Double Jeopardy in the Amanda Knox case?

BY PAIGE RIVKIND— On January 20th, an Italian court found Amanda Knox guilty again of the murder of Meredith Kercher. Amanda Knox was first found guilty in 2009 for the murder of Kercher, who was her roommate while studying abroad in Perugia, Italy. She was sentenced to 26 years in prison. On October 3, 2011, her guilty conviction was overturned based on a lack of evidence. After her acquittal, Amanda Knox returned to the United States. However in March of 2013, the Italian Supreme Court decided to retry the case saying “the jury that acquitted them[Knox and Sollecito] didn’t consider all the evidence and discrepancies in testimony that needed to be answered.” The retrial began on September 30, 2013 and ended again with a murder conviction for Knox. Amanda Knox did not attend, watching the trial unfold from her house in Seattle.

Knox plans to appeal. However, if the conviction is upheld, international legal issues come into play. There is an extradition treaty between the United States and Italy that says that “the United States cannot deny an extradition request from the Italian government simply because Knox is an American citizen located on American soil.” But there may be some arguments Knox could make that could possibly support the United States denying this request.

A double jeopardy problem may be at issue. The United States has a double jeopardy policy, which prevents someone from being tried twice for the same crime. In the United States, Amanda Knox would never have gotten to this point because United State courts don’t acquit and retry cases. A prosecutor is not allowed to appeal a court’s decision, which is considered double jeopardy. However, in Italy it is permissible.

Would the United States be violating Amanda Knox’s constitutional rights by extraditing her? The answer really lies in whether this is double jeopardy according to the standards of American law. Knox is dealing with an acquittal by an appeals court and not by a jury, which makes the double jeopardy argument harder to make. In Italy it was the decision of an intermediate appellate court, which is not considered a final judgment according to their law. The United States normally would not extradite someone that has been acquitted by a jury. The problem is that in Knox’s situation, it was acquittal by an appeal’s court.  Nonetheless, if Knox was tried in the United States rather than Italy, it most certainly would have followed a very different procedural history.

So because the United States would probably have proceeded differently than Knox had, is the United States suppose to follow their own laws or the laws of Italy in deciding whether to extradite Knox? In other cases, other countries have not extradited their own citizens to the United States because of the death penalty sentence their own laws did not conform to.  Would the United States be doing the same by refusing to extradite Knox? “The only problem is the United States government seeks to extradite more people than any other country in the world and its decision to deny extradition in the Knox case may result in push-back from other countries”.

The United States will first have to decide whether Knox’s constitutional rights are at issue. If they are, they will then have to decide whether the protection of Knox’s constitutional rights is worth the risk of a push back from other countries.

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