Lack of lineups can lead to false accusations
PYEONGTAEK, South Korea — A soldier walking through the Camp Stanley gate one night early last year was met by a South Korean cab driver accusing him of paying a fare with fake Korean won, South Korean attorney Jin Hyo-guen recalled recently.
The soldier denied it, adamantly, but the driver insisted he had the right man.
Relying only on the driver’s word, Jin said, South Korean police charged the soldier with making and passing counterfeit currency.
After another soldier confessed to U.S. Army investigators that he had made counterfeit money in his room and used it in April in bars and cabs, the police finally dropped their case.
“So, without the testimony of the second soldier’s statement, my client could have been punished for forgery of currency,” Jin said.
Jin says police should not have relied solely on the driver’s accusation, no matter how insistent. Instead, he contends, they should have put the accused soldier in a lineup with other Americans and seen if the driver could then pick out the suspect.
Lineups, though not unheard of in South Korea, are not a traditional part of police work here, Jin and other South Korean defense lawyers said. Police typically have relied on victim and eyewitness statements and the usual forms of evidence, they said.
It wasn’t until two years ago that South Korea’s Supreme Court spelled out rules for police to use if they choose to employ a lineup, Jin said, adding that the court did not make lineups mandatory.
Jin wants South Korean lawmakers to mandate lineups for cases where the witnesses’ credibility or memory might be in question, like when someone accuses a suspect days or even weeks after the crime.
“It will help a lot,” said attorney Chung Jin-seong of Law Firm Korea in Seoul. “Sometimes Korean police use that kind of method, but it’s not mandatory. So, if they use this method, it will help both sides, the [Korean National Police] and the GIs.”
Such a safeguard would especially benefit accused U.S. servicemembers, Jin argues, because many South Koreans find it tough to tell one GI face from another.