South Korea’s High Court overturned a lower court’s February decision to imprison Cho Hyun-ah for one year for last December’s “nut rage” incident. Seoul’s High court found that Cho did not violate aviation security law when she ordered the chief flight attendant off the December 5, 2014 flight, forcing the KAL airliner to return to the gate at JFK Airport.
Seoul’s high court meted out a 10-month prison sentence suspended for two years and set Cho free. Deemed a flight risk before her trial, Cho had been jailed since her December arrest, and she effectively served five months in prison.
Seoul’s lower court had convicted Cho in February of “forcing a flight to change its route, obstructing the flight’s captain in the performance of his duties, forcing a crew member off a plane and assaulting a crew member.” The lower court had found her not guilty of interfering with the transport ministry’s investigation into the incident.
At February’s trial, Cho pleaded not guilty and prosecutors sought a three year prison sentence. Both sides appealed February’s decision and sentence.
In overturning the most serious of the lower court’s findings, Seoul’s High Court interpreted that Cho’s actions did not violate the aviation security law, which is meant to regulate severe acts such as hijacking. Seoul’s High Court determined that Cho’s actions posed no serious threat and that Cho’s demanding the return of the taxiing plane did not constitute forcing a plane to change its route.
Seoul’s High Court found that Cho had “shown remorse for the wrongdoing she committed. She must have learned a lesson from it. We judge she should have a chance to start her life anew.”
The head of the three judge panel Kim Sang-hwan found that even though Cho had used violence against crew members, Cho should be given a second chance. The judge cited Cho’s “internal change” since Cho started serving her prison term. Judge Kim also took into consideration that Cho had no prior convictions and was the mother of 2-year-old twins in lessening Cho’s sentence.
Upon leaving the court house, Cho “made no comment in front of the TV cameras, bowing her head and burying her face in her hands as the media pressed in and yelled for her to say something.”
“It appears that she will have to live under heavy criticism from society and stigma,” said Judge Kim.
Aside from the worldwide notoriety and igniting of the smoldering embers below the tinderbox that Korean society is in relation to its chaebols, I think her sentence, given her time served, seems fair. Clearly, the three years sentence sought by prosecution was excessive as would be any sentence over one year.
My major objections to the High Court’s lessening Cho’s sentence are that KAL executives and an investigator who once worked for KAL (daddy’s
fiefdom company) obstructed justice on Cho’s behalf and the reduction of her sentence from one year to 10 months (suspended) reduces the sense of seriousness of her crimes. Of course, serious crimes or lengths of prison sentences haven’t prevented Chaebol heads or their family members from returning to their positions in the past.
Cho still faces civil lawsuits, not in Korea’s mealy civil courts, in New York.
(Featured image Cho Hyun-ah leaves a Seoul court in December. Photograph: Ahn Young-joon/AP)