(32) Prosecutors in US and Korea

The biggest difference between Korean and American prosecutors is that Korea has a national law examination, while in America one can become a lawyer after finishing law school and passing a bar exam (the average pass rate is 70-75 percent) before applying for a prosecutor position. Since each state has its individual bar exam, in some cases a lawyer must take the exam again to move his practice from one state to another.

A license in California might not be acknowledged by other states. In Korea, passing the national law exam is necessary to become a prosecutor, and only those few who pass the exam with very high scores can earn the job. Since the exam is quite difficult and only a few amongst those who pass it are appointed as prosecutors, prosecutors are regarded as elites in Korea. Strangely, there is a tradition that when a new prosecutor general is appointed, every prosecutor, who passed the law examination earlier than he did, resigns. In the U.S., since there is no such examination, there is no such custom either.

Another big difference between Korea and the U.S. is the public defender system. In the U.S., public defenders, which are provided by the government to those who cannot afford a lawyer, tend not to be highly regarded. Since public defenders usually think of their work as a temporary position for two to three years before moving on to a more lucrative position, others’ low opinion of them can’t really be helped.

I remember reading an article that said that not only public defenders, but also government attorneys, want to leave public office and become partners at a private law firm. Since the best lawyers usually prefer defending a famous defendant to working for the government, prosecutors are not as highly regarded as in Korea.

The best way to explain the prosecution and defense system in the U.S. is through the OJ Simpson case. Simpson was born on July 9, 1947. I first came across him at the University of Southern California around 1968. I saw him a few times while on campus, but never got a chance to see him up close since I was already a graduate student. In my senior year in 1967, Michael Garrett was USC’s most popular football star.

The next year, he was eclipsed by Simpson, who won the Heisman Trophy and became the most famous player in the history of USC football. In 1973, Simpson rushed for over 2,000 yards as a member of the Buffalo Bills in the NFL, and would go on to act in movies as well.

However, Simpson lost his popularity after he was tried for murder in 1994. Recently, he was arrested for theft and kidnapping in Las Vegas, and was sentenced to 33 years in prison on Dec. 5, 2008. However, people have predicted that, for various reasons, his sentence will be reduced to nine years in prison and he will be released on parole after that. So what happened in his murder case to make him so unpopular?

On June 12, 1994, the dead body of Nicole Simpson, OJ Simpson’s Caucasian wife, was discovered in the front yard of her apartment. Next to her body, a young man, Ronald Goldman, was also found dead. Both of them were stabbed, but no murder weapon was found. Simpson was arrested on suspicion of the murder, and he pleaded not guilty. The court indicted him, starting the jury trial process. Simpson’s selected jury consisted of 12 people, eight female and four males, with eight of them African-American. The jury system, which Korea does not have, is part of the U.S. trial system. Any ordinary citizen can become a juror, and since it is decided by a draw, nobody knows who will be selected. I was also selected for jury duty several times, but declined for economic reasons, since I could not get out of my work and would not be paid even if I could. However, one cannot continue to avoid jury duty for the same reasons previously used before.

Selecting a jury is not easy. The 12 jurors are picked out of at least 100 candidates. The prosecution and defense both interview the candidates one by one, asking various questions, and either side can dismiss a candidate they do not like. For example, a candidate who is a fan of Simpson would be dismissed by the prosecution, and a candidate who used to be a cop would be dismissed by the defense, since he might prejudge that Simpson was guilty.

I have also attended a jury selection as a candidate three or four times. One time was a civil suit, and I was sent back home because both sides reached a settlement. In the other two cases, I was dismissed by the defense for my conservative view on crime, since I was a Republican lawmaker. In the Simpson case, both sides agreed on the 12 members of the jury after interviewing over 100 candidates. It took four months to select the final 12 and a few alternates.

The relatively unknown Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden were appointed as prosecutors, while Simpson hired famous lawyers Johnnie Cochran and F. Lee Bailey as his defense attorneys. The media dubbed Simpson’s defense attorneys the “Dream Team,” since they rarely lost cases and were well-known; however, Simpson was also highly criticized for “buying justice” in spending so much money in lawyers’ fees.

Simpson’s trial was broadcast live on TV from start to finish, garnering massive ratings, even though Simpson appeared the most likely candidate to have murdered his wife and her tennis coach/lover. At the time, 80 percent of Americans believed that Simpson was guilty. However, the prosecution failed to convince the jury, and Simpson was found not guilty. Ultimately, the repercussions of the case even reached Congress.

Jay Kim is a former U.S. congressman. He serves as chairman of the Washington Korean-American Forum. For more information visit Kim’s website at http://www.jayckim.com.

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