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What Does Italy Hope to Gain by Re-trying Amanda Knox?

March 27, 2013 ·

And, were she found guilty again, would the United States extradite Amanda Knox?

And, were she found guilty again, would the United States extradite Amanda Knox?

As you've no doubt heard by now an Italian appellate has court overturned a lower court decision that acquitted Amanda Knox in the Perugia murder of her housemate Meredith Kercher. Two questions immediately present themselves: 1. If she's found guilty, would the United States extradite her at Italy's request? 2. Why won't Italy let this go?

By way of addressing the first question, in response to a New York magazine article, a commenter named Soma writes:

Extradition treaties work both ways. The US recently extradited Al Qaeda terrorism suspects from Italy ... would they want to jeopardise future extradition requests to Italy & the larger EU? I doubt it.

At Slate, Justin Peters writes:

More likely is that, if Knox is convicted again, Italy won’t even bother requesting her extradition. Doing so would cause a small but real international incident, something that both nations would prefer to avoid. The two countries will reach some sort of agreement, and Knox will never spend another day in an Italian jail.

In the same vein, MSN reports that it

…spoke with English and Italian legal consultant and attorney Alessandro Canali from Rome [who said that] extraditing Knox would run up against an insurmountable legal hurdle: It would be unconstitutional. … “The United States will never grant extradition to Italy because the conviction of Amanda would be in conflict with the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.…

Indeed, the Fifth Amendment’s “double jeopardy clause” states, “[N]or shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb,” … Italy may have different constitutional principles when it comes to double jeopardy, but Knox isn’t in Italy anymore, and she can rest assured that she won’t be forced to go there.

But, reports Gary J. Remal for the Boston Herald, "if anyone believes they know how Knox’s case will be resolved, [Paulo Barrozo, a Boston College international criminal law expert] believes they are likely mistaken." If Ms. Knox were found guilty again

American officials would then have to decide whether to honor an extradition request that violates a constitutional protection against double jeopardy. In Italian law, based on Roman and Athenian law, double jeopardy protections only kick in after all prosecution appeals in an original case are exhausted.

 … “So maybe this will become the setting for double jeopardy to be decided” between Italy and the U.S., said. “But both countries are likely to want to make that move carefully since it could affect legal relations between the two for years or decades to come. They have extraditions all the time. They may not want this case to set a precedent.”

“The one certainty I have," Barrozo told Remal, "is it will take a long time."

He expects legal wrangling in Italy and in the U.S., if the conviction is restored, will last for as long as six years.

Returning to the New York magazine article, commenter Bradley writes that extradition treaty between the United States and Italy is (emphasis added -- assuming he's correct)

… a little less permissive than you sometimes find. Many countries negotiate provisions giving them the explicit discretion to refuse extradition of one of their own nationals. This treaty doesn't say that, and it contains a provision suggesting the opposite.

Still, Bradley

…can think of a few reasons why the U.S. Justice Department, for practical and political reasons, might not consent to her re-trial in this case in which she was already acquitted. And relations with Italy on justice issues are a little frosty right now over that CIA hit or kidnapping or whatever it was we did over there. Doesn't seem to me as though we owe the Italians any favors at the moment.

Bradley may be referring to Italy's conviction of 23 Americans for CIA renditions in 2009. Peters at Slate reinforces his view:

I predict that, even if she is convicted in absentia, there’s no way that Knox will be extradited back to Italy to serve her sentence. Knox is a cause célèbre in the U.S., and her partisans will exert significant pressure on the government to deny any extradition request.

Whether or not Barrozo is correct and the United States does consent to extradite (from MSN again):

As to whether Italian prosecutors know that the U.S. Constitution gives them no chance of getting Knox back into prison, Canali says “I don’t think they’ve realized that yet.”

That's as poor a reflection on Italy as reopening this farce of a case. One can't help but think it's just a last-ditch effort to save face. Along with the emotional wear and tear on Ms. Knox and her family, as well as the central tragedy of Ms. Kercher's murder, we shouldn't forget Ms. Knox's then-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, who was also convicted, cleared, and re-charged. As MSN reports:

Sollecito, an Italian, isn’t in the same boat and could find himself behind bars if he’s reconvicted.