Mr. Song Sings a Sobering Song of Freedom: “Emergency Situation” as a Defense to Drunk Driving Charge in Korea Upheld

I usually don’t write about such mundane legal issues, but the facts here are too interesting. Mr. Song called a Designated Driver Service to drive him home after a night of drinking with high school friends.

In Korea, you can call a Designated Driver to drive you home. The drivers, typically, arrive via public transportation or are dropped off via a motorbike.  The job is considered one of the lower-level jobs in Korea. The fee for the service is, similar to the fee for a taxi.

The Designated Driver and Mr. Song got into a verbal altercation that led to Mr. Song ordering the Designated Driver out of the car. The altercation was over Mr. Song wanted the driver to drop off a friend on the way to his house – the Designated Driver refused and noted he would not drive further if Song demanded that the friend be dropped off.

Drunk Driving Korea
DUI Stop in Korea

The Designated Driver stopped the car in the middle of a busy intersection and got out of the car.  Mr. Song drove the car approximately 10m to the side of the road in order to get the car off the road. The Designated Driver called the police and the police arrested Mr. Song.

Song’s blood alcohol level came to a modest .059%. Yes, this is a violation of law in Korea. Mr. Song contested a license suspension claiming that the situation was, among other things, an emergency situation that required him to move the car even though he was under the influence.

The first trial court found Song guilty noting that: “It can’t be conceded as a ‘Circumstance
Precluding Guilt,’ because Song caused the situation by himself. He is the one who turned off the car and asked the designated driver to get out of the car.”

The second trial court reversed the decision and found Song not guilty. The court opined that:  “The driver stopped the car in the middle of a one-way road in front of an intersection. The risk of an accident was high if he stayed long on the road. Therefore, it is an emergency evacuation situation in that Song drove the car to protect others and himself. It is important for the superior legal interest . . . to prevail.” The court added that: “It is true that Song turned off the car and requested the driver to get out of the car, but they already were in a situation that could lead to a catastrophe, because the driver didn’t move the car for a while even after the traffic lights changed…It is hard to admit that the dangerous situation begun at the time of the request.”

The moral of the sorry – do not go out drinking with your high school friends – always gets me into a pickle.

Sean Hayes is co-chair of the Korea Practice Team at IPG Legal. He is the first non-Korean attorney to have worked for the Korean court system (Constitutional Court of Korea) and one of the first non-Koreans to be a regular member of a Korean law faculty. Sean is ranked, for Korea, as one of only two non-Korean lawyers as a Top Attorney by AsiaLaw.

Sean’s profile may be found at: Sean C. Hayes

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