Suspects Guilty Until Proven Innocent

This is essentially the message that the Joongang Daily is sending out to the public with this story.

Suspects in Korea’s worst violent crimes will soon have to show their faces to the public… Under the new regulations, where there is strong evidence of guilt and a public demand to know, prosecutors will be able to release the names and ages of accused sex offenders and vicious criminals, and allow the media to photograph their faces.

Now, I’m not really sure what to make of this. Firstly, the authors of this article, Lee Chul-jae and Kim Mi-ju, should be given due credit for raising both sides of the issue. They go on to write,

The practice to shield suspects’ faces grew out of human rights concerns, and some experts believe it should still be upheld.

Seo Suk-ho, an attorney at Kim and Chang, warned that unilaterally revealing suspects’ identities against their will violates the presumption of innocence.

And on the other hand,

Others approved of the soon-to-be adopted regulations.

“If [prosecutors] can accurately describe their charges, revealing a suspect’s identity doesn’t violate the presumption of innocence,” said Moon Jae-wan, a law professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.

I’d like to raise a few points in response to this. Obviously, most of you will now that this follows on from two specific cases, one where a man raped an eight year old girl, known as the ‘Na-young’ case, and the other more recent one of the rape and murder of a thirteen year old girl.

Mothers protest the 'Na-young' case ruling

In the second case, a photograph of the suspect, Kim Kil-tae, was released before he was even arrested, as well as being used on wanted posters. As the Joongang Daily article implies, the decision to do this has come out of public opinion. In my opinion, however, it’s another case of the government trying to just keep the people happy while completely missing the point.

The point is not that people want to see the faces of these people – they’re not a threat once they’re caught. What the people of Korea really want is, one, for better regulations to be put in place to stop these crimes being committed in the first place, and two, for the offenders to be given sufficiently harsh sentences when they’re charged.

The public face of Kim Kil-tae

One point of real aggravation that I’ve heard from Koreans I’ve spoken to about this is that far too often things that the government or other people with power really should be doing doesn’t get done unless they have to. When does should become have to? When the public is made aware of it, and when they make a big fuss. But it shouldn’t take street protests, or national outcry for the government to realise somethings wrong and to do something about it.

I don’t want to go into too much detail of past occurrences of such things, but for people who recognise what I’m talking about, I think this in part stems from Korea’s developmental state period. That was a time where anything went as long as it led to economic development in the short term. Such attitudes clearly still run through the government when it comes to certain issues. With the economy, it took the 1997 economic collapse to make anyone do anything about it. Now it’s taken huge public outcry for anyone to do anything about violent sexual crimes, and it’s probably the most ineffectual thing they could possibly have done. A bit like tightening laws on foreigners after Koreans commit crimes…

I’ll only touch on the issue of innocent until proven guilty briefly here, because I’m not too sure where I stand on it yet – I’m interested to hear your thoughts though. Basically, once the police release photos of their suspects they’ll become guilty in the public’s eyes. That’s what happened with Kim Kil-tae, even if that’s not what the police are saying. They’re only fueling the media and public frenzy by doing this, and as far as I can tell, it serves nothing. If it had been the law all along I could see that it might not have had the effect of convincing people suspects were guilty before they were tried, but changing it suddenly under public pressure means from now on suspects won’t have the luxury of presumption of innocence in the court of public opinion. And what happens if they’re found innocent? Anyway, enough of that, because I’m no legal expert, and as I’ve said, I haven’t made up my mind about it yet.

13 Responses to “Suspects Guilty Until Proven Innocent”

  1. Brian Says:

    I’m not sure I like this: “a public demand to know.” I don’t think curiosity is grounds for showing criminals’ faces. As you say, once they’re in custody they’re not a threat, so it doesn’t really matter who exactly is the suspect.

    I’ll admit it’s quite a shock being back in the US, where names and locations are printed for suspects. The element of family shame isn’t as strong here—everybody has a second-cousin into something bad—but you’re right they’re already tried in the court of public opinion. It might not matter for celebrities—we collectively have a short memory—but for an average Joe it can be damning.

    • Seamus Walsh Says:

      Yeah, that’s the bit I couldn’t decide on as well. I think in countries like the US, or the UK where I’m from, it’s always been that way, and suspect, victim, families all have pictures printed. And because it’s always been that way, people know to only remember the faces of the convicted ones. I don’t think people really remember the ones who never go beyond being a suspect. But with this move only coming now in Korea, every time someone’s face gets out there as a suspect they’ve got no chance.

      • Seamus Walsh Says:

        Also, to your first point, I completely agree – surely the suspects are also ordinary members of the public until they’re convicted of a crime? How come then they don’t have the right to demand, as a member o the public, not to have their fact shown.

  2. I'm no Picasso Says:

    You’re absolutely right about this not being what the people really want. What they really want is to see rape taken seriously and offenders punished harshly. If the people believe in the power of their system to properly handle such cases and to make sure they do everything the can to keep guilty parties from re-offending, then there’s absolutely no reason to see someone’s photo in a newspaper.

    I’m all for being hard as fuck when dealing with rape cases. But I think that anything that has to do with people’s morbid curiosity needs to be overlooked entirely. It’s just not a valid concern, and it puts lives at stake in a different way.

    • Seamus Walsh Says:

      To be fair, as far as I know they are either debating or have already put in place guidelines for tougher sentences for rape cases. But the really important thing is prevention. I think a lot more could be done. Firstly, properly harsh sentences. Secondly, accepting that some of these guys, like these two cases, are because the offenders have serious psychological problems, which means offenders and potential offenders need to be treated – for their own sake and for the sake of others.

      Finally, I don’t have statistics to back this up, so make of it what you will, but it seems to me that rape in Korea is far more common than it is in lots of other places. And not just rape even, but also groping on the subway and other sorts of sexual offenses. Naturally, ever country has its complete psychos, like Fritzl in Austria, or these two guys. But what I’m really talking about is what I suppose could be called “common rape,” although that’s a completely disgusting term. I’m talking about men who do what they want to satisfy their sexual urges rather than the one’s whose psychological illnesses drive them to do insane things. I’m talking about the school kids who get female classmates so drunk they pass out then rape them. Men who break into houses to rape women. Groping on the subway. I don’t know what causes such high instances of cases like these in Korea. I’m sure it’s a combination of reasons such as lack of decent sex education, sexual discrimination in society in general, immense stress from both the school system and from the workplace and social outward denial of sexuality – probably combined with the disguised sexualisation of women in pop culture that spreads to doumis and narrator models and so on.

  3. invisiblemap Says:

    I agree that the people of Korea would like to have these crimes taken a lot more seriously.

    I think the main reason why the US releases names and public images is because they are looking to see if said suspect has hurt more people, or left more clues as to his or her background in other places. On the other hand, it is also for others who might know the person to come forward with valid information on his or her innocence (alibis, characterizations, etc.)

    Also, in the US, children, victims of rape/abuse and unwilling victims never have their pictures printed in the papers.

    The US adheres to a strict “innocent until proven guilty” system, at least that’s what we like to say on paper…

    On a side note, I can tell you that the high instances of groping on the subway don’t come due to “lack of decent sex”. It’s all about power, making someone feel less than you. Even if the perpetrator doesn’t realize it himself.

  4. Seamus Walsh Says:

    Hi Invisiblemap, thanks for the comment. There’s a lot of good stuff in there!

    I’ll admit straight off that I’d never thought of the idea of using the photos to encourage people to come forward, although I suppose they’d have to be able to provide more evidence, otherwise you’d just get a bunch of people claiming to be victims of that person as soon as the photos were released. Once again, though, I’m not saying I’m necessarily against making photos of suspects public, what I am against is changing your mind so suddenly. It gives the wrong message, because it’s out of the ordinary. Especially in the Kim Kil-tae case, because when they were explaining why they released his photo they basically said it was because they were sure he’d done it. But he hadn’t even been to trial by that point. But what sort of trial is he going to get when the public all believe that he’s guilty because of the sudden decision to release his photo and because the police said that. There would have been riots in the streets if he had been found innocent, regardless of any evidence that showed he was. (Just think I should point out at this point, I’m not implying he was innocent.)

    As for victims, sorry, I think I wasn’t specific enough about that. Victims occasionally do appear in high profile cases, but only if they volunteer to. The families of victims, I’ve found, often do choose to make a public statement or appear before cameras. But in general yes, in most places I imagine, victims do not have their images released.

    You’re right that “Innocent until proven guilty” is something that’s legally in place just about everywhere, including Korea. That’s what I take issue with in this instance. Because firstly, I know they’re not pronouncing him guilty before he’s been found guilty at trial, but effectively that’s what the police are doing and that’s what the public are encouraged to think for the reasons above. Secondly, and I’m sure this must be the same in the US as it is in the UK, as I’m sure it is in Korea and just about everywhere else: the onus is not on the defendant to prove their innocence, it’s on the prosecutor to prove their guilt. Until he’s actually found guilty he’s not legally required to do anything to prove his innocence. There has to be sufficient evidence to show he’s undoubtedly guilty.

    Lastly, I didn’t actually say it was due to “lack of decent sex,” I said “lack of decent sex education,” and I wasn’t referring specifically to just the instances on the subway, but all sorts of sexual crimes or harassments, and I do stick by that, I think Korea is completely deficient in appropriate, effective sex education, and I can’t see how that wouldn’t impact on things like this.

    • Seamus Walsh Says:

      Nice blog, by the way. I’d never found my way there before, but I’ll keep going back from now on.

      • invisiblemap Says:

        Hey! Thanks for responding! Sorry about the “lack of decent sex”, I totally read that wrong!

        I think Korea is completely deficient in appropriate, effective sex education, and I can’t see how that wouldn’t impact on things like this.

        I agree. Many have been taught that they have a “right” to what they want, and that women might not have a say, especially in marriage and other social situations.

        It’s late, but I will write a thoughtful and coherent ^^ response when I get the chance!


  5. Korean Gender Reader: April 19th 2010 « The Grand Narrative Says:

    […] “strong evidence of guilt and a public demand to know”. As Seamus at Asadal Thought puts it however, this is just: …another case of the government trying to just keep the people […]

  6. Tweets that mention Suspects Guilty Until Proven Innocent « Asadal Thought -- Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by JamesTurnbull. JamesTurnbull said: Korean suspects now guilty until proven innocent? […]

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