By TAKASHI ENDO/ Staff Writer
March 24, 2023 at 18:34 JST
Lawyers and supporters of Le Thi Thuy Linh march in front of the Supreme Court on Feb. 24. (Kei Yoshida)
The Supreme Court on March 24 overturned a former Vietnamese technical intern trainee’s conviction for abandoning the bodies of her stillborn twins, ruling that her actions did not constitute the crime of abandonment.
The Second Petty Bench of the Supreme Court acquitted 24-year-old Le Thi Thuy Linh, reversing two lower court rulings.
The acquittal marked the first time the top court ruled on the criminality of the abandonment of stillborn remains.
Linh was working at a farm in Kumamoto Prefecture as a technical intern trainee in November 2020 and gave birth to stillborn twins at home, according to the Fukuoka High Court ruling in January 2022.
She wrapped the bodies in a towel and placed them inside a cardboard box with a letter containing their names and an apology.
She then put the box into another cardboard box and sealed it before placing it on a shelf at home.
She went to a hospital the following day and told a doctor that her babies were stillborn.
WHETHER ACTS HARMED SOCIETY
The legal provisions on corpse abandonment punish acts that harm "the dignity of society or the religious feelings of the people" including expressing mourning for the dead.
Defense lawyers pleaded not guilty, arguing that Linh’s act was not one that harmed religious feelings, but rather one of laying the bodies at rest.
The point of legal dispute was whether Linh’s acts of placing the remains in a cardboard box and putting them in her room constitute abandonment.
The Kumamoto District Court in 2021 ruled that her acts were not considered as preparation for burial and thus constitute abandonment.
The Fukuoka High Court upheld the ruling, saying that Linh’s actions of placing the remains in a cardboard box and putting them in her room were intended to conceal their whereabouts and greatly reduced the possibility that a proper burial would have been conducted.
Linh received a three-month prison sentence, suspended for two years.
Defense lawyers appealed the case to the top court. In February, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments seeking to overturn the high court ruling.
During the Supreme Court hearing, defense lawyers said that Linh had temporarily placed the cardboard box at her home.
They argued that she had the intention of mourning the remains and that she could later properly mourn her stillborn twins, saying her actions did not constitute abandonment.
On the other hand, prosecutors argued that Linh did not disclose the fact of her pregnancy to those around her and that she was unable to properly mourn the bodies.
They said her actions were taken to conceal the bodies, which harm the dignity of society and clearly constitute abandonment. They sought the dismissal of her appeal.
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