January 4, 2024
SEOUL – A law on releasing the identities of criminal suspects will take effect on Jan. 25, allowing police to release a recent photo, the name and age of individuals charged with a range of crimes, such as sexual violence against minors, certain drug crimes, arson, armed revolt and being part of an organized crime ring.
In October 2023, the National Assembly passed the so-called “mug shot law,” which provides legal grounds for authorities to release to the public the identities of criminal suspects.
The new law makes it possible for the police to release a photo that investigators have taken within 30 days of it being decided that the information can be released. The photo is to be made available for 30 years on the internet.
The suspect is to be given a five-day grace period prior to the release, during which he or she can provide a statement to the authorities on the matter.
South Korea previously did not have a law that specifically states on what standards the identity of a suspect should be released. A deliberation committee of the National Police Agency considered whether authorities could release suspects’ identities on an individual basis.
The range of crimes subject to the release of a suspect’s identity previously was limited to “violent crimes such as murder” and rape. The new law expands the range of specified crimes to include sex crimes against minors, armed revolt, the use of explosives, bodily injury and death by negligence through arson, the organization of criminal groups and certain drug crimes.
Prior to the passage of the law, the authorities were only allowed to release the identities of suspects whose trials had not occurred yet, and excluded those whose cases were being tried in the court. But with the new law, both the suspects and defendants — those indicted and those being tried — are subject to having their identities released.
Following a string of serious unprovoked attacks in Korea last year, there have been calls for a law to disclose the identities of criminal suspects.
The current system was implemented in April 2010, after the infamous Kang Ho-sun incident. The serial killer was sentenced to death in 2010 on suspicions of killing 10 women, including his wife and mother-in-law, prompting a public call to release the identities of particularly violent criminals.
But there have been complaints of the lack of consistent standards for such procedures, with the deliberation committee making each decision on a case-by-case basis. Another complaint was that the police authorities often released a photo that had been taken in the past — such as the photo from one’s ID card — that was very different from what the culprit looks like now.