Amanda Knox: Appeals, Double Jeopardy and Extradition

Is the new trial for Amanda Knox in Italy violating her rights under the Fifth Amendment? Image by Decoded Science

Is the new trial for Amanda Knox in Italy violating her rights under the Fifth Amendment? Image by Decoded Science

On March 26, 2013, the Italian Supreme Court overturned the acquittals of American Amanda Knox and her former Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito. Both were convicted of murder at trial, but an appeals court later overturned these convictions, to acquit the pair.

After the original appeals court overturned Knox’s conviction, the Italian jail where she was held released her, and she flew back to her home in Seattle. Knox remains in the United States, but under Italian law prosecutors can appeal these acquittals; the Italian Supreme Court has now ordered a new trial.

The Meredith Kercher Murder Case

In late 2007, Meredith Kercher, 21, was a student from the U.K. who went to Italy to study. Knox was also a student and she shared a house with Kercher and others in Perugia, Italy.

On November 2, 2007, Kercher’s body was found in the house and according to police, she had been killed the day before.  Her throat was slashed, she had been stabbed around 40 times, and there was evidence she had been sexually assaulted. Four days after the discovery of the body, Knox and Sollecito were arrested along with another man Patrick Lumumba. In a statement to investigators, Lumumba implicated Knox.

Both Knox and Sollecito were formally charged with murder and sexual assault 11 months later on October 28, 2008. Their trial began in Perugia on January 16, 2009.

On December 4, 2009, Knox and Sollecito were found guilty of the charges. Knox was sentenced to 26 years in jail while her former boyfriend got 25 years. They both appealed.

Under Italian law, appeals amount to a new trial and the couple’s appeal trial began on November 24, 2010. On October 3, 2011, both Knox and Sollecito were acquitted after the court had doubts about the reliability of the DNA evidence. The court ordered they be released from jail, at which point Knox flew back to the United States where she is currently attending the University of Washington in Seattle.

The prosecutors appealed the acquittals made by the appeals court to the Italian Supreme Court and were successful. The Supreme Court ordered a new trial although a date has not been set.

The Doctrine of Double Jeopardy

In the United States, protection against double jeopardy is found in the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, known as the Due Process Clause. That clause says, in part, that no person “shall be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy for life or limb.”

The jeopardy is the danger of being convicted and does not attach unless there is a risk of being found guilty. For example, if a mistrial is declared, there is no risk of conviction and the jeopardy does not attach.

Double jeopardy does attach when a person pleads guilty and the plea is accepted by the court. Where the accused enters not-guilty pleas, double jeopardy attaches when the jury is empanelled and the first witness begins to testify.

Many other countries, such as Italy and Canada, have a more limited form of double jeopardy. People cannot be arrested, charged and tried over and over and over again for an offense based upon the same or similar facts of an offense on which they have been already tried. In Canada, criminal accused are allowed to enter a special plea of autrefois acquit or autrefois convict and argue they have already been tried.

In the United States, once a person is acquitted of a charge, that is the end of it. To take Casey Anthony for example: No matter how many legal errors were committed during her trial, she has been and will forever remain acquitted of killing her daughter. Other countries however, allow the prosecution to appeal an acquittal to an appellate court. Sometimes the grounds upon which the prosecution can appeal an acquittal are narrower grounds regarding errors of law than those granted to a criminal defendant appealing a conviction.

If the appeal against acquittal is allowed, that court can set aside the acquittal and order a new trial in the same manner as they can overturn a conviction. As recently as the 1970s, Canadian appeal courts could set aside an acquittal and enter a conviction. Now they can only order a new trial.

Click to Read Page Two: Can Amanda Knox be Extradited to Italy?

© Copyright 2013 Arthur Weinreb, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Science

Pages: 1 2

  • harryrag

    The English translation of the Italian Supreme Court report which explains why Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito’s acquittals were annulled can be downloaded from the Perugia Murder File website:

    http://www.perugiamurderfile.org/viewtopic.php?f=20&t=599

  • Hillary Corby

    It’s my understanding that if she is convicted again and is not extradited to Italy, Interpol will issue a warrant for her arrest which will, essentially, make her a prisoner in the US because if she leaves, she will be arrested and returned to Italy. Her best bet is to be acquitted. I live in Italy, and there is no double jeopardy here. Also, her case is considered a continuation, not a re-trial so double jeopardy does not exist either.
    I am a crime fiction writer that has been living in Italy for 5 years and I specialize in Italian crime.

  • JLS1950

    It must be understood that the Constitution of the United States of America and the Bill Of Rights which includes the Fifth Amendment thereto are all LEGALLY SUPERIOR to the U.S.-Italy extradition treaty, and that the treaty does not and MUST NOT attempt to overrule the provisions of the Fifth Amendment. Moreover, it must be understood that The U.S. Constitution and the Federal Court System are prohibited from
    even “caring” how the legal system in Italy works except in terms of answering the questions presented in the treaty: e.g. what are the remaining and effective avenues of appeal following trial in absentia.

    All that the U.S. Courts are permitted to care about is whether Knox was placed in jeopardy before an Italian court (e.g. was a jury empaneled or a witness sworn in a bench trial) and whether that jeopardy “completed” (e.g. did a jury return a verdict of acquittal or was the defendant released from custody for time served.) If these conditions are determined to have been met, then the U.S. Federal Court and all U.S.
    officials are constrained by the Double Jeopardy Clause that they NOT act to allow that Knox “be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb”. It has nothing to do with Italian legal principles or practice: it is an absolute constraint on what the U.S. Federal Government is permitted to do.

    Recall that even the UK refused to extradite a Polish national back to his native Poland in 2011 on grounds of double jeopardy.

    This matter is so fundamental to American principles of jurisprudence and civil rights that if the conditions of the treaty were actually found to conflict with the Fifth Amendment (and I do not believe they do: I believe they clearly allow for this exception) then SCOTUS might have no alternative than to void the entire treaty as unconstitutional. This is likely not a battle that Italy would come out of unbloodied.

    And the fact is that this continual PR campaign being waged by or on behalf of Italian authorities to convince Americans of Knox’s “guilt” based on half-baked and contrived junk-science “evidence” is really grating on the nerves of Americans, who are beginning to see this entire case as a matter of Italy attempting to “punish” the sins of the American government – particularly under certain prior administrations – by loading them all onto the shoulders of just ONE innocent American college coed and slandering both her and her entire family and all her friends and supporters. The longer this goes on, the more Americans are becoming fed up with Italian “justice” and indeed Italy itself.