Italian Supreme Court Overturns Amanda Knox Acquittal

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Mar 27, 2013

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An Italian court has overturned the acquittal of American Amanda Knox and her Italian ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, ordering the pair to face a new trial for the murder of Knox’s former roommate, Meredith Kercher.  Knox’s trial for the 2007 murder resulted in a 2009 conviction and 25 year prison sentence, which was dramatically overturned in 2011 – four years after Knox was first incarcerated.  After returning to the States following her 2011 acquittal, Knox watched from afar as Italy’s highest court reversed the acquittal and ordered she stand trial anew.

Legal History of Amanda Knox

The decision is another turn in a lingering and dramatic legal battle that unfolded after Kercher’s murder.  Although one man, Rudy Guede, is currently serving a 16 year sentence for the crime, prosecutors, and lawyers for Ms. Kercher’s family, believe that the crime was not committed by a single party.  An attractive and allegedly hard partying couple, Knox and Sollecito drew public ire and suspicion with their seemingly blasé attitude after the murder, leaving many in Italy unsurprised when the two were convicted in 2009. 

Increased scrutiny of the investigation and prosecution raised serious questions about the integrity of the conviction, and the Italian Appeals Court that overturned Knox’s sentence determined that the DNA evidence was too unreliable to keep Knox and Sollecito behind bars.  The appeal of Knox’s acquittal, supported by Kercher’s family lawyers, was up-held after a five-hour hearing during which the Italian Supreme Court heard arguments about the evidence gathered after the murder.  The six judge panel will release the reasoning behind its ruling against Knox and Sollecito later, leaving the details of the decision unclear for the time being.

Double Jeopardy Does Not Apply

In Italy, double jeopardy does apply when the court’s ruling on the initial matter is not considered “final.”  Because Italian prosecutors are allowed to appeal acquittals – a process not permitted in American courts – Knox’s acquittal in 2011 did not close the case.  Had they been tried and acquitted in an American court, Knox and Sollecito could not be prosecuted for the same crime. 

Extradition to Italy

Calling the decision to renew her prosecution “painful,” Knox has consistently maintained her innocence since her 2007 arrest and is unlikely to willingly return to Italy.  If she is convicted a second time, the Seattle native could face an extradition request from the Italian government.  Under a 1984 extradition treaty between the US and Italy, each country is obligated to extradite any person charged with or convicted of an extraditable offense – which is any offense punishable by more than one year in prison.

Italy could not demand Knox be extradited unless her 2009 conviction is upheld in the new trial, and the ruling is confirmed by the Italian Court of Cassation – which will render the case closed and final under Italian law.  Ms. Knox, who is scheduled to release a book covering her life since the 2007 murder of her roommate, was surprised at the decision, which she says comes despite the fact that “the prosecution’s theory of my involvement in Meredith’s murder has been repeatedly revealed to be completely unfounded and unfair.”

Once the details of the Supreme Court’s decision are revealed, defense lawyers for Knox and Sollecito will know exactly what evidence needs to be re-examined, what witnesses need to be recalled, and what strategy they will need to employ in the upcoming re-trial.

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