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A common feature of South Korea's legal system is the voluntary payment of money to the victim in exchange for dropping charges or hope for a lighter sentence.

“In, the settlement with the accuser is a way to make many charges go away,†said Brendon Carr, a lawyer with the Hwang Mok Park firm in Seoul. “Murder, rape, don’t go away. But a lot of the petty assault charges disappear by financial settlement. ... And refusal to participate in the financial settlement is going to result in a more harsh sentence.â€

U.S. Forces Korea issued guidance memo to the military community last June regarding the matter.

The “civil settlement,†also known as restitution, is “a voluntary payment to the victim to compensate for damage done,†USFK said in the memo. It can cover the victim’s costs for repairing or replacing damaged property, medical expenses and lost earnings.

It should be a written document in which the victim “releases you from further claims and expresses a desire not to have you prosecuted criminally,†the memo said.

U.S. military attorneys were informed that civil settlements can be an extremely important factor in Korean criminal cases.

“We must help our clients understand how a civil settlement can affect a criminal case,†USFK said in the guidance.

It said Korean culture views settlements as a form of restitution, not as “bribes†or admissions of guilt.

While there is no guarantee a civil settlement will resolve a case, prosecutors consider them when determining whether to file an indictment. And judges, if an indictment has been filed, often factor in settlements when determining punishment.

Troops paying victimsSgt. Jin-hong Han paid his wife $21,500 in May 2006 after pleading guilty to adultery and breaching the promise of marriage and being sentenced to 10 months in prison. Authorities dropped the adultery charge and the soldier eventually was sentenced to six months in prison.

Private 1st Class Nicholas Acosta paid more than $9,000 to those involved in a bloody late-night brawl that took place outside a bar in April 2006. The judge suspended Acosta’s eight-month prison sentence for assault, property damage, drunken driving and driving without a license. The sentence was suspended for two years.

Private 1st Class Taylan Laurence Bohman paid more than $18,000 to the men he was found guilty of assaulting during an incident in early 2006. The judged suspended the soldier’s four-month prison sentence for a year.

Pvt. Sylvester Antley Clark and Spc. Tydes Teron Whiten each paid a South Korean bouncer about $700 after they were accused of assaulting him during a Nov. 11 fight in the U.N. Club. Pfc. Mario Duprey, charged with assaulting a police officer in connection with the same incident, couldn’t give money because of Korean National Police regulations. Instead, Duprey delivered donuts to their station. In March, Clark and Whiten were given 18-month prison sentences that were suspended for two years; Duprey was given a $3,000 fine.

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