On October 22, the Police Department decided to disclose the identity of the suspect of the Gangseo-gu PC room murder case. Kim Sung-soo, the 29-year-old accused of stabbing a PC room worker to death, stated that the part-timer was rude to him. This case has gained nationwide attention, with 210,000 people signing the national petition asking for the suspect’s identity disclosure in just one day. Kim’s identification was revealed as a result even before he could receive a psychiatric evaluation; however, concerned voices criticizing the vagueness of the criteria for the disclosure crowded the issue as well.
Neither the identity of the suspect for the Gangnam subway station murder case nor the Cho Doo-soon case has been revealed, and the public is now uncertain about how exactly the identification disclosure is finalized. According to the Act on Special Cases Concerning the Punishment of Specific Violent Crimes, a newly enacted law in 2010 due to the case of a serial killer named Kang Ho-soon, personal information disclosure is decided when the method of crime was brutal and significant harm has been done. Furthermore, if sufficient evidence exists to believe that the suspect has committed the crime, or if such disclosure would guarantee the people’s right to know, suspects’ identities are publicized. Taking this into account, the police initiates the Deliberation Committee and discusses whether an identity disclosure is necessary. Various Cases of Identity Disclosure or Protection
According to these guidelines, suspects Byun Gyeong-seok, Kilm Kil-tae and a few others each for different cases had their identities revealed. Byun killed, mutilated and abandoned the dismembered body parts in Seoul Grand Park. Moreover, Kim raped and murdered a middle school student. On the other hand, Yoo Youngcheol, a notorious serial killer who was convicted of killing 20 people and eating parts of their flesh, did not have his face properly publicized. Furthermore, two other cases of murder that occurred around the same time with the Gangseogu PC room murder incident did not have their personal information revealed. As a result, some started to become doubtful about the current identity disclosure system.
The police gives various explanations as to why they did not publicize the suspects’ personal information. In October, the national petition requiring the disclosure of identity for the suspect of the Gangseo-gu ex-wife murder case gained more voices of support, which was aggravated by the national petition from his daughter who asked for the execution of her father. For this case, the police was reluctant to publicize personal information to protect the identities of the victim’s three daughters. There have been several other cases as well, in which the identifications of the suspects were not disclosed due to various reasons, including the protection of related people’s identities or defamation of the local community.
The Geoje murder case, which also greatly enraged citizens, did not have the personal information revealed because the suspect was initially charged with crime of injury then was later charged with murder. Disclosure of personal identity of criminals is only legal when the criminal charge is murder, human trafficking, rape, sexual molestation and gang crime. However, Professor Lim JoonTae (College of Police and Criminal Justice, Dongguk University) states that if this case goes on and gains public attention similar to that of the PC room murder case, the suspect’s identity may be disclosed.
Where to Draw the Line
It must be acknowledged that this issue goes beyond whether such disclosure is right or wrong. Few would deny that this is an intricate problem involving diverse factors such as the suspect’s rights, the people’s right to know, the right to safety and prevention of recurrence. Professor Lim claims that a person who has committed crimes so serious that his actions are publicized in the media should be seen as a public figure. He adds that even though suspects’ rights are often discussed in this issue, it is not relevant. He asserts that their rights should be rather emphasized in the investigation process and court.
Professor Lim admits that there are no studies that prove identity disclosure is effective in decreasing crime. However, he argues that its significance lies in the fact that it alerts the society. “In America, there have been studies illustrating that execution is effective in decreasing crime rates” he adds, claiming that as the United States (U.S.) cases show, one can at least presume identity disclosure warns that criminal actions can lead to severe consequences, thereby suppressing crime.
For the Future
People’s right to know is one of the most influential factors. Professor Lim expounds upon the fact that the suspects of cases that gathered attention in the media are those that were much more likely to get their identities revealed. Many people are criticizing such a “rubberband-like standard,” claiming that the police is swayed by the media. Such criticism has been chronic since the law’s first enactment and the police has been trying to solve these problems by increasing the number of professionals in the Deliberation Committee. However, Professor Lim states that the criteria may have seemed inconsistent since diverse professionals, including human rights activists and lawyers, participate in the decision process, but assures that these doubts are expected to be alleviated as time passes.
As much as these crimes are enraging, it would be desirable to argue that identity disclosure should not become a public punishment that the people give. In addition to the currently existing four clauses of the Act on Special Cases Concerning the Punishment of Specific Violent Crimes, more specific standards for finalizing such a serious decision would be necessary. This law was enacted to protect public interests, but it would be safe to argue that such concepts are very vague and difficult to define. As the police has stated, they should arrange specific guidelines and work to protect the fairness of legal procedures. It would be indeed best to prevent these crimes completely, but if a crime has already been committed, the police should aim to protect the people and prevent more victims from occurring.