Supreme Court Decision 99Do5350 delivered on February 25, 2000



1. Summing-up


(1) The summary of the indictment


ⓐ In the past the defendant has often engaged in domestic arguments with the victim, her husband.

ⓑ Around 01:20 on the date of March 12, 1999 in the inner room of the Galbi restaurant operated in their residence, the defendant, while once again engaging in a domestic argument with the victim, in a rage decided to murder the victim, seized the knife on the cutting board by the door, and stabbed the victim's left chest once, causing the victim to die on the spot from a piercing of the heart. The death constitutes a murder.


(2) The claim of the defendant 


ⓐ The defendant has consistently denied the charges.

ⓑ In the past the victim had on many occasions picked up a knife while engaging in a domestic argument with the defendant. 

ⓒ And at the time of this incident, the victim picked up the knife on the cutting board by the door and faced the defendant when the defendant tried to leave the room at the conclusion of the argument.  

ⓓ While in this position, the victim held the knife in his right hand and the defendant's right shoulder in his left hand, and while pulling the defendant, walked backwards until colliding with the desk behind him.  

ⓔ At this point, the defendant told the victim to release her, pushed the victim's left hand away that was grabbing her right shoulder, and took the knife from the victim's hand.  

ⓕ As the victim did not use strength to hold onto the knife or resist and gave up the knife, the defendant received the knife and placed it again upon the cutting board on which it first lay. 

ⓖ At the moment when the defendant turned back around, the victim was clutching his chest and had fallen down by himself.  

ⓗ The defendant at no point stabbed the victim, and since at the time of taking the knife from the victim, the victim gave up the knife without a quarrel, it is not at this time that the victim was injured.  

ⓘ The defendant believes it probable that the victim was stabbed by the knife between the point in time when he, while holding her left shoulder and walking backwards, collided with the table and the point in time when the defendant pushed away the victim's left hand, which was holding her right shoulder.  

ⓙ However, as the defendant did not observe this, she claims not to know how the victim was stabbed by the knife.


2. The judgment of the court below


(1) The point of contention in this case is whether, through a quarrel while holding the knife and attempting to take it, by collision with other obstacles, or other reasons, the knife stab was accidental, or whether the defendant deliberately stabbed the victim with the knife. 


ⓐ The victim died from a piercing to the heart and it was not caused by an act of another person.

ⓑ At the time of the incident, the house was only occupied by the defendant and the victim who were spouses.

ⓒ The victim held the knife and threatened the defendant.

 The knife was held such that the blade faced the direction of the fourth finger and the butt of the handle faced the direction of the thumb.

ⓔ The deceased victim had a single piercing with an approximate length of 2.5cm and a depth of 15cm with the blade facing outward on the left breast, such that the wound not only appears from the outside to be virtually horizontal but also does not lean to either side and faces directly toward the back, and appears to have come out of the wound immediately with no movement within, and that the victim does not have any other injuries from self-defense or self-infliction.

ⓕ It is also declared that the victim did not commit suicide.

ⓖ The defendant testified that the victim had not committed suicide and there was no self-inflicted wound or motive for suicide.

ⓗ At the time of death, the victim wore a down vest, sweater, and t-shirt and all of these clothes were pierced at the same point and with the same shape as the heart injury. It does not appear that the victim stabbed himself, thus allowing the elimination of suicide as possibility.

ⓘ Since, if the victim had been holding the knife at shoulder level the blade would have faced downward, if the piercing had been inflicted on the victim accidentally during a fall from a collision with an obstacle, such as the desk while walking backwards, or while pushing the victim's left arm away and taking the knife, not only should the wound have indicated that the blade of the knife faces toward the center of the body, but also it is unlikely that the piercing would be horizontal.

ⓙ Therefore, the victim was not accidentally stabbed in the process of pushing away the victim's left hand, which was holding the defendant's right shoulder, and struggling while taking the knife or from falling after a collision with an outside object.

ⓚ In consideration of circumstances such as the position of the wound, the shape and direction of the blade in the wound, and the condition of the victim's body, it can only be concluded that the defendant stabbed the victim with the knife.


(2) The defendant's action of stabbing the victim's chest with a knife indicates an intent to kill.


3. Judgment of the Supreme Court


(1) Direct evidence corroborating the charge that the defendant murdered the victim by deliberately stabbing the latter with a knife


(A) The testimonies

ⓐ A portion of the reported testimony drawn up by the judicial police officer during suspect interrogation wherein the defendant confessed to part of the charges.

ⓑ A report of the judicial police officer that summarizes the defendant's reenactment of the crime during on-the-scene investigation.

ⓒ The testimony of 'A', 'B', 'C' to the prosecutors and to the court of first instance that "immediately after the accident at the hospital where the victim was brought in, the defendant was heard telling A 'I killed him,'" and B's testimony to the prosecutors that "when the defendant was first being questioned by the police, the defendant was heard responding to questioning by lowering her head and saying, 'I killed him.'"


(B) Judgement

ⓐ The defendant contests in court the testimony of B on the defendant's testimony to the police and on the defendant's confession to the crime at the investigation quarters, and the above report of the on-the-scene investigation and, therefore, these lack viability as evidence.

ⓑ Although the above account of the defendant's words to A at the hospital immediately after the incident was made in especially credible circumstances and can be said to have some viability as evidence even if the testimony is denied by the defendant, in light of the colloquial practice of Korean language, it is appropriate to interpret the statement "I killed him." as expressing remorse over guilt that through the defendant's error or moral fault, the victim perished, rather than a statement with legal bearing that acknowledges the intentional murder of the victim.

ⓒ Therefore, the above cannot be directly construed as a confession by the defendant and ultimately there is no direct evidence to corroborate the charges.


(2) Criteria of finding defendant guilty, where no direct evidence


(A) The principle of criminal procedure

It is the principle of criminal procedure that in the case no testimony of witnesses and no other form of direct evidence exists and the indicted offense is inferred or deduced from indirect facts supported by lawful evidences beyond a reasonable doubt, defendant can be found guilty.

ⓑ The charges in this case can be upheld only if the possibility of suicide by the victim and the possibility of the victim's death as a result of an accident are eliminated beyond reasonable doubts and it could be inferred that the victim's death was caused by the action of the defendant stabbing the victim. 


(B) Indirect facts

 The part of the court below's judgment that eliminates the possibility of suicide by the victim can be fully approved.

 The defendant and the victim were facing one another when the victim threatened the defendant with the knife, while holding it such that the knife blade faced toward the fourth finger and the knife butt faced toward the thumb.

 The dead victim had a single piercing wound on his left breast with a length of 2.5cm and a depth of 15cm with the knife blade facing outward, with the wound nearly horizontally from the outside, straight toward the back without movement to either side.

ⓓ The knife fell out directly without movement within.

ⓓ The victim's body bore no other injuries from self-infliction or in self-defense.


(C) Judgment

The investigative report written by the head of the National Institute of Scientific Investigation and used as supporting evidence by the court below contain absolutely no content supporting the ruling.

ⓑ But the investigative report also used as supporting evidence in conjunction and written by Lee Yoon-sung of the Medical Law division of the Medical School at Seoul National University actually state, "The fatal piercing wound of the victim cut through only muscle and neither rib bone nor cartilage and would seem to have done so while offering little bodily resistance. The act of drawing out the knife would also seem to have required little in the way of strength, and the victim himself could have very well removed the knife himself after the wound was inflicted. Although the possibility of murder by another cannot be eliminated, it is not uncommon in reality for stabbing to occur in a situation of a quarrel, such as with the victim and defendant. If the defendant stabbed the victim with the knife while facing him, the direction of the piercing wound should have been downward, but the actual wound is nearly horizontal. Also, the victim was in standard health and, although the time period is short, could have acted even after the stab but did not have any injuries from self-defense while being attacked by the physically weaker defendant. In conclusion, there is a possibility that, as opposed to murder, this incident is a result of an unintentional accident that took place during the quarrel."

No other information seems to rule out the possibility of an unintentional accident, and thus the possibility that the death of the victim in this incident is the result of an unintentional accident rather than the defendant's intentional act of murder can be said to exist definitively.

ⓓ Therefore, as long as this possibility is not eliminated beyond reasonable doubts, it is clear that the charge that the defendant murdered the victim with a knife is not proved beyond reasonable doubts.


(3) Conclusion


ⓐ Despite the lack of supporting evidence necessary to eliminate reasonable doubts that the defendant murdered the victim with a knife, the court below ruled that by eliminating the possibilities of the victim's suicide or accidental death the defendant is guilty of the above charges.

ⓑ This is ultimately a misjudgment of the strength of evidence and steps over the line set by the Principle of Free Evaluation of Evidence.

ⓖ The judgment of the court below was rendered without sufficient evidence, which affected the conclusion of the judgment.

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