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South Korea: DNA Database System Established to Effectively Prosecute Violent Criminals

(Aug. 31, 2010) The Act on the Use and Protection of DNA Identification Information came into force on July 26, 2010, and its Enforcement Decree took effect on August 13, 2010. It appears that the new law has already proved to be an efficient tool to solve violent crimes. On August 27, 2010, the National Police Agency (NPA) announced that the suspects in 47 unsolved cases of violent crimes had been found in the past one month through the DNA database system established under the new law. The Police Scientific Investigation Center took DNA samples from 1,145 people who were charged with violent crimes and sent the collected samples to the National Institute of Scientific Investigation (NISI). The NISI in turn discovered that the evidence of 47 unsolved crimes matched the DNA profile of 30 people out of the 1,145 whose DNA samples had been taken and analyzed. (Press Release, NPA, Kyŏngchalchŏng bodo charyo (Aug. 27, 2010),; Act on the Use and Protection of DNA Identification Information, Act No. 9944 of Jan. 25, 2010; Enforcement Decree of the Act on the Use and Protection of DNA Identification Information, Presidential Decree No. 22341 of Aug. 13, 2010.)

The Act allows DNA samples to be taken from those accused or convicted of 11 violent crimes, including robbery, arson, drug trafficking, rape, and sexual assault against minors. For a DNA sample to be taken under this provision, the accused must be in police custody. DNA samples can also be collected from items left at crime scenes. When samples are taken from a person, the police or the prosecutors must first obtain the person's consent. If unable to obtain this consent, they must secure a court warrant to proceed. Once a warrant is issued, the police can take DNA samples from the accused in their custody, and the prosecutors can do the same from those already convicted of crimes. Separate permanent databases of DNA information for those merely accused of crimes and those already convicted will be maintained by the police and the prosecutors, although the information will be shared. The database system will be permanent. (Act on the Use and Protection of DNA Identification Information, supra.)

The Act also provides safety mechanisms to protect against possible abuse of the collected DNA information. Only the DNA samples that do not include genetic information (“junk DNA”) will be analyzed and coded to be saved in the database. A person who misuses DNA information or discloses it without authorization will be subject to criminal punishment. Once an accused is acquitted or the charges are dropped, the DNA information entered in the database system must be permanently deleted. Furthermore, the Act has established a supervisory committee, consisting of seven to nine influential figures in the fields of medicine, ethics, sociology, law, and the media, to supervise police and prosecution management of the databases. (Id.)

Written by Helen Lee, Intern, Law Library of Congress, under the guidance of Sayuri Umeda, Senior Foreign Law Specialist.