Monday, March 09, 2015

I am so Sorry. Legally.

Dear Korean,

As they face sentencing on blackmail charges that could land them in jail for three years, two young women are trying to save themselves with letter writing: "Model Lee Ji-yeon and GLAM's Dahee have submitted their next letters of apology for attempting to blackmail Lee Byeong-heon, making it the 10th for the model and the 17th for the idol." Are letters of apology standard operating procedure as felons face trials and/or sentencing? And do they really send ten or more? Do they go to the court or to the victim?

Frequent Flier

Short answer:  yes! Letters of apology are more or less a standard operating procedure for criminal defendants. It is not legally required, but a criminal defendant who is already convicted or whose conviction is all but certain would be foolish not to write one.

For nearly all crimes, Korean criminal law's sentencing guidelines provide that the sentencing court may consider "sincere self-reflection" as a factor to reduce the jail term, potentially down to a suspended sentence (i.e. no actual time spent in jail.) In addition, there is always a chance that the letter of apology would move the victim of the crime to ask the court for clemency, which also factors favorably in sentencing.

Lee Byeong-heon being sad about that whole blackmail thing.
(source)

This is exactly how it worked with Lee Ji-yeon and Dahee, who were convicted of blackmailing Lee Byeong-heon. For those who are not up to speed with the latest Korean entertainment gossip: Lee Ji-yeon and Dahee surreptitiously recorded Lee Byeong-heon making sexually explicit jokes while they were drinking together. Lee Byeong-heon did not help himself either, as he later flirted with Lee Ji-yeon through text messages in a manner that borderlined on harassment. The two ladies, in turn, used the recording and the text messages to blackmail Lee Byeong-heon for approximately US $5 million. Instead of paying up, Lee Byeong-heon decided to suffer the embarrassment and let the world know about the blackmail. The jig was up for the ladies.

Lee Ji-yeon and Dahee did receive prison terms--14 months and 12 months, respectively. But their letter-writing campaign apparently worked, to some degree. Lee Byeong-heon did ask the court for clemency, and the prosecutor's office appealed the case because it felt that the sentences were too low. The prosecutors specifically questioned the sincerity of the two perpetrators' apologies, claiming that the defendants are continuing to testify falsely.

Does it make sense to consider "sincere self-reflection" as a part of the sentencing rubric? If you are the type who loves the idea of putting the bad guys in jail, the idea may sound ludicrous. You might also favor drawing and quartering a murderer and cutting off a thief's hand, but the modern criminal jurisprudence has moved away from that notion.

Is there some validity to the point that this requirement brings about the "apology inflation," of the kind shown with the case of Lee Ji-yeon and Dahee? (Even by Korean standards, 17 letters of apology is a big number.) Sure, there is some validity. But take it from a criminal defense lawyer: sentencing is always more art than science, because it is impossible to precisely measure the wage of one's guilt. Modern criminal law aspires for rehabilitation of criminals. To that end, it is meaningful to inquire whether the defendant is being remorseful, even if such inquiry at times may feel like mere formalities.

Got a question or comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

17 comments:

  1. Just tried watching a few of the early episodes of IRIS. Wow, now to see a real-life intrigue involving him. Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction (almost)
    But yes, life is messy--either one adopts sharp and merciless acts such as you mention, or else one tries to sustain a sense of grace, forgiveness and mercy. Interesting to read of how the Korean courts and legal system have such a notion. Do you think he will live more virtuously now? He's recently married, yes?

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    1. I'm curious as to why you'd ask if HE will live more virtuously since he hadn't actually done anything illegal. According to the courts he didn't cheat on his wife. Probably because the girl never had any intention of going that far with him. At the time charges were filed against the girls adultery in Korean still carried a criminal sentence of two years which has since been repealed. It was rarely applied of course. The general consensus with the Korean public is that he is scumbag and a criminal that escaped prosecution. The girls must have figured out fairly quickly that his reputation as a serial womanizer was accurate and set out to entrap him. Frankly I think they just got too greedy. If they had asked for a more reasonable sum they may have been successful in their attempt. I think he should have paid them since it's likely he has lost at least a couple of million anyway in lost endorsement deals and the final blow to his reputation in Korea.

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  2. Despite the fact that he is a sleaze bag in real life (his wife is still pregnant btw) and I wouldn't want to sit and have a cup of coffee with him, he is not the criminal here. Although his name was mentioned at a crime where someone was beaten but I don't know the details about that. He didn't try to force himself or cheat the girls. They both knew very well what was going on. It is probably that they are young and they overestimated his affections. And they probably learned they lesson very well now. And it is not like Mr. Lee got away with it since everyone in S.Korea dislikes him (it seems).

    Still I think he made the best decision to report them. There is no end to black mail.

    Now this is one of the times I have the art dilemma. Should an artist's private life affect the perception of her/his works? I actually feel guilty of loving Blue Jasmine. And despite the fact that he is not a desirable man in real life, Mr. Lee Byun Hun is an excellent actor who chooses his Korean projects carefully and so far has never dissapointed this viewer. I'm sad now that it will probably take a long time for his career to recover (if ever) from this and I was looking forward to watch more of his work.

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    1. Being an American that likes movies, music and just "art" in general it would be pretty much impossible to filter out "artists" who's personal/private behavior doesn't suit my sense of morality. A perfectly good example would be Bill Cosby. How many ordinary Americans looked up to the man for years as some kind of perfect example for the modern black family man only to find out he's been raping women for years? I say "artistic types" aren't mean to be the models of morality and never have been. Especially actors, even western society looked down on "theater types" for centuries until the inception of the Hollywood studio system that attempted and failed at cleaning up their image. The hype in Korea is that "celebrities" should be models of their conservative ideals which is based on nothing more than hype. It's not at all realistic.

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  3. I'm not talking about being "perfect role models" and I don't mind if a person is just unpleasant in real life (or someone I wouldn't like), with Lee Byung Hun my - badly expressed problem- lies with his future projects being on hold. However there are other unpleasant characters in the acting (and singing) world in S.Korean. Park Shi Hoo was accused of having sex with an unconsious (probably drugged) girl. And you can see her on CCTV leaving the restaurant OK but needing help to leave the car and walk to the lift in PSH's apartment. Anyway there is also Kim Hyun Joong who actually beat his then girlfriend so much that she had to go and stay at a hospital. Now I never liked KHJ but he was much loved by large amounts of people. Same goes with PSH. He is finished a new film even. I'm not very keen on PSH either but he is not a bad actor and now will it be possible to watch his work without remembering that girl (who settled out of court after she filed charges)? Like Woody Allen, knowing that he is probably a child molester, is it possible to enjoy his films without guilr?

    And come to think of it. Korean culture is interesting in the fact that people are OK with KHJ's abuse (none of his contracts got cancelled) but they go mad to hear Jang Dong Gun's tax evasion (it was a mistake and he corrected it immediately) so much so that he had to be completely edited out from a reality show he filmed?

    As for Bill Cosby, I never liked him so do not have the dilemma as far as he is concerned. But he sure was a bad person that managed to hid himself for a long time.

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    1. I'm not sure what you're saying about his future projects being on hold. The truth is the Korean public can be absolutely brutal to their celebrities for what I consider some fairly hypocritical reasons. LBH is a womanizer but as far as I know he's never been accused of having sex with a woman against her will or even been accused of using his influence to coerce one into bed. Certainly if that were true this scandal was the perfect opportunity for those women to come forward. His text messages pretty much made him sound like he used the standard methods of bad pick up lines, begging and handing out gifts to get women to sleep with him. Standard operational procedure, and maybe even a bit pathetic given his age and marital status. I think you're wrong about the idol kid though, Kim Joong hyun and Park Shi hoo. Their careers are pretty much dead in Korea. The kid might get away with it if he does his military service without incident. I can't imagine the same fans that support him today will still be around in 2 years but I guess anything is possible. The truth is a Korean celebrity can't even have a bad hair day without the potential threat of criticism by the Korean public. I don't know how Koreans are toward each other as ordinary citizens but celebrities beware the Korean public can be absolutely brutal in their social policing.

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    2. eliza, thank you very much for your comments. I hear you, girl. You are like totally, 100% correct.

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  4. His future projects are on hold. And they even pasted over (I think Kim Tae Hee) his photos in products he was endorsing (literally they took the products - tea or nescafé I'm not sure- off the shelf and pasted someone else's photo over his in every store). He has been accused of criminal acts (paying some people to beat up a guy if I'm not mistaken) in the past but I don't think the public reaction was this bad.

    This is what I don't get. Some actions get lesser reaction but some actions get heavy reaction from the public. Is there a standard (beating gf is tolerable, evading taxes is not) ?

    As for Park Shi Hoo he just finished filming a romantic melo co starring Yoo Eun Hye.

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  5. Beating girlfriend is tolerable but becoming less so in recent years. Korea instituted a "3 strikes" law in 2013 to make sure the courts get a swipe at serial abusers. The article I read about it at the time stated that out of 118,000 domestic abuse filings only 8900 ever made to court. I think I also read last year that someone files a domestic abuse charge about every 25 minutes in SK. The article attributed this to changing attitudes about domestic abuse. Because until recently Korea hadn't really seen domestic abuse as a public health threat more like a "family problem". All the older American military guys I know who were stationed in Korea say Koreans beat their wives. Not saying that Americans don't. Only at the time they were there it was much more tolerated. I don't know about now but let's face it those kind of attitudes take a long time to change. And there is still a tremendous amount of pressure on Koreans to adhere to "traditional" gender roles. Here's what I think is crazy too, DUI. A Korean celebrity gets a DUI and has to go hide for a year. I can't imagine that drinking and driving isn't much of problem in Korea with their drinking culture. Of course a lot of people claim Koreans are crappy drivers even when they are sober. If you're American I know the Korean legal system seems strange and pretty much designed to create problems of injustice and even fraud. But I happen to think our justice system has become way to punitive and it's certainly not designed to compensate the victim. Here if you want monetary compensation you often have to go through the process of a criminal trial and then get your compensation in civil court. As for LBH that first scandal and his rep as a womanizer is why these two girls thought they could get away with blackmailing him. They knew the Korean public would turn on him with pitchforks and torches. He took a lot of criticism last year when he got married about his reputation as well. I personally think he should have paid them off, offered them something because at this point the public actually feels sorry for them and literally hates him.

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  6. The shelf life for most celebrities is limited. Lee Byeong-heon is already 45. He cheated on his wife and should bear the brunt of her anger. But to pay two women complicit in the affair $5 million to keep quiet about it? Why? If he was already hated in Korea as you all say (and I don't know enough about his fanbase there to know), what does he have to lose? Financially, it's not likely he would've won a huge endorsement deal even if he had paid the women off.

    That said, he seems to be building a decent resume of films in the U.S. (he's in the "Terminator Genisys" opposite Ah-nold.). His "bad boy" antics don't seem so bad here. He may have to up the ante to get on TMZ. (Joking, Sort of.)

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    1. I'm not familiar with his fan base either, but living in Korea and surrounded by their media, I got the impression he gained quite a popularity in Korea too after his success in the USA. But then I dunno which way his public image took and the way his reputation was developing afterwards because I don't really follow star news.

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    2. Well he had at least two movies in the can and a bunch of product endorsement deals. The movie releases have all been postponed and the endorsement deals have been given to other celebrities. I think he thought he could weather this one again. Likely didn't count on the reactions being so strong. I don't think it takes a huge backlash to scare off most of these product companies at all. It takes even less for someone to get yanked from regular network television. Some celebrities get banned or restricted for appearing by the networks. Network television is pretty heavily censored as well. They have several music shows designed to promote idol music that have to pass the censorship board for everything from lyrics to dance moves. Music videos and song lyrics get ratings for content. I just find the cultural stuff fascinating. Idol girls dancing around in skirts and hot pants up to their hoohaws but hardly ever a boob or even upper arm in sight. Korean mainstream television is very sanitized compared to their movies.

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    3. Speaking of censorship, you are right about Korean television. Sometimes it's exaggerated how much and what they censore, but the nonsense thing was the censorship of IPTV contents that weren't even flagged as "for children" or for a younger audience.

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    4. What is IPTV? Is that what I heard about them blocking online streaming? Doesn't Korean "prime time" start at like 10:00 p.m. anyway? Why aren't Koreans just bat shit crazy from sleep deprivation? Do they ever actually go to bed? lol

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    5. In the technology of nowadays' television, besides the digital and analogue signal (the analogue is dying worldwide though) and cable TV, there is also IPTV, which is an internet-based television signal. Besides the channels you can scroll through, IPTV also offers a variety of contents, such as films, series and TV shows to watch or re-watch just as if you had the DVD or the files of that particular film or series or whatever. The time of the day doesn't matter. Some of the content is free, but mostly you have to pay separately for each film/episode.
      The kind of censorship I was talking about was the typical, for example, blurring out cigarettes, cutting swear words and such stuff. Although I'm against censorship in general and I find it unnecessary, I can somehow understand the use of such censorship on public TV channels. But doesn't a regular customer of the regular IPTV service, who pays monthly for all the features and eventually even additionally for certain content, have the rights to watch all this stuff in their original form as the artists who made it had intended?

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    6. I see. So it's online streaming, paid for like Netflix or Hulu and they censor it. Yeah, I'd say that would be a problem. Who would bother to pay. It must have cost the companies that provide these services a little chunk of change. I can't imagine they would with this new restriction. I watch dramas and I'd say almost all of them appear to be little more than propaganda reels for "good Korean family values".

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    7. Dramas and soap-operas as propaganda for "good (Korean) family values"? Ehehehe, with all the relationship triangles and intrigues? Naaaaah ^_-
      Korean comedians make parodies on the clicheic nonsense found in many textbook dramas. But then, maybe yeah, a little bit of propaganda might be inserted as well.

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