[VIEWPOINT]Are prosecutors the scapegoats?

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[VIEWPOINT]Are prosecutors the scapegoats?

Americans are proud of their legal system, which has strong barriers to the abuse of human rights by government authorities. Included in those rights is the principle that a suspect need not answer questions without the advice of a lawyer. A statement made by a suspect who has not been informed of his rights cannot be used against him in court. Forced confessions are invalid and thus any torture to obtain a forced confession would be useless. This principle in U.S. criminal law is based on a Supreme Court ruling of the 1960s.

Looking at the ruling, one might think that Miranda is the name of a human rights hero. In fact, Ernesto Miranda was a brutal criminal whose law-defying life started at age 14, when he was sent to a juvenile facility for car theft. For the rest of his life, he was in and out of jail for crimes that included robbery, theft, blackmail and rape. Even the most atrocious villain has rights during an investigation.

A recent case of a suspect beaten to death during a prosecutors' investigation forced the resignation of the justice minister and the prosecutor general, and the prosecutors office is in chaos. It is unfortunate that this tragedy happened during an investigation carried out by a young prosecutor with a passionate sense of justice who was determined to root out organized crime. Nevertheless, human rights were abused and a human life was taken. Anyone can launch a barrage of criticism against the prosecutors now; the accusers will be portrayed as human rights champions and the prosecutors cannot say anything in their defense.

Because I study constitutional law, the last few days have posed complicated and tortuous questions for me. A homicide occurred during a prosecutors' investigation, and there is nothing other than to say that the prosecutors office must be reformed. Anyone can call for a reprimand of the persons responsible and demand remorse from the prosecutors. But the case brings to light other problems that must be addressed.

Should the justice minister and the prosecutor general have resigned over this matter? While sympathizing with their desire to resign, if an influential minister and a national prosecutor general can resign so easily, why do we emphasize the importance of their selection and appointment so much? Maybe under this administration, in which the average minister stays no longer than 10 months in office, a minister is nothing much; but in a more stable country, a minister and a prosecutor general would have been more prudent in deciding whether to hand in their resignations.

Angry, impulsive outcries from politicians based only on political calculations and from media that has lost its self-restraint were heard demanding that the minister or the prosecutor general step down from the very beginning of this case. Seeing that emotional outrage made me worry that we really think no more of our national administration than as an exorcism rite conducted by shamans.

If one takes into consideration the cost and the effort it takes to develop a properly experienced prosecutor or a high-level official, one has to wonder whether demanding that a person take responsibility for merely being at the top of the command hierarchy of the organization is really beneficial for the country, or if it is just an act of populism aimed at pacifying public sentiment and thus letting the rest of the prosecutors office escape the tirade. It would be an evil thing if such an incident were being used as a weapon in a power struggle in the prosecutors office.

Conflict inside the prosecutors office has reached a dangerous level in this administration, where prosecutors are frequently mobilized for political reasons. We must calm down and look at the essence of this case.

The death of this suspect must be handled appropriately, but it must not be allowed to be taken to the extent of making the prosecutors political scapegoats. The collapse of the prosecutors office would mean tragedy for the people and ultimately, the downfall of the country.

* The writer is a professor of law at Seoul National University.

by Chong Jong-sup

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