Korean Law Demystified!

Food for Thought: What is the Role of Criminal Punishment?


A child asks, “Why do we punish criminals?” Your answer is:

a) “Because they deserve it…”

b) “So all people can see what happens…”

c) “To turn them into law-abiding citizens…”

The Trial of Du Soonja (aka Death of Latasha Harlins)

In 1991, an African-American teenager by the name of Latasha Harlins was shot to death (in South Los Angeles) by a female Korean store owner named Du Soonja. (The whole thing was caught on camera.) Below is a summary taken from Wikipedia:

Du observed Harlins putting a bottle of orange juice in her backpack. Police say that Du erroneously concluded Harlins was attempting to steal, and did not see the money Harlins held in her hand. The police reached this conclusion after speaking with the 2 eyewitnesses present and viewing the videotape of the incident, recorded by a store security camera. The videotape showed that Du grabbed Harlins by her sweater and snatched her backpack. Harlins then struck Du with her fist 3 times, knocking Du to the ground. After Harlins backed away, Du threw a stool at her. Harlins then picked up the orange juice bottle that dropped during the scuffle, threw it on the counter and turned to leave. Du reached under the counter, retrieved a handgun, and fired at Harlins from behind at a distance of about 3 feet. The gunshot struck Harlins in the back of the head, killing her instantly.

Du’s defense was that she acted in self-defense + she triggered the gun accidentally. The jury did not buy it and recommended a 16-year prison sentence (for voluntary manslaughter). But the presiding judge decided not to follow the jury recommendation and instead gave her 5 years probation (no actual jail time). The judge’s reasoning was that Du was not a “career criminal” + it was unlikely a person such as Du would commit a crime again.

The reasoning is similar to when Sherlock Holmes let a timid criminal go. But in this case, a probation sentence was clearly unjust. Du was not justified (at all) in killing Harlins that day. And even if Du hasn’t committed another crime to this day, I would still feel the same. I see punishment mainly as a deterrent. Rehabilitation should be more holistic. Thanks for reading!

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