Italian Justice, Double Jeopardy and Amanda Knox

Amanda Knox was convicted in a second trial. I don’t practice Italian criminal defense law, and only took one class in law school about Italian justice. I am, therefore, woefully under prepared to talk about the way in which Italian justice either mistreated or treated Amanda Knox fairly.

That said, I am more prepared to talk about Amanda Knox than most Americans who are commenting about the alleged injustice handed out today by the Italian court that convicted her in a second trial.

First, there’s the question about whether Amanda Knox should be extradited to Italy. The argument, advanced by some people, is that Amanda cannot be extradited because the second trial represented double jeopardy. Because she was tried twice for the same crime, the argument goes, Knox cannot be extradited because it would violate American constitutional principles.

The problem is that this argument misunderstands both Italian law and American jurisprudence. In the United States if someone is convicted at the trial court level, that person can appeal that conviction. A court of appeals can overturn the conviction if it finds that the law was misapplied by the judge in the original trial. In addition, if found not guilty of state charges the defendant can be tried at the federal level if there is an analogous law.

North Carolina has recently witnessed two major trials where the convictions have been overturned by the Court of Appeals. In both cases, the state intends to retry the defendants. This plainly does not violate the principle of double jeopardy.

The same is true in the Amanda Knox matter. Knox was originally convicted of murder and slander. Upon appeal, the slander conviction was upheld, but the murder conviction was overturned.

The Italian system let Amanda out of custody on appeal and she fled the jurisdiction. But the so-called acquittal by the Italian appellate court does not represent a true acquittal as might happen in an American trial court.

Therefore the new trial is not an instance of double Jeopardy. The notion that Amanda Knox is obviously a victim of double jeopardy is wrong.

Next, let’s understand that Amanda Knox is a convicted felon. She was convicted of the crime of slander which under Italian law constituted a three-year sentence. Whether or not you believe the second conviction of murder stands, Knox was convicted of a felony.

Finally, Americans are now patting themselves on the back about the quality of their justice system, when compared with the Italian justice system.

Let’s remember that the West Memphis three spent more years in prison for murders they did not commit. In our own state, we’ve seen people proved innocent after years in prison for crimes they did not commit.

And the coup de grace of American Justice must be Guantanamo Bay.

UPDATE: I’m right. See also The New York Times

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Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.