Criminal Justice

Would double jeopardy claim bar Amanda Knox's extradition?

  • Print

The retrial of Amanda Knox by an Italian appeals court could lead to difficult questions about the meaning of double jeopardy if she is found guilty in the new hearing.

Knox was found guilty of murder in the death of her British roommate by an Italian trial court in 2009, then acquitted by an appeals court in 2011. On Tuesday, Italy’s highest court reversed the acquittal and ordered a new trial. The high court ruling “may have begun a diplomatic and legal tug of war with the United States,” according to Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who considers the legal issues in a column for the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.).

Knox is now living in the United States and her lawyer doesn’t expect her to return to Italy. If the appeals court were to convict Knox in the retrial, Italy may seek her extradition. “That is when the real legal complexities would kick in,” Dershowitz writes.

“America’s extradition treaty with Italy prohibits the U.S. from extraditing someone who has been ‘acquitted,’ which under American law generally means acquitted by a jury at trial,” Dershowitz says. “But Ms. Knox was acquitted by an appeals court after having been found guilty at trial. So would her circumstance constitute double jeopardy under American law?”

The answer is uncertain, Dershowitz says. In the United States, appeals courts don’t retry cases and acquit defendants. Knox’s Italian lawyer has said the appellate acquittal doesn’t constitute double jeopardy under Italian law because it wasn’t a final judgment.

“This argument will probably carry considerable weight with U.S. authorities, likely yielding the conclusion that her extradition wouldn’t violate the treaty,” Dershowitz says. “Still, a sympathetic U.S. State Department or judge might find that her appellate acquittal was final enough to preclude extradition on double-jeopardy grounds.”

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.