A depressingly large number of U.S. media outlets are covering the Italian Supreme Court’s decision to order a new trial in the case against Amanda Knox, the American exchange student charged with murdering her British roommate in Italy. Knox was convicted in trial court, but that conviction was overturned on appeal.
I say depressing because this is hardly the most significant international criminal trial going on these days. It is also depressing because most of the U.S. media coverage, and even the “expert” legal commentary, can’t seem to understand that if Italy requests Knox’ extradition, Knox has no double jeopardy defense.
The biggest mistake made by most of the media commentary (I’m looking at you Alan Dershowitz and various law prof types here) is that almost no one seems to have read the U.S. Italy Extradition Treaty. Article VI reads:
Extradition shall not be granted when the person sought has been convicted, acquitted, or pardoned, or has served the sentence imposed, by the Requested Party for the same acts for which extradition is requested
(Emphasis added.) The Requested Party in this scenario would be the United States (Italy would be the “Requesting Party”). The U.S. has never charged Knox with anything, much less with the murder of her UK roommate. So Article VI does not bar Knox’ extradition to Italy. Period.
What about the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment prohibition on Double Jeopardy? Well, the short answer is that the Fifth Amendment’s Double Jeopardy Protection doesn’t apply in an extradition proceeding since the U.S. is not the one trying Knox (they are just handing her over). The long answer is that even if the Fifth Amendment did apply, under US law, an appeal that overturns a lower court conviction is not an acquittal for purposes of the Fifth Amendment. That is basically what happened here. Knox was convicted, then her conviction was overturned on appeal, and then the appellate court judgment was reversed, and a new trial ordered (albeit at the appellate level). This is not double jeopardy, either under Italian law or US law.
So Knox had better get ready to be extradited, or she better get ready to move to Brazil. She has no serious double jeopardy defense here that I can see. Now, if only someone would tell Alan Dershowitz.