Amanda Knox, a United States citizen attending college in Italy, was tried and convicted for the 2007 murder of her British roommate, Meredith Kercher. After serving four years of her 26 year sentence, Knox was acquitted in 2011. Since her release, Knox has been attending college in Oregon. Last week Italy’s highest criminal court overturned the acquittal and ordered a retrial.
Italy’s criminal justice system that is based in a civil law tradition seems very foreign to Americans who are accustomed to common law. Unlike the US justice system, in Italy prosecutors can appeal a case when they receive a poor verdict, which makes it routine for criminal cases to be appealed. In the United States only five percent of verdicts are overturned on appeal. Conversely, in Italy this occurs in 95% of appeals.
But what is most startling about Knox’s upcoming post-acquittal retrial is that it clashes with the American constitutional prohibition of double jeopardy. While American courts do not allow a person to be tried twice on the same allegations, Italian law does not have such a prohibition. Because of this, many people are wondering whether the United States will even be willing to extradite Knox if the Italian courts make such a demand.
While Knox can be tried in absentia, if the court finds that she is guilty Italy will likely demand her extradition. The United States has an extradition treaty with Italy, and it regularly delivers people convicted of crimes by Italian courts. If Italy makes such a demand, a United States judge would be required to ratify Knox’s guilt using a “probable cause” standard before she could be extradited. And indeed, the aforementioned treaty forbids extradition where the defendant was previously acquitted. However, many legal experts think that Knox would be extradited in this situation because Italy would likely argue that Knox’s acquittal was not final within the context of the Italian justice system. It will be interesting to see how the US courts reconcile the constitutional issues of this case with the foreign treaty.
For more information: