The Constitutional Court on Thursday once again upheld the death penalty by a 5 : 4 majority. The court last declared capital punishment constitutional in a ruling in November 1996.
The court had been asked by a 72-year-old fisherman who was sentenced to death for murdering four tourists to decide whether capital punishment is constitutional.
In the ruling, the court said capital punishment is among penalties within the purview of Article 110, Clause 4 of the Constitution. "Capital punishment does not contradict the constitutional guarantee of the right to life or infringe the constitutional guarantee of human dignity," it said.
"Capital punishment is penalty with the public goal of realizing justice through just retribution against atrocious crimes and protecting society by preventing crimes," the court said. "As a kind of necessary evil, it is still functioning properly."
The court said the death penalty "is a more powerful deterrent to crimes than life imprisonment, where only convicts' physical freedom is restricted. A mere life sentence against perpetrators of heinous crimes is incompatible with the desire for justice of families of victims and ordinary people."
But the four minority judges said capital punishment does conflict with the guarantee of the right to life. "Capital punishment should be abolished and replaced with a life sentence without parole," they recommended.
The majority for the death sentence in 1996 was 7: 2. No one has been executed in the country for over a decade, and Amnesty International lists Korea as having "de facto" abolished the death penalty.