Go to contents

Restoring the Honor of the Wrongly Convicted

Posted November. 11, 2010 10:53,   


Criminal investigations and trials are not perfect because they are prone to human error. So unfortunate people inevitably undergo prolonged trials despite being innocent and serve long prison sentences. With the development of DNA analysis techniques in the U.S., people who served more than 20 years in prison for felonies they did not commit such as rape and murder were given new trials and found not guilty. The Korean Constitution includes a principle that until a ruling is finalized, a suspect is presumed to be innocent in principle. Yet people tend to consider someone who is charged or arrested as a criminal. Even if that person is found not guilty, completely recovering his or her image and honor is difficult.

The criminal compensation system is a program under which the government pays financial damages to a person wrongly convicted of a crime. The system in its current form is insufficient at best. The Criminal Compensation Act is found in Article 28 of the Constitution, but financial damages are the lone form of compensation. The minimum compensation is a mere 5,000 won (3.60 U.S. dollars) per day, an amount which has remained the same for 23 years. If a person wrongly convicted has been executed, the payout is up to 30 million won (27,000 dollars) plus compensation corresponding to the number of days the person served in prison. That is, compensation paid due to mistaken implementation of state authority is effectively damaging human dignity and values anew. Nowhere in the act are clauses that enable the unfortunate victims to regain their dignity and clear their names.

The Justice Ministry has belatedly devised an amendment to the Criminal Compensation Act. The minimum rate of daily compensation will increase from 5,000 won to 34,560 won (31.22 dollars) from next year as set by the Employment and Labor Ministry. The daily ceiling will remain at 160,000 won (144 dollars). The introduction of newspaper adverting to publicize a wrongly convicted person’s innocence is also noteworthy. This refers to posting ads including criminal case number, case name, the defendant and a summary of the grounds for the not guilty verdict in a daily. Broadcast ads are excluded due to the high cost. Ads clearing a wrongly convicted person’s name will be posted once in one newspaper, and three sizes are being considered. If the victim wants, the not-guilty verdict will be posted in the Justice Ministry’s Web site for a year as well.

Criminal compensation and advertising fees are a burden paid with taxpayers’ money. If this system is introduced, the budget for compensation will likely see a big jump. If the nation reduces the number of those wrongly sent to prison, it can result in savings of the national budget. If prosecutors fail to secure sufficient evidence indicating guilt or indict properly, it means they are guilty of the more serious crime of malfeasance. They must have a sense of heavy responsibility as the executor of the government’s right to indict.

Editorial Writer Yook Jeong-soo (sooya@donga.com)