Sadly, few lawyers, in Korea, are useful for criminal matters, since few lawyers are proactive when it comes to matters concerning the Korean government, experienced in criminal matters for foreigners or willing to upset the status quo (aggressively engage the prosecutor and court).
Please do your future a favor, forgo any options provided at no or low cost unless you have no other options. The reality is the most important decision you shall make, at this time, is the choice of a lawyer.
If you are under SOFA, you may choose any lawyer you want as noted on a form JAG provides to you before, or sometimes after, your choice of a lawyer. Choose the lawyer you feel is the best for your needs – not the lawyer that others may feel is the best for not, only, your needs.
If you can’t afford an attorney, the Korean court (if you are not under SOFA), normally will appoint an attorney to assist you. In most cases, the appointment of the Korean government-appointed attorney will be useless for your defense/sentence, since the appointment will be after interrogations, after the decision of the prosecutor to indict and often the Korean attorney is an attorney that will only be going through the basic processes necessary for him to complete the matter and go on to the dozens of other matters that he has in front of him/her.
If you are in the U.S. military, the military will appoint you an attorney. Also, the attorney will be appointed too late in the investigation stage. The attorney appointed, overwhelmingly, in the cases that I have seen will simply go through the motions.
The handful of attorneys picked by the military are some of the least proactive attorneys I have seen in Korea and want, in the majority of the cases, to simply be on the good graces of their bread-and-butter (a Korean employee of the U.S. military). If you are convicted of a crime, you will, likely, be discharged from the military. This was not true a decade ago, but the military, even for “minor” violations of law have been quick to discharge soldiers. Hire an attorney that you feel comfortable with and has your interest as the main priority.
Signs that you May Have Hired the Wrong Korean Lawyer
- Your Korean lawyer is too young (Early 30s) or too old (70s). The lawyer will, likely, not have the experience necessary to handle the matter or will, simply, not be handling the matter.
- Your law has not judicial experience. It is preferable to hire, because of Korean realities, a retire senior judge and in some cases a retired senior prosecutor.
- Your Korean lawyer is directing you, consistently, to talk with a less experienced (junior) lawyer. The less experienced lawyer is likely, only, doing the work and the more experienced lawyer is simply a rainmaker.
- Your Korean lawyer has poor English language skills. Without someone fluent in English, you run the risk of never getting your side of the story heard. Hire a English-Speaking lawyer that has near fluent English language skills. It is preferable that the attorney was educated abroad.
- Your Korean lawyer has few non-Korean clients. Handling criminal matters for foreigners is vastly different than handling a typical criminal matter for a Korean. Often, deals can be obtained with the prosecutor in non-violent crimes for foreigners, that are unavailable to Koreans. Also, violent and notorious crimes, often, need to be handled with a decree of media and cultural savvy, since judges and prosecutors are heavily affected when the victim is a Korean and the perpetrator of the crime is a foreigner.
- Your lawyer never speaks. A lawyer that never speaks is, typically, not a proactive lawyer. Criminal cases are best handled with strategy and a proactive counsel willing to engage the police investigators, prosecutor and judges. If your lawyer won’t speak to you, he won’t be speaking to anyone else and will likely simply go through the process, receive a guilty verdict and the typical sentence.
- Your lawyer seems not to be listening. Too often, lawyers, ignore clients. Great defense lawyers in Korea develop great defenses by listening and responding to clients. If you have a lawyer that is not listening, he will likely just go through the process, receive a guilty verdict and the typical sentence.
- Your lawyer in Korea has too many cases. If he seems too busy he probably is too busy. Criminal cases, often, need a great deal of time. If the lawyer is not able to spend the time to talk with you, you may never be able to get the attorney to provide the time necessary to handle the matter.
- Your lawyer in Korea hates you. Koreans are passionate people. If the lawyer hates you, he will likely take your money and do nothing for you. Passion, too often, can lead Korean lawyers to be less than reasonable. As we know, this is not only a Korean trait.
by Sean Hayes
NY attorney Sean Hayes is the only non-Korean to have worked as a government attorney for the Korean court system and one of the first non-Koreans to be a regular member of a Korean law faculty. He is rated as a Top Attorney by LawAsia.
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