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SEOUL — Can South Korean authorities take custody of a U.S. servicemember while investigating an alleged crime? Yes — and no.

Under the status of forces agreement with the United States, South Korea has the right to exercise “primary jurisdiction†to take the lead in investigating and prosecuting most incidents involving U.S. servicemembers and South Korean citizens. An exception is when those servicemembers’ actions occurred while they were on official duty.

In those cases, South Korean authorities may question servicemembers but must release them to U.S. military custody until judicial proceedings are concluded.

But two exceptions were created to this in a 2001 SOFA revision.

Under the first exception, South Korean authorities may keep custody of a servicemember whom they apprehend at a crime scene or during a “hot pursuit†in connection with a “heinous crime of murder or an egregious rape.â€

Under the second exception, South Korean authorities may request custody for pretrial confinement if prosecutors have indicted a servicemember for actual and attempted murder, rape, kidnapping for ransom, manufacturing or trafficking in illegal drugs, arson, robbery with a dangerous weapon. Also, assault resulting in death, driving under the influence of alcohol resulting in death and when any of the previous are considered “lesser included offenses†among a larger set of criminal charges.

South Korean authorities have held six troops in pre-trial confinement since the 2001 revision.


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