korea + Koreans abroad. c) This crime is normally perpetrated against an individual (as opposed to a group of people.)

3. a) In order to prosecute a person for this crime, a criminal complaint (고소) is required. This means the police/prosecutor will not just go out of their busy way to investigate this crime. b) The “victim” must not only file a criminal complaint but also submit at least some evidence to back that up (e.g., a witness, a screenshot). FYI, you do not need a lawyer to file a criminal complaint. c) To successfully file a criminal complaint, make sure: 1) the insult was made in public, and 2) it’s clear you were intended to be on the receiving end. Oh, try not to insult back; that could hurt your chances too. But the more important question might be: Would it be worth your time and effort? Is the juice worth the squeeze.

4. Publicly insulting another person is not always a crime. It can sometimes be “justified under the circumstances.” In law, we say “circumstances precluding wrongfulness.” For example: 1) You were severely provoked by that person, or 2) That person impeded you as you were exercising your rights, or 3) The insult can be considered negligible in relation to the overall point. But there isn’t one formula that covers all possibilities. Each case needs to be looked at in its own context.

DID YOU KNOW? So, the following type of music video would not be possible in Korea. It’s a parody of the 1993 hit song “Informer” by Snow.

Watching this now, I find it rather amusing that Jim Carrey is wearing that shirt because (as you know) he would go on to play the Riddler.

5. In 2013, the Constitutional Court of Korea reviewed the constitutionality of Article 311 (2012Hun-Ba37). Out of the 8 Justices deliberating, only 3 found it unconstitutional. (At least 6 are needed to repeal a law.) Still, I think it’s worthwhile to read the dissenting opinion:


<Dissenting Opinion of:

Justice Park Han-chul, Justice Kim Yi-su, and Justice Kang Il-won>

“The scope of elements of ‘insult’ in the Provision that constitute a crime is excessively broad, and negative or derogatory expressions against a person amount to insult as they are likely to undermine one’s social reputation. In the same vein, not just hateful cursing of someone humiliating enough to tear down his/her character, but satirical, humorous literary expressions that use ridicule to expose and criticize the world, twisted and negative intentions taking the form of polite expressions, newly coined words on the Internet that are somewhat violent, etc. are also punishable as a crime of insult. Consequently, even the expressions that warrant the protection of the Constitution can be regulated.

Criminal punishment of insult limits the possibility of raising issues in social communities and addressing them constructively through free exchange of different views and criticism. If some negative languages or critical expressions on sensitive political, social issues used in political, academic debates or communications are considered insult and regulated accordingly, political and academic statements will be threatened and the possibility of open debates will be restrained, weakening the essential function of the freedom of expression.

In addition, the exercise of the state’s authority to punish crime should be confined to the minimum if it is to be prescribed by criminal law; merely an abstract judgment or a derogatory expression can be regulated through self-correcting mechanism of the civil society or imposition of civil liability; and criminalizing insulting words or behaviors does not meet the international human rights standards either. Taking these into consideration, the Provision fails to observe the rule against excessive restriction and thus violates the freedom of expression.”

– Translation by The Constitutional Court of Korea

Above is just the dissenting opinion. To read the full text, click here.

If you read the full text, you can find out about why the remaining 5 Justices found Article 311 constitutional. For me, the simplest argument is that freedom of expression should not come at another’s expense. But the retort could be: “Should you be left with a criminal record for that?” If the victim is really intent on seeing you convicted (as opposed to “cashing out” via settlement), you can/will be left with a criminal record.

6. Recent Controversies #110 individuals were recently indicted (by the Daegu District Prosecutors’ Office) for having publicly insulted a woman who had given a false interview during the Sewol Ferry Disaster.

Backstory: During the Disaster in April 2014, a woman (who claimed to be a civilian rescue diver) gave an interview on live television that the maritime police were hindering their rescue efforts and that a diver even heard voices coming from inside the drowned ship. Well, it was later revealed she wasn’t even a diver. Some Koreans became angry and left harsh, spiteful comments about her online. To this, she decided to file criminal complaints against them all. More than 1,500 of them! (Hers was “why do it when you can overdo it” kind of deal.) As criticism arose, the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office announced at one point they would only indict the most egregious offenders (e.g., repeat offenders).

Hence only the 10 indicted. Those 10 were out of 515 individuals the Daegu District Prosecutors’ Office was handling. Yes, many were spared, but some were unindictable only because they had reached a monetary settlement with the woman. Reports say, 75 had reached a settlement suspected to be around 2-10 million won (per). This is not the end either. The Daegu District Prosecutors’ Office was handling just 515 out of the more than 1,500 nationwide. So, expect more news to come.

DID YOU KNOW? The number of criminal complaints filed for “Insult” rose from 2,225 in 2004 to 27,945 in 2014. This is more than tenfold.

DID YOU KNOW? A person found guilty of “Insult” usually receives a criminal fine. In practice, KRW 300,000 seems to be the minimum.

7. Recent Controversies #2: In November 2014, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea urged the police to come up with measures to make sure police arrest procedures are implemented lawfully.

Backstory: In 2014, criticism arose after police officers started to cite (more frequently) “Insult” as the reason for warrantlessly arresting civilians. FYI, Korean law allows warrantless arrests in instances where a crime has just been committed (or a crime is being committed). Having cursed at a police officer (in public) would be one such instance (e.g., “Get off of me, you #$@%!!!” –> “Okay, you’re now under arrest.”)

In April 2015, the Korean National Police Agency came up with new guidelines on how to handle such “Insult” cases. The new guidelines specifically outline two instances where warrantless arrests (for “Insult” to a police officer) are to be implemented: 1) The insulter refuses to identify him/herself, or 2) it’s difficult to acquire witnesses.

V. Screenshots for Fun (WARNING: MAY CONTAIN INSULT)


DID YOU KNOW? Earlier this year, India’s highest court ruled as unconstitutional a law criminalizing “offensive” online posts.

VI. Food for Thought: “What Exactly is Free Speech?”


“… This may surprise you, but I am not a big fan of Rush Limbaugh. However, if you’re one of the people with a website devoted to making him go away, you are part of the problem. And ironically, you’re not even a proper liberal. Because you don’t get free speech. You’re just a baby who can’t stand to live in a world where you hear things that upset you. Oh, you’re not alone. In much of Europe, denying the Holocaust is a crime. It shouldn’t be. The French arrested an anti-Semitic comedian this week for his comments about the attack, which were vile, but opinions shouldn’t be illegal. Everyone can always come up with a reason why the thing that bugs YOU should get a waiver. But free speech only works if there are no waivers. NO WAIVERS! …”

– Bill Maher (on his show earlier this year)

To watch the full segment, click hereThanks for reading!

Recent Defamation Cases 2

[Example Situation]


Samuel and Sally have been dating for some time (here in Korea). But right now, Samuel wants to break up with Sally because he now feels she is too erratic and high maintenance. Before Samuel can do that, Sally becomes pregnant with his child. Still, Samuel breaks up with Sally. He tells her he is (still) willing to take full responsibility for the child. But Sally is desperate to get back with Samuel. So one day, Sally suddenly shows up at Samuel’s workplace and reveals to his coworkers that she is pregnant with his child. (She even shows them her ultrasound images.) Samuel is now extremely angry because he really wanted to keep everything on the DL. He fears that his superiors will start to view him unfavorably. Samuel decides to file a criminal complaint against Sally for defamation. Sally is indicted. How is a Korean court likely to decide? Note: Defamation is a crime in Korea, and truth is not a defense.

I. The Ruling

In a similar case, the Seoul Central District Court ruled that Sally’s statements/actions above do not constitute defamation. This was an appellate court decision. The trial court had found her guilty.

II. Reasoning

Given the nature of the relationship, such info (in itself) is incapable of tarnishing Samuel’s social reputation. The two were unmarried individuals who were boyfriend and girlfriend at the time.

III. My Take

I’m torn really because I do feel Sally’s statements/actions were ones potentially capable of tarnishing Samuel’s social reputation (at least here in Korea). As the law stands now, I do. It’s not hard for me to picture some of his coworkers judging him. But if I’m wrong, when exactly is social reputation deemed tarnished? Where do we draw the line?

DID YOU KNOW? In Korea, a court recently found a woman guilty of defamation after she posted on her KakaoTalk profile (and messaged many people) that her violent husband had cheated on her. Her allegations were true. She was fined 2 mil won. YTN news report below.

In Korea, if you are found guilty of defamation (via a true statement), you will most likely face a criminal fine. Actual prison sentences are reserved for defamation based on (egregious) lies.

The defense for defamation (via a true statement) is that you did so “solely for the public interest.” Here, the manner in which you made the statement will come into play (e.g., to whom, for how long).

But what’s interesting about criminal defamation in Korea is that there’s always a clause which says: “The perpetrator cannot be prosecuted against the victim’s express wishes…” So usually, the perpetrator and the victim reach a settlement, and the case is closed. In essence, the victim is able to receive “damages” w/o the hassle of a lengthy lawsuit. Criminal copyright law functions similarly here in Korea.

DID YOU KNOW? There are two words (in the Korean language) that correspond to the English word, “truth.” They are: “진리” (眞理), and “진실” (眞實). It’s hard for me to explain the subtle difference, but I would say: “진리” is “truth” as in “The earth is round,” while “진실” refers to “truth” as in “I was really there!” FYI, “사실” (事實) is closer to “fact.”

– “The truth shall set you free.” –> “진리가 너희를 자유케 하리라.”

Truth & Reconciliation Commission –> 진실·화해를위한과거사정리위원회

IV. Food for Thought

– Is truth infallible?

– What do you think about people who take joy in divulging private/embarrassing information about others?

– What do you think about people who intentionally sell half-truths?

– In Korea, is the problem (more) there being too much of the truth (out there) or not enough of it?

– What is the meaning of life? In a nutshell, is it to seek truth, find happiness, and show compassion to others?


“The Truth” in NBA 2K15. Thanks for reading!

If you’d like to learn some more about today’s topic, click here.

Drivers vs. Cyclists: Driver’s Liability under Korean Law

[Example Situation]


A Seoul public transit bus is fast approaching a crosswalk. Even though the traffic light is red (for the bus), the bus driver knows too well the light will soon turn green (for him to proceed). So he decides not to slow down. Meanwhile, a cyclist (on a sidewalk) is about to use that very crosswalk (like in the photo above). The cyclist starts to cross when the “walk” signal is almost over (i.e., only one “green bar” remaining on the countdown timer). Alas, the bus hits the cyclist head-on (in the middle of the crosswalk), and the cyclist is killed instantly. FYI: At the moment of collision, it was green light for the bus (i.e., “don’t walk” signal for the pedestrians), and the cyclist was riding his bicycle across.

The family of the dead cyclist sues the bus company’s insurer. Was the bus driver at fault? How is a Korean court likely to decide?

The above example is very similar to an actual case recently reported here in Korea.

I. The Ruling

The Seoul Central District Court found the bus driver/company 60% responsible (i.e., the cyclist only 40% responsible). Their insurer was ordered to pay the family about 200 mil won (USD 170,000).

II. Reasoning

Simply put, the bus driver should have slowed down as he was approaching the crosswalk. He should have known/anticipated that somebody could always start crossing very late. In Korea, all motorists have a general legal obligation to attentively look ahead and drive defensively. In the court’s view: Had the bus driver slowed down, the collision could have been prevented.

But of course, the cyclist was also at some fault because: 1) He started crossing too late. He should have waited for the next “walk” signal. 2) He rode his bicycle across. He should have gotten off and walked/dragged it. Well, bicycles cannot be ridden on sidewalks to begin with. (The exception: Sidewalks with separate bicycle paths.)

DID YOU KNOW? Sometimes, bicycles can actually be ridden when using a crosswalk. Like the crosswalk below.


Still, I’ve seen some veteran cyclists recommend “bicycles always be walked/dragged” because many pedestrians are still unaware of what those lines mean. You can end up colliding with one such pedestrian.

DID YOU KNOW? From 2010 to 2014, a total of 1,440 people lost their lives due to bicycle-related traffic accidents here in Korea. That’s an average of 288 deaths per year. Biking accidents are on the rise.

OPINION: Sadly, I personally don’t see cycling safety (in Korea) improving a whole lot at least in the near future. That is why (right now) I cannot wholeheartedly recommend cycling to people in Korea. For the individual, the question is simple: whether it’s safe to ride today. The government should make cycling safer now. If the government is serious about promoting cycling, they shouldn’t be waiting around until there are more accidents. People should not have to pay with their lives. As a pedestrian, I don’t always blame cyclists for wanting to ride on sidewalks. I get it. They feel unsafe on the road. Just don’t hit me please.

III. Case Analysis: “It’s more about foreseeability!”

Yes, the bus driver (in the example) had the “right of way,” but liability (in traffic accidents) is more about “foreseeability.”

Was it reasonably foreseeable that someone could start crossing very late? Yes. Then, the bus driver should have slowed down.

This logic goes for cyclists too. A cyclist can be found liable for hitting a pedestrian even if the collision took place on a “bicycle-only path.”

IV. FYI: “So, when is a driver 0% at fault?”

The most likely scenario in which a driver can perhaps be found 0% responsible after hitting someone is as follows:

1) The driver’s view was completely impeded by the bumper-to-bumper traffic on the other side.

2) A jaywalker suddenly emerged out of those cars.

3) The collision took place on the road outside of a crosswalk.

4) At the time of collision, the driver was not speeding.

Perhaps like in the accident below. WARNING: DISTURBING FOOTAGE.

I think kids especially should be reminded not to dart out onto the road. Kids generally have a tendency to move abruptly and unpredictably.

V. Final Thought

It’s always better not to end up in court even if you can win. So, please try to drive/ride/walk carefully and defensively. Especially in Korea. Not everyone knows the law or abides by it.

Q:   What is it that no man wants to have, yet no man wants to lose?

A:   A lawsuit.

– The Riddler (as played by Frank Gorshin)


Above is a photo of a cyclist waiting to walk/drag her bicycle across. The photo was taken in Chicago.

To learn more about bicycle law in Korea, click here.

Thanks for reading!

“But I Didn’t Twist the Officer’s Arm!”

It was recently reported here in Korea that a Mr. Park (age 53) had been acquitted of “perjury” by an appellate court.

I have summarized below Mr. and Mrs. Park’s story.

  • One night in June 2009, Mr. Park and his wife (while driving) are stopped by the police on suspicion of drunk driving. They get out of the car and ask why they were stopped so abruptly. (They almost ran over the officer stopping the car.) Mr. Park is angry, and some harsh words are exchanged. FYI, they weren’t drunk. But Mr. Park is arrested and soon indicted for “obstruction of justice” after the arresting officers claim Mr. Park twisted the arm of an officer while arguing. Everything was recorded on police video camera.
  • In January 2011, the Supreme Court of Korea ultimately finds Mr. Park guilty of “obstruction of justice,” and he is fined 2 mil won.
  • In 2012, Mrs. Park now stands trial for “perjury” because she had testified at her husband’s trial, and there she claimed that her husband never did any of those things. The Supreme Court also finds Mrs. Park guilty of “perjury,” and she is sentenced to 8 months in prison (2 years probation). As a result, she is fired from work. She had been a kindergarten teacher for 24 years.
  • Not long after, now Mr. Park is indicted for “perjury” because he too had testified at his wife’s trial… In April 2014, the trial court finds Mr. Park guilty, and he is fined 5 mil won.
  • Mr. Park appeals. In August 2015, the appellate court finds Mr. Park “not guilty.” Why?? Because this time, they were able to enhance the quality of the video clip and analyze it more carefully: It appeared like the officer was in fact acting/feigning, pretending to make it seem as if his arm was being twisted! (Watch news report above!)
  • The prosecution has appealed the “not guilty” decision. So Mr. Park is not out of the woods yet. Off to the Supreme Court the case goes.
  • Since the incident in 2009, Mr. and Mrs. Park’s lives have all but been ruined. For the past six years, they have been consumed in litigation. Mr. Park has had to find work in construction, while Mrs. Park works in a factory. Back in 2009, they were happily making preparations to go into farming full-time, but it was not to be.
  • They are now also planning to ask for a retrial regarding their previous convictions.


Not all cops are bad, but bad cops seem to be everywhere (in the world).

To read more Korean articles about this case, use the search term “헐리우드 경찰” (“Hollywood cop”) in Naver.

[Vol. 1] Korea Court Watch


I would like to share some interesting Korean court cases of August 2015.

1.  Seoul Central District Court (Reported on Aug. 4 , 2015)

The court held that it is lawful/legal for the police to detain a suspect (caught in the commission of a crime) for 45 hours straight even without a warrant. (FYI, Korean law stipulates the police may do so for up to 48 hours.) The detainees in this case sued the government saying they were detained for 45 hours even though questioning had already ended at the 25-31 hour mark. They argued the police had no reason to further keep them after that time. (FYI, they had been arrested for protesting illegally against the impending import of U.S. beef back in 2008.) The court did not find for the plaintiffs/detainees reasoning, the detainees refused to identify themselves, kept on invoking Miranda, and overall refused to cooperate with the police. So, the questioning itself took long to begin with. There were also many other detainees there at the time, and the police needed more time to try to bring the situation under control. Under the circumstances, it was not unreasonable for the police to have further detained them for those extra hours. (Link)

2. Ulsan District Court (Reported on Aug. 4, 2015)

The court found a motorist (age 47) guilty of a hit-and-run after he left the scene of his accident without telling the the other party (i.e., the victim motorists) any contact info. That fleeing motorist did tell the other party he was leaving “to get his cell phone and ID,” but that did not prevent the court from finding him guilty. The court reasoned, it did not look like the victims consented to him leaving + the victims were holding the back of their necks, so the motorist should have realized they might have suffered injuries. (FYI, the victims ended up suffering injuries requiring 2-3 weeks of medical treatment.)  That motorist should have first taken measures to call an ambulance and/or the police and left the scene only after giving the victims his contact info. He didn’t do any of these things, so the court felt there was indeed “intent to flee.” (Link)

3. Supreme Court of Korea (Reported on Aug. 4, 2015)

The Supreme Court reversed and remanded an appellate court decision which had found a man (age 51) not guilty of groping. The defendant was indicted for groping after he touched two female subordinates (ages 20 and 19 respectively) at work. The defendant claimed he was merely trying to scold the two after he found them loitering/smoking near the back of the office building. He touched them in the face and arm a few times while telling them this and that. In other words, he claimed the touching was not “sexual” in nature. The Court saw otherwise. Considering the circumstances under which he touched them (age, sex, relationship, manner, etc.), the Court felt the defendant did in fact have intent to touch them sexually w/o consent. FYI, the man had originally been found guilty, and then not guilty, and now guilty again (TRIAL: guilty -> APPELLATE: not guilty -> SUPREME: guilty). The appellate court had ruled he was not guilty because the incident took place haphazardly in an open, public area for a short period of time. These cases are often iffy and hard to predict. (Link)

4. Supreme Court of Korea (Reported on Aug. 5, 2015)

A man here in Korea marries a Chinese woman (through an agency). His Chinese wife leaves him a month after the wedding. Would this be enough grounds for an annulment (here in Korea)? The Supreme Court says no. Unless there is real/substantive evidence that the woman/wife did in fact harbor fraudulent intentions to begin with, an annulment cannot be granted. The Court added, it was still unclear the exact circumstances under which the wife had left. There was a possibility she left as a result of marital discord. (Link)

5.  Uijeongbu District Court (Reported on Aug. 6, 2015)

A man buys a used car not knowing the car was a flood-damaged car. He drives it around until the engine suddenly fails, and the car breaks down beyond repair. (The man is unharmed.) In such an instance, the court says the buyer has the right to cancel the sales contract and receive a full refund from the seller. The fact that the car is now damaged beyond repair or the seller “did not know” are irrelevant. Also, the buyer need not pay (reimburse) for having used the car. (Link)

6. Daegu District Court (Reported on Aug. 6, 2015)

A woman is paid (in advance) by a pimp/agency, 55 mil won. She is expected to pay back this money by working as a prostitute. But even after working for a long time, she is still unable to pay back 20 mil. She wants out now. Is she obligated to pay this money back? The court says no. Any money paid in consideration for or in the execution of an illegal activity need not be paid back. This is why “gambling debt” need not be paid back either. [ADDED: For example, you owe money because you lost. Gambling is generally forbidden in Korea. Gambling is allowed only in specific casinos. Also, Koreans cannot gamble in most casinos which exist for foreigners here.] (Link)

7. Uijeongbu District Court (Reported on Aug. 10, 2015)

Your whole family is dining at a restaurant. You are all seated except for your baby who is inside the stroller napping. The stroller is beside your table, partially blocking the pathway for other people. Let’s say, an employee accidentally spills hot doenjang jjigae on the baby! The hapless baby suffers 2nd degree burns on the thigh. The baby will have to receive skin graft surgery when older. You sue the restaurant owner and employee. How much would the restaurant be responsible? In such a case, the court saw the restaurant as 70% responsible. One of the restaurant’s defense that there was a “No strollers!” sign near the entrance did not work. (Link)

8. Incheon District Court (Reported on Aug. 10, 2015)

What is the likely punishment for falsely accusing another person of a hit-and-run? A man (age 32) was found guilty of “False Accusation” (무고) and fined 1.5 mil won after he made such a false report to the police. He did so after getting into a heated argument with another person. CCTV footage was able to prove all this. FYI, the crime of “False Accusation” requires the perpetrator/reporter to be (at least) “pretty sure” that the person is innocent. Which was not a problem in this case. (Link)

9. Seoul Northern District Court (Reported on Aug. 10, 2015)

Is a failed suicide a crime? Yes, if you were trying to commit suicide together with another person, and only you failed. A woman (age 26) was found guilty of “Aiding and Abetting Suicide” after the man (age 24) whom she tried to commit suicide with succeeded/died, while she failed/lived. They were strangers who had met online. The woman was also lucky in that she received a “deferred sentence” (선고유예). This means: if she is able to keep her nose clean for a certain period of time, the guilty sentence itself is thrown out (i.e., everything is expunged). The jury/court granted this sentence because she seemed very remorseful, had no priors, was trying now to “live right,” and the man actually played a more key role in organizing the joint suicide. This was a jury trial. In Korea, only criminal defendants may request a jury trial. (Link)

10. Jeju District Court (Reported on Aug. 12, 2015)

What is the punishment for accidentally shooting to death another person (while hunting) in Korea? The court found a man (age 65) guilty of criminal negligence and sentenced him prison (w/o labor) for 18 months (3 years probation). “Probation” means he will not actually serve time in jail. He accidentally shot to death a colleague while removing bullets from his shotgun. They had gone hunting together. In Korea, the possession of firearms is strictly prohibited except for under special occasions such as for hunting or sports shooting, etc. The court said the defendant was negligent in that he should have pointed the muzzle upwards towards the sky (as opposed to sideways towards his colleague). I remember we were constantly reminded of this in the military. This case also reminded me of a Forensic Files episode in which a person shot to death a friend while hunting, but not accidentally. He tried to make it seem accidental. (Link)

11. Seoul Western District Court (Reported on Aug. 12, 2015)

Can a person be punished for “driving w/o a license” after having driven his/her car 2 meters inside a (villa) parking lot? The court says no. “Driving w/o a licence” only applies to instances where the motor vehicle was driven on the “road.” And, such a parking lot cannot be considered that. A man (age 54) was acquitted of “driving w/o a license” after he drove his car in such a manner/place with a revoked license. (Link)

DID YOU KNOW? If drunk, the man could theoretically be punished for drunk driving because drunk driving does not require a motor vehicle to be driven on the “road.”

12. Seoul Family Court (Reported on Aug. 13, 2015)

What if your newlywed bride spends most of her time shopping alone and treats you like “hollow man” throughout your honeymoon? The court saw this type of behavior (of the bride) as being responsible for the breakup a (de facto) marriage. The court ordered such a bride to pay back for all wedding expenses, give back all presents, and pay to the groom an extra 10 million won for psychological pain and suffering. In this case, the marriage was still in the “de facto” state because they had not registered yet. A “de facto marriage” is like cohabitation. It entails almost all rights/obligations as a legitimate/registered marriage except for those relating to inheritance. (Link)

13. Suwon District Court (Reported on Aug. 13, 2015)

A “conscientious objector” (a Jehovah’s witness) who was indicted for draft evasion was found not guilty. This was the fifth time such a conscientious objector was found not guilty by a court (since the first-ever acquittal in 2004). The problem is that the Supreme Court of Korea is still steadfastly finding them guilty. The Constitutional Court of Korea has also ruled that criminal punishment for conscientious objectors is “constitutional.” FYI, military service is mandatory for all men in Korea. (Link)

14. Busan District Court (Reported on Aug. 13, 2015)

The court ruled that even (Japanese) pornography is protected under Korea’s copyright laws. This decision is in line with the Supreme Court stance on copyright and pornography. Even when the content (of a work) potentially violates criminal laws, the work itself is protected under copyright laws so long as it expresses ideas in a creative manner. As a result of this case, a company running file-sharing websites (i.e., the defendant) will no longer be able let its (paying) users share Japanese porn freely. (Link)

15. Seoul Central District Court (Reported on Aug. 15, 2015)

The court found a jaywalker 70% responsible after he was hit by a bus while trying to cross the street near a crosswalk. He was jaywalking in that: 1) it was his red light + 2) he did not actually use the crosswalk. So, why wasn’t he 100% responsible for his own injuries?? The court thought it was still possible for the bus driver to have (maybe) reduced speed at the very end. The court calculated that the bus driver had approximately 1.9 secs to foresee the jaywalk. The bus driver/company’s defense that view was impeded by the illegally-parked taxis was not recognized. The court added it was a clear day, and the collision happened during daytime. Message to all drivers (in Korea): “Just because someone is jaywalking does not necessarily mean you can hit him/her.” (Link)

16. Seoul Central District Court (Reported on Aug. 16, 2015)

In 2011, Mr. Park (and two other people) put up on the Republic of Korea Navy website bulletin board, several posts denouncing the government’s plan to build a new Naval base in Jeju. Their posts were quickly removed by admin in accordance with website policy that any posts of a political nature or any posts denouncing (w/o legitimate grounds) a particular group or organization are to be taken down. Well, Mr. Park (and those two other people) sued the government saying their right to “freedom of expression” had been (illegally) infringed. The trial court found for the defendant (i.e., the government). They appealed. The appellate court (this case) found for the plaintiffs and ordered the government to pay the plaintiffs KRW 300,000 each (for psychological pain and suffering). The appellate court reasoned that the matter was of public concern; therefore, they had a right to voice their opinion + just because an opinion happens to coincide with the position of the opposition party does not necessarily make it politically-motivated. FYI, district courts (in Korea) can function both as trial court or as appellate court. So, both high courts and district courts handle appellate cases. (Link)

17. Seoul High Court (Reported on Aug. 17, 2015)

The court affirmed a lower court decision in which a South African (currently in South Korea) was denied refugee status. The South African first came to South Korea in August 2013 with a B-2 visa (business/tourist) and within a month asked Korean immigration to grant him refugee status. However, immigration refused saying there was not enough credible reason to believe “his life or freedom would be threatened” as stipulated in the 1951 Refugee Convention. The courts basically felt the same. The South African claimed that a maniacal cult (practicing human sacrifice) had already murdered his parents and were now after him. Sadly, he did not have much credible evidence to support these claims. In international law, there is an important principle called “the principle of non-refoulement.” No state can arbitrarily return a refugee back to a place where his/her life or freedom would be threatened on account of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular group, or political opinion. This is now considered international customary law, but states still have the final say in determining whether a person qualifies as a “refugee.” (Link)

18. Seoul Central District Court (Reported on Aug. 17, 2015)

What if you suspect your wife of infidelity and want to plant a recording device to gather proof? Well, don’t do that because you can face criminal liability (if caught). The court found a man (age 55) guilty of this crime and sentenced him to 1 year in prison (2 years probation). “Probation” means he will not actually serve time in jail. He planted a recording device deep inside his wife’s purse and also at her workplace. The wife found out. In sentencing, the court took into consideration that the device actually recorded evidence of infidelity! But of course, two wrongs don’t make a right. In Korea, you can secretly record a conversation only if you yourself are a party to that conversation. (Link)

19. Seoul Western District Court (Reported on Aug. 17, 2015)

If you were an inmate and prison did not properly tend to your medical condition (and you suffered irreversible damage as a result), you can sue them. A man successfully sued the government for an amount of about 200 mil won for exactly that. He was suffering from serious hypertension while in prison, but the people there failed to take proper care of him. (He suffered cerebral hemorrhage as a result.) The court did limit the prison’s responsibility to 50% saying the man was also at fault for not properly conveying the exact extent of his medical condition at the time + did not always cooperate fully. (Link)

20. Daejeon District Court (Reported on Aug. 17, 2015)

A man (age 47) was sentenced to 8 months in prison after he took upskirt photos of random women on 11 separate occasions. He was already on probation for having been found guilty of similar crimes. So this time, he will actually spend time in jail. He was also ordered to attend 80 hours of “sex offender treatment program.” I understand why some women habitually cover their skirts. You never know in Korea. (Link)

21. Seoul Western District Court (Reported on Aug. 18, 2015)

The court ruled that groping another person (while alone with that person) is a crime only if: a) the perpetrator used violence/intimidation, or b) the victim was taken by surprise. This means: if groping (under such circumstances) begins slowly without employing any force or threats + the victim could have foreseen the event and does not actively resist –> that sort of groping is not a crime. Here, the specific crime in question is “Indecent Act by Compulsion” (강제추행). A man (age 49) who was indicted for two separate counts of groping was found guilty of only the former count. Synopsis: He first (suddenly) started groping his sister-in-law who was trying to sleep in her room. The sister-in-law was taken by surprise, and she moved to another room. He followed to grope her again. But this time, she was not taken by surprise and did not actively resist. Also, the man stopped promptly after realizing she was not asleep, and she told him “It was fine, just leave.” In my opinion: This is all because of the word “compulsion” which does not appear in latter, more modern forms of similar crimes such as “Indecent Act at Crowded Public Place.” (Link)

DID YOU KNOW? So far this year, Gangnam Station (Line #2) is leading all other metropolitan subway stations in the number of reported sex crimes.

22. Daegu District Court (Reported on Aug. 19, 2015)

Except under very special circumstances, abortions are illegal in Korea. (For example, continued pregnancy would seriously endanger the pregnant woman’s health. –> Abortion is okay.) You may not think so considering very few illegal abortions actually go punished. It is a crime nonetheless. It is a crime not only to perform or undergo an illegal abortion, but also to foot the bill! The court recently found a man guilty of “Aiding and Abetting Abortion” (낙태방조) and ordered him to pay 1 million won in criminal fine. A series of text messages helped establish he had in fact paid for his girlfriend’s illegal abortion. The girlfriend and the doctor/obstetrician must be facing punishment as well. (Link)

23. Jeju District Court (Reported on Aug. 20, 2015)

As you know, gun ownership is strictly prohibited in South Korea unless for special purposes. One of them is when farmers need to protect their hard-earned crop from free-roaming wildlife. But it seems not all farmers can own a gun. Farmers with a propensity for violence may be denied a permit. The court upheld a police disposition denying a shotgun permit to a farmer who had previously been found guilty of crimes relating to violence (numerous times from 1991 to 2014). The court felt he could pose a danger to the public. Plus, he already owned an air gun, and the city was providing such services upon request. (Link)

24. Seoul Central District Court (Reported on Aug. 22, 2015)

You may remember reading in the news (earlier this year) that a woman here in Korea was indicted for attempted rape (of a man). Well, she was recently found not guilty via jury trial. Basically, the jury found it hard to reconcile the victim’s allegations with the surrounding evidence. For instance: 1) The victim remembered details that a drugged person would not normally remember. 2) The victim said he feared for his life, yet he at one point put a baid-aid on the defendant. 3) The defendant was merely 4′ 9,” and she would have had a very hard time shoving the victim up against the wall, as alleged. 4) Finally, the victim was said to have been hit over the head with a hammer, yet his head wound did not appear that serious. At any rate: the 9 jurors deliberated for 3 hours, and the verdict was unanimous. FYI, a verdict need not be unanimous in Korea, but the jury’s verdict is not binding either. The presiding judge can still choose to disregard it. The judge has the final say. Btw, the prosecution has appealed. In Korea, the prosecution can appeal not guilty verdicts. (Link)

25. Changwon District Court (Reported on Aug. 24, 2015)

The court ruled that it is illegal for a policeman to take (w/o consent) a motorist to the police station even when there is suspicion of drunk driving (e.g., breath smells like alcohol, but no breathalyzer test administered). And, any evidence obtained thereafter is inadmissible. A man (age 55) successfully sued the government for an amount of about 4 mil won after he was forcibly taken to the police station (from his car). The amount was for psychological pain and suffering + for bruises sustained while resisting. (He slapped an officer in the face but hurt himself too!) The man was indeed drunk (BAC 0.214%), but got off on all charges (e.g., drunk driving, obstruction of justice) because he was taken illegally + all subsequent evidence was inadmissible. I may be missing some key facts, but I can’t say that I agree with this decision. (Link)

26. Seoul Central District Court (Reported on Aug. 25, 2015)

Two plastic surgeons have been found guilty of criminal negligence and each fined 7 mil won and 5 mil won. They were found guilty of “Death by Occupational Negligence” (업무상과실치사) after a female patient they jointly performed liposuction on died. It was established in court that the two had accidentally/negligently caused perforations in the patient’s small intestine which lead to her death. The reason the two got away with just a criminal fine was because a monetary settlement had been reached with the victim’s family, and the family did not wish for further criminal punishment. In Korea, having reached a monetary settlement with the victim’s family is taken into consideration in sentencing. The perpetrator/defendant cannot avoid criminal liability altogether, but it can lead to lighter punishment. (Link)

27. Seoul Central District Court (Reported on Aug. 26, 2015)

The court affirmed a lower court decision which had found a car driver 0% responsible after he hit a pedestrian who was crossing the street using a crosswalk. Why, how 0%? 1) It was the driver’s green light. 2) The driver was not speeding. 3) The pedestrian emerged very suddenly, and there was virtually no time to react. 4) The pedestrian was crossing while looking at his smartphone. The most important factor is #3. (In this case, #4 is not as important.) There was virtually no time to react because: Unlike the lane the driver was progressing on, the opposite lane was “bumper-to-bumper,” and the driver’s view (of the opposite lane’s portion of the crosswalk) was completely impeded by those lined-up cars. The pedestrian started crossing from the sidewalk on the opposite lane. To the driver, the pedestrian must have suddenly appeared out of nowhere. This is one the rare instances in which a driver can be found 0% at fault (for hitting a pedestrian). This is also why drivers need to install a black box. (Link)

28. Seoul Central District Court (Reported on Aug. 26, 2015)

The court found three internet users guilty of “Cyber Defamation (via a False Statement)” and each fined them KRW 800,000. They had spread rumors online that “singer Im Chang-jung split up with his wife because she was having extramarital affairs, and Im was actually not the biological father of their third child.” Im’s (ex) wife filed a criminal complaint, and the three children even underwent DNA testing. The claims were false. (Link)


29. Suwon District Court (Reported on Aug. 26, 2015)

In Korea, you can actually end up in jail for publicly insulting another person (w/o provocation). The court affirmed a lower court decision which had found two Ilbe website members (ages 20 and 30 respectively) guilty of the crime of “Insult” (모욕) and sentenced them both to 4 months in prison (no probation). This means they will actually have to spend time in jail. The two were charged with the crime after they posted (on Ilbe) a photo of an unidentified Danwon High School student devouring a fish cake skewer. It carried the caption: “Eating friends.” (FYI, it was one of them actually enacting the student after purchasing a Danwon High School uniform.) Their incriminating (and odious) analogy was that: The fish cake skewers immersed in soup were Sewol victims drowning at sea. Most of the Sewol victims were Danwon High School students and teachers. (Link)

30. Supreme Court of Korea (Reported on Aug. 27, 2015)

The Supreme Court of Korea affirmed an appellate court decision which had found the government’s demolishing of painter Lee Ban’s mural at Dorasan Station as “illegal.” The government was ordered to pay Lee 10 mil won for Lee’s psychological pain and suffering. Back in 2006, Lee was contracted by the Ministry of Unification to paint (on one of the walls at Dorasan Station near the DMZ) a nice mural that would signify the hope for unification, etc. He did. But in 2010, the government decided to tear it down after getting many complaints that the mural was too dark, abstruse, and shamanistic. The government even conducted a survey, and 80% of the respondents wanted it changed (to something brighter). The government saw no problem in unilaterally deciding to demolish the mural because after all they owned it. The appellate court and Supreme Court saw otherwise. They ruled that the tearing down lacked objective justification and infringed upon the painter’s “moral rights” and “freedom of the arts.” What do you think? (Link)


All mistakes here (grammatical/factual) are my own.

Thanks for reading!

Enforceability of ‘Liability Waivers’ in Korea: The Yangpyeong Paragliding Case

[Example Situation]


Candace is a Canadian residing in Seoul, Korea. She likes the outdoors. One weekend, she decides to try paragliding in Yangpyeong, Gyeonggi Province. Once there, she is assigned an instructor named In-soo who also happens to own the place. He will be paragliding with her today. He teaches her the basics, and off they paraglide. Everything is fine until landing. While attempting to land, they collide with another paraglider, and Candace is very badly injured as a result. Candace soon decides to sue In-soo and the insurance company for an amount of about 180 mil won. As defense, In-soo and the insurance company claim Candace had signed a “liability waiver” (aka “release of liability”) document; therefore, she has forfeited any right to sue. It turns out she did sign her name on such a document. How is a Korean court likely to decide?

I. The Ruling

The example is similar to an actual case recently reported here in Korea.

The Seoul Central District Court ruled partially for the plaintiff:

1) The court saw the “liability waiver” as unenforceable.

2) The court found the defendants 50% responsible and ordered them to pay Candace about 83 mil won (USD 70,000).

II. Reasoning

1) In the court’s view, such “liability waivers” are valid only to the extent if interpreted to mean the service provider is not responsible for the customer’s own faults (i.e., solely the customer’s fault). The “liability waiver” in question cannot be interpreted to apply in instances where the service provider themselves are at (some) fault. Even if interpreted as such, that clause would be null and void because it would violate the “principles of good faith.”

2) So, if the “liability waiver” is unenforceable, the remaining question is: who was at fault + how much at fault. To the court, In-soo was at fault because (as the instructor) he should have taken the necessary precautionary measures to prevent such a collision. The court limited In-soo’s responsibility to 50% because he apparently did order Candace to hit the breaks at the last minute, and she failed to comply.

Side note: Candace did sign her name on such a document, but apparently in the wrong place. According to reports, Candace signed where she was supposed to simply write down her name, and she wrote down her name instead of an ID no. Interesting, but immaterial. Such a clause would be null and void regardless of whether she understood.

Oh, I found a nice video clip of what paragliding in Yangpyeong is like:

Thanks for reading!

Korean Law Regarding Sexual Groping: An Overview


I. Understanding the Key Terms

In Korea, you may have heard of the term “indecent act” (추행). It basically refers to the crime of “(sexual) groping” or “inappropriate sexual touching.” I personally prefer the broader term “inappropriate sexual touching” because not only is there “groping,” but there is also “forcible grinding” and “forcible kissing.” Unlike groping, the latter two do not entail so much using one’s hand to achieve gratification.

Meanwhile, the term “indecent act” is actually a much broader term than (even) “inappropriate sexual touching.” An “indecent act” does not require physical contact! For example, forcing another person (e.g., by making threats with a knife) to watch one masturbate in an enclosed area (e.g., inside an elevator) constitutes an “indecent act.” An “indecent act” is a very broad term referring to any act objectively capable of producing feelings of sexual humiliation or revulsion that infringes upon the right to sexual self-determination of another person. Technically speaking, physical contact is not a requirement.

Nevertheless, an overwhelming majority of “indecent acts” are essentially groping or inappropriate sexual touching. When you hear about an “indecent act” in the news, it’s (almost) safe to assume they are referring to groping or inappropriate sexual touching. This is why I am not averse to using the three terms synonymously.

But, another reason why I prefer the term “inappropriate sexual touching” (over groping) is because those three words (i.e., touching, sexual, & inappropriate) encapsulate what a defendant must argue in order to exonerate him/herself. In essence, a defendant must argue:

1) “I did not even touch!” or

2) “I touched, but it wasn’t sexual!” or

3) “I touched and it was sexual, but there was consent!”

Any one of these arguments, when successful, is enough to find a defendant not guilty (i.e., a full defense).

DID YOU KNOW? In the “masturbation example” above, one key/operative word is “enclosed.” Had the man (just) publicly masturbated in an open area, the crime would have been either “Public Obscenity” (공연음란) or “Obscene Exposure” (과다노출). The fact that it took place in an enclosed area implies that the victim could not flee, and therefore her right to sexual self-determination was infringed.

DID YOU KNOW? Before Korea’s laws on rape became gender-neutral in 2013, a woman raping a man would constitute the crime of “Indecent Act (by Compulsion).” Male-on-male rapes as well. By definition, a man could not fall victim to the crime of rape. This has all changed now.



“Indecent act” in Korean is “추행.” “행” means “conduct” or “act.” “추,” on the other hand, is closer to “ugly, hideous, unsightly” than “indecent.” In the news, the term “성추행” is preferred over just “추행.” “성” means “sex or sexual,” so “성추행” essentially means “sexually indecent act.” These all refer to groping or inappropriate sexual touching.

II. Types of “Indecent Acts” in Korean Law

The term “indecent act” is a term I (and other people) use generally. No crime is actually named just “indecent act.” The official names are much longer. Longer because they usually specify the manner in which an “indecent act” is perpetrated. The following are the official names of all “indecent act” crimes and their corresponding (criminal) punishments. Prison sentences are in red, and criminal fines in orange.

1. “Indecent Act at Crowded Public Place” : max 1 year or max 3 mil won

2. “Indecent Act through Abuse of Occupational Authority, etc.” (Victim is under one’s protection or supervision by reason of business, employment or other relationship) : max 2 years or max 5 mil won

3. “Indecent Act through Abuse of Occupational Authority, etc.” (Victim is held in one’s custody after being detained in accordance with the law) : max 3 years or max 15 mil won

4. “Indecent Act by Compulsion” / “Quasi Indecent Act by Compulsion” (Victim is 19 or older) : max 10 years or max 15 mil won

5. “Indecent Act by Compulsion” / “Quasi Indecent Act by Compulsion” / “Indecent Act by Authority or Fraudulent Means” (Victim is ages 13-18) : min 2 years of fixed term or 10-30 mil won

6. “Indecent Act by Compulsion” / “Quasi Indecent Act by Compulsion” / “Indecent Act by Authority or Fraudulent Means” (Victim is 12 or younger) : min 5 years of fixed term or 30-50 mil won

7. “Indecent Act by Compulsion” / “Quasi Indecent Act by Compulsion” (Victim is a disabled person) : min 3 years of fixed term or 20-50 mil won

8. “Indecent Act by Authority or Fraudulent Means” (Victim is a disabled person) : min 1 year of fixed term or 10-30 mil won

9. “Indecent Act by Compulsion” / “Quasi Indecent Act by Compulsion” (Victim is a family member or relative) : min 5 years of fixed term

Most of the translations above, I went by the KLRI (Korea Legislation Research Institute) translation. I usually go by their translation mainly because coming up with my own could potentially create confusion to the English reader. One could mistakenly think that KLRI and I are referring to two different/separate things, when actually we’re not. Indeed, one problem with KLRI translations is that a Korean legal term is sometimes translated into different/separate English terms for no reason. I suspect this is because the translations are done by several different people with no one person to coordinate everything.

FYI, I have translated “위력” as “Authority.” “Quasi” is a translation of “준” which refers to instances where the victim is already incapacitated (e.g., drunk, asleep…), and the perpetrator takes advantage of that. “Compulsion” is a translation of “강제” which refers to situations where violence or intimidation is used as a means to perpetrate the actual crime (i.e., two-step process: intimidation/violence –> indecent act). Oh and, “fixed term” basically means it cannot be life imprisonment.

One thing I wanna say about “Indecent Act by Compulsion” (강제추행) is that even though the crime specifies intimidation or violence as a necessary means, these means are not really necessary. This is because the Supreme Court of Korea has interpreted that the preliminary act of intimation/violence and the actual indecent act can take place simultaneously! When a victim is taken by surprise, the “indecent act” itself also constitutes “violence.” I think the original drafters failed to see that (unlike rape) groping usually takes place suddenly and instantaneously (i.e., not a two-step process). To learn more, click here.


Homer: The only reason we don’t move out of this dung hill is because of my court-ordered ankle bracelet. (His ankle bracelet beeps.) I’m here, quit bugging me!

Marge: Why do you always have to show that to company?

Homer: It’s a conversation-starter.

One must keep in mind: On top of the above-mentioned punishments, a person found guilty will also be registered as a “sex offender” and probably be ordered to attend many hours of “sex offender treatment program.” His/her personal info can be disclosed on the internet. In egregious/habitual cases, a person found guilty might also be ordered to wear a GPS ankle bracelet or even undergo chemical castration!

A foreigner who is convicted of an “indecent act” crime will likely be denied re-entry to South Korea. An innocent person should never admit to guilt even when his/her employer is willing to pay the criminal fine.

DID YOU KNOW? A person who commits an “indecent act” inside a car could face revocation of his/her driver’s license. A professor who commits an “indecent act” (to a student) could legitimately be fired.


Earlier this month, a British female exchange student here in Korea accused a subway station employee of molesting her. She originally called the police saying she had been kidnapped by other foreigner students. The police came to her rescue and took her to the nearest subway station. Not long after, she again called the police (this time) saying an employee there forcibly kissed her, touched her… The employee vehemently denies the accusation saying he found her crying in the station, so he only tried to help. There was no CCTV there, but the employee claims a cleaning lady was there to verify. The case is under investigation, and the parties are said to undergo a polygraph.

DID YOU KNOW? A “criminal complaint” is not a requirement for prosecuting/punishing someone for any “indecent act” crime. So for instance, if an undercover cop catches someone red-handed in the subway, the police can prosecute that perpetrator regardless of whether the victim’s wishes to seek punishment. This also means the perpetrator will still be punished even if some sort of (monetary) settlement is later reached between the perpetrator and the victim. When a settlement is reached, the perpetrator usually ends up with a lighter punishment. But, punishment itself cannot be avoided. Same with all rape crimes.

III. Recent Court Cases Worthy of Note

1. The Seoul High Court recently found a man not guilty of inappropriate sexual touching (and other charges). He had originally been charged with the crimes after he started groping a co-worker’s girlfriend who was spending the night at this home (in one of his rooms). The man slowly started groping her thinking she was asleep. In fact, it was established in court she was not asleep; she was just pretending to be asleep. The man was found not guilty because: a) She was not asleep, so the crime cannot be “Quasi …” + b) The groping started slowly and gradually (e.g., first checking to see if she was asleep) which means she had ample time/opportunity to say no (which she didn’t) + she was not taken by surprise. This case is in the Supreme Court now. (Link)

2. The Seoul High Court found a man in his 30s guilty of inappropriate sexual touching. He had been charged with the crime after he touched/caressed the back of the hand + cheek of an 8-year-old girl. This happened in the playground of an apartment complex. The man was sentenced to 3 years in prison (4 years probation). What was key in this case was that the victim stated that the touching was “not really pleasant to her.” The man was, however, able to avoid wearing a GPS ankle bracelet because he had no priors. (Link)

3. The Ulsan District Court found a man in his 50s guilty of sexual inappropriate touching. He had been charged with the crime after he touched a 10-year-old girl’s buttocks three times. This crime also happened within the premises of an apartment complex. The man was fined 40 million won, ordered to attend 120 hours of “sex offender treatment program,” and his personal info is to be disclosed for 2 years. The man committed this crime while he was on probation for a similar crime. But, reports imply he was able to avoid a prison sentence because a settlement was apparently reached with the victim’s family. (Link)

4. The Daegu District Court found a man in his 60s not guilty of inappropriate sexual touching. He had been charged with the crime after he touched/slapped a (young) woman’s thigh, while on the subway. He touched her thigh once while telling/ordering her to uncross her legs. It seems he was trying to scold her that dress was too short/revealing. The court here ultimately felt there was intent to grope the woman. (Originally, the lower court had found him guilty and fined 1.5 million won.) FYI, the man’s defense here would have been the “I touched, but it wasn’t sexual!” defense I talked about earlier. (Link)

5. The Daegu District Court found a man in his 40s not guilty of inappropriate sexual touching. He had been charged with the crime after he suddenly put his hands inside the armpits of a female coworker (a teacher) during a get-together dinner (at a restaurant). He did so while saying “Let’s go for a 2nd round (of drinks)!” The man was found not guilty mainly: a) Because whether he intended to “grope” was still unclear + b) Because of conflicting witness accounts (of other coworkers, the restaurant owner).  Originally, the lower court had found the man guilty mainly because the female co-worker expressed disapproval right away + he publicly apologized to her. (Link)

6. The Daegu High Court affirmed a lower court decision which had found a 22-year-old man not guilty of inappropriate sexual touching at a club. He was indicted solely based on the female victim’s description that the perpetrator was wearing a pink shirt and had short hair. The courts all felt this was not enough to convict the man especially considering that: the club was dark and crowded + the club had special blue lighting + the victim was drunk herself and only glimpsed the perpetrator from the side/rear. (Link)

7. The Ulsan District Court found a 46-year-old man guilty of inappropriate sexual touching after he slapped a female coworker on the buttocks on two separate occasions. He was fined 4 million won and ordered to attend 40 hours of “sex offender treatment program.” (Link)

8. The Supreme Court of Korea reversed and remanded an appellate court decision which had found a male physical therapist guilty of inappropriate sexual touching. He had been fined 3 million won for touching (w/o consent) a female patient’s breasts. The Court exonerated the man because the female victim could have easily extricated herself + did not (at the time) clearly express any disapproval + filed a criminal complaint after two days. Also, the man clearly and consistently denied the claims from the very beginning. All in all, the victim’s claim alone was not enough to convict the man. (Link)

9. Earlier this month, the Daejeon District Court found a high school teacher guilty of inappropriate sexual touching. He had been charged with the crime after he habitually molested 23 of his students from 2013 to 2014. The court sentenced him to 18 months in prison (no probation). This means he will actually serve time in jail. He was also ordered to attend 40 hours of “sex offender treatment program.” (Link)

10. The Seoul Northern District Court found a man in his 40s guilty of inappropriate sexual touching. He had been charged with the crime after he habitually molested the two young daughters of his cohabitating girlfriend. He was sentenced to 2 and half years in prison (no probation). This means he will actually serve time in jail. He was also ordered to attend 80 hours of “sex offender treatment program.” But, the prosecution’s request for a GPS ankle bracelet was denied by the court. The court denied it saying: he had no priors, he no longer lives with the victims, and the assessment report for possibility of recidivism did not come out as high. FYI, GPS ankle bracelets and chemical castration require the request from prosecution. The court cannot just order. (Link)

TRIVIA: The first Korean celebrity to wear a GPS ankle bracelet was released from prison a couple of weeks ago (after serving out his time). He will have to wear it for 3 years. Do you know who he is?

IV. Afterword

If you are a defendant and you know yourself to be innocent, do not at any point admit to any guilt. Be consistent in your denials from beginning to end. Point out any inconsistencies in the accuser’s statements. Even if you lose a case, by all means appeal. Don’t give up.

If you are a victim, clearly express disapproval right away and report the crime ASAP. Do not wait a few days to report. Demand an apology. Also, do not exchange any friendly text messages with the perpetrator. Be consistent and specific in your allegations from beginning to end.

At any rate, it’s generally not a good idea to go ahead and touch someone (you don’t know).

Thanks for reading!

Cyclists vs. Pedestrians: Cyclist’s Liability under Korean Law

[Example Situation]


On the weekend, Lisa likes to ride her bicycle near the Han River. There is a bicycle path there, and she feels relatively safe. Right beside the bicycle path, there is also a separate path for pedestrians (similar to the above photo). Lisa feels there is no better place to ride a bicycle in Seoul. One Saturday afternoon, Lisa is riding her bicycle at 20 km/h on a bicycle path. Everything is fine until an old lady (who was walking on the pedestrian path) suddenly darts into the bicycle path! Lisa has no time to avoid the lady and hits her head-on. As a result of this collision, the old lady suffers a serious brain injury. Even after multiple surgeries, she is unable to talk freely + she is left virtually paralyzed on her left side. The old lady and her family sue Lisa for an amount of KRW 330,000,000 (USD 293,000). How is the Korean court likely to decide?

I. The Ruling

The above example is very similar to an actual case recently reported here in Korea. (YTN news report above.)

The Seoul Central District Court ruled for the plaintiffs, but found the defendant only 40% responsible. This means the defendant (i.e., Lisa) will have to pay KRW 100,000,000 (USD 88,800).

II. Reasoning

Even though bicycle paths are only for bicycles, the court cited the following duty in why it found (partially) for the plaintiffs:

Road Traffic Act – Article 48 (Duties of Safe and Eco-Driving)

(1) Every motor vehicle driver shall correctly operate the steering system, brakes and other devices of his/her motor vehicle and shall not drive his/her motor vehicle at a speed and in a manner that endangers and impedes other persons according to the traffic conditions of the relevant road and the structure and performance of his/her motor vehicle.

(2) Every motor vehicle driver shall endeavor to reduce fuel consumption and carbon emissions by driving in an environmentally-friendly and economical way.

– Translation by KLRI (Korea Legislation Research Institute)

In Korea, people also like to refer to Article 48(1) as “전방주시의무.” It refers to the duty of the driver/rider to “always look ahead and drive/ride defensively.” FYI, bicycles are considered as “motor vehicles” when being ridden.

DID YOU KNOW? Most bicycle insurance policies (here in Korea) only cover personal injuries to the cyclist him/herself. Very few cover injuries (to others) or bicycle theft.

III. What This All Means

I generally feel this decision was unfair to the defendant. After all, the defendant was riding at around 20 km/h (the max speed allowed along a river/stream), and the accident occurred on a bicycle path where pedestrians are not normally allowed.

But I only say “generally” because there might be particulars to this case we are unaware of. As Sherlock Holmes likes to say, “There is nothing so important as trifles…”

At any rate, the crucial factor in these types of cases is whether you can successfully convey to the court/judge there was absolutely nothing you could have done to avoid the collision. This is why, I think, installing a “black box” on your bicycle is so important nowadays. With no hard/conclusive evidence, Korean courts are inclined to find the driver/rider partially at fault (in Pedestrian v. Driver/Rider cases).

My other takeaways from this case:

1) When there is a pedestrian path right next to a bicycle path, you must ride slower than normal/allowed.

2) Always assume any pedestrian ahead can/will suddenly drift in and out of a bicycle path.

IV. My Thoughts

Having said all this, I still do not feel Korea is a very bicycle-friendly country. When asked if cycling in Korea is “safe,” I normally tell people not to ride unless they really like to. Cycling on bicycle paths is relatively safe, but cycling on the road (alongside cars) still feels dangerous. I am generally reluctant to put my safety into the hands of car drivers here. There needs to be more bicycle paths, but the attitude of car drivers needs to change as well. The attitude that “Cars always come first.”

To learn more about bicycle law in Korea, click here.

Thanks for reading!

Two Guys, a Girl and a Korean Motel Room…


A couple of weeks ago, a female U.S. soldier (stationed here in South Korea) was arrested for having attacked (and caused injury to) an old motel owner couple. She attacked them after the owner couple had refused to rent a motel room to her (and her entourage consisting of 1 other female and 2 other males).

The question is: “Is it illegal in Korea to rent a motel room to a group consisting of 2+ adult males and 1+ adult female(s)?”

I would say no, it is not illegal. (Korean) motel owners are, in fact, choosing to do that because they can. There is no Korean law which explicitly forbids motel owners from renting a room to such a group. Conversely, there is no law which obligates owners to rent a room to such a group. If there is no law which specifically forbids or penalizes something, it is normally allowed. FYI, “threesomes” (i.e., ménage à trois) are not illegal under Korean law. FYI, taxi drivers (in Korea) cannot arbitrarily refuse passengers.

I have never been in hospitality, so it is hard (for me) to say exactly why some motel owners choose to implement such a policy. Many people think it’s because owners are afraid of the possibility that such a group might be implicated in some illegal/criminal activity. “What if the female (in the group) later alleges rape?” I once heard someone ask. I think some owners just like to assume “something is rotten in Busan” and don’t wanna have to deal with any possibility of their motel being implicated in illegal/criminal behavior. I’m guessing such (room) requests are very few and far between that it does not really hurt their business to turn them all down.

DID YOU KNOW? In order for a motel owner to be found guilty of “aiding and abetting rape,” he/she would have to have been in cahoots with the rapist(s). It is a crime, of course, for motel owners to knowingly arrange/allow criminal activities such as rape/prostitution/gambling to take place in their premises.

The only Korean law (that I could find) which sort of relates to today’s topic is Article 3.2 of the Act on the Regulation of Amusement Businesses Affecting Public Morals (풍속영업의 규제에 관한 법률). Under Article 3.2, motel owners must not allow/arrange “lewd acts” (음란행위) to take place in their premises. It is a crime to do so. (See Article 10.) FYI, lodging is classified as an “amusement business affecting public morals.”


Are threesomes “lewd acts?” In my opinion, it would hard to classify them as such. Even if they could be classified as such, just because two males and a female show up asking for a room does not, of course, automatically mean they are about to engage in a threesome.

To give you an example of what does constitute a “lewd act,” a night club owner was once convicted of this crime after having a dancer dance (for the guests) naked while wearing a fake penis and simulating sex (Supreme Court Decision of September 8, 2011, 2010Do10171).

Thanks for reading!