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Your Rights When Being Stopped By The Police

What if this happened to you?

Police Officer: Hello, could you please stop? I need you ask you some questions.

Subject: (startled) What? Okay, what?

Police Officer: Please show me your ID. There’s a protest scheduled nearby, and you’re suspicious.

Subject: What? No, I’m late for work already, I can’t stop and answer questions.

Police Officer: In that case, please accompany me to the police station.

Subject: ?!?!?!!

In Korea, as anywhere, the police may have need to stop and question individuals. Their responsibilities – and your rights in the situation – are outlined in Article 3 of the Act on the Performance of Duties by Police Officers (경찰관직무집행법). As foreigners, we have the same rights and responsibilities under the law as Korean citizens, with one exception.  According to immigration law, foreigners must carry identification at all times and show it on demand.

In short: Police have the right to stop people (even for no apparent reason) and ask them questions. As foreigners, we must show identification when asked. However, when randomly stopped by police, like anyone we also have the right to refuse to answer questions, and the right to refuse going to the police station.  Please remember, even with this right, you don’t have to refuse. After all, the police officer does have the right to ask you and they might very well need your help.

In the case above, the subject would have the right to refuse, and could continue to work without penalty.  The police officer didn’t identify himself, the protest nearby is not a valid reason to arrest someone, and refusing to answer questions isn’t a reason to go to the police station.

Aside: If you see a crime being committed, according to Article 212 of the Criminal Procedure Act, anyone (not just a police officer) may perform a warrantless arrest. Even as a civilian, you may temporarily arrest such a person until police arrive. You must also inform the arrestee of their rights.

Translated by the Korea Legislation Research Institute:

Article 3 (Police Questioning)

(1) A police officer, by using reasonable judgement from a suspicious act or surrounding circumstances, may stop and ask a person questions when he has a considerable reason to suspect that the person has committed or is about to commit a crime, or when the person is believed to have knowledge of a crime already committed or to be committed.

(2) When it is deemed to be disadvantageous to the person or interfering with traffic flow, to ask questions at a certain place as referred to in paragraph (1), the police officer may demand him to accompany to the police station, area patrol unit, substation or branch office (hereinafter referred to as “police agency”, which includes a district marine police agency) in the vicinity to ask questions. In this case, such person may refuse the demand of accompanying the police officer.

(3) When directing questions to the person as referred to in paragraph (1), the police officer may investigate whether or not he carries any dangerous weapons with him.

(4) When a police officer asks questions or demands the person accompany him to the police agency under paragraph (1) or (2), he shall present to the person credentials indicating his identity, disclose the agency to which he belongs, his name, and explain the purpose and reason thereof, and when accompanied, disclose the destination to the person who he is accompanying.

(5) When accompanying the person to the police agency under paragraph (2), the police officer shall notify the person’s family or relatives, etc., of his identity, the destination to where the person is being accompanied, and the purpose and reason thereof, or offer the person an opportunity to make such contact immediately, and advise him that he has the right to receive an attorney’s assistance.

(6) When accompanied under paragraph (2), the police officer may not have such person stay in the police agency in excess of six hours.

(7) In the case as referred to in paragraphs (1) through (3), such person shall not have his body bound without recourse to the laws governing criminal procedure, and he shall not be compelled to answer any question against his will.

In short:

1) A police officer may stop, question, and ask for ID from a suspicious person whom the officer has reason to believe has either committed a crime, or is about to commit one, or has knowledge about the same.

2) Once stopped, a police officer may ask them to accompany them to the police station in two cases. Either it would be disadvantageous to the person, or interfere with traffic flow if they were questioned on the spot.

3) Once at the police station, the police officer must notify the person’s family about exactly where they’re being held, and for what reason. They must inform them of their right to an attorney.

4) And once held at a police station, such a person may not be detained for more than 6 hours.

5) All of these requests – stop, answer questions, go to a police station – can be refused without penalty, regardless of whether the stop was lawful or not. However, foreigners must carry their foreigners’ ID card and present it.

In fact, if the police do not inform the person of their right to refuse, that is a considerable breach of their rights.

And in the case of traffic stops, a vehicle may be stopped only to test for drunk driving, if there’s suspicion of driving without a license, or if there’s suspicion of driving under extreme exhaustion.

For more details, and example cases, please visit the K-Law Guru’s article on the subject.

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