Amanda Knox thought that the past several years were firmly behind her- sadly, she was wrong. Convicted of and imprisoned for the sexually motivated murder of British student Meredith Kercher in 2009, she was acquitted on appeal after several years in an Italian prison, and repatriated to America in 2011. To this day there is still some mystery surrounding Kercher’s murder- and the family is still seeking answers and justice.
An Italian appeal court has very recently overturned the acquittal, and is ordering a retrial based on issues arising from the initial trial. Will Knox be returned to Italy to face a retrial?
The question is one of extradition; can she legally be extradited to stand trial again? Under US law, it is unlikely. An extradition treaty between the two countries states that:
“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.”
Additionally, US law still contains the concept of double jeopardy. As she has already been tried for the crimes she was accused of, the US have a great legal basis to deny Italy the chance of a retrial under domestic US law.
On the other hand, there is no doubt that the Italian courts have the right and legal basis to ask for her extradition due to the conduct of the initial case. With several flaws in the trial having been revealed, to prevent a miscarriage of justice it is vital that she and co- accused Raffaele Sollecito once again stand in the dock so the truth (a very hard element to unearth in this particular case) can be established once and for all. Under international law, and relevant treaties, they have a firm legal basis to get Knox back in an Italian dock.
If the request is made, and the US refuses on legal and diplomatic grounds to agree, then Amanda Knox will have an Interpol warrant against her, making her liable for arrest and extradition to Italy if she travels anywhere in the world.
Pending the release of the judicial reasoning behind the decision, both the US State Department and the Italian authorities are remaining tight lipped as regards any outcomes or extradition. Lawyers for both nations, and both families, will be turning on legal pinheads to establish whether the relevant statutes and treaties will allow such an action to occur- while a young woman waits with this uncertainty over her, and the family waits to see whether they have to endure the ordeal of new legal proceedings.
It was not too long ago that the Italian courts and diplomats were similarly debating the niceties of extradition- but from the other side. Two Italian Marines, Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, while guarding an Italian oil tanker off the Kerala coast early last year shot and killed two Indian fishermen. Affirming that they genuinely mistook the fishermen for pirates who posed a clear threat to the tanker, they were tried in an Indian court for murder.
After solemn assurances were given by Italy, the two marines were allowed to return to Italy earlier this year to vote in the elections. However, in a dramatic about turn, Rome decided not to return the marines to India to resume the trial.
Subsequently, diplomatic temperatures rose exponentially in New Delhi and Rome. Indeed, the Italian ambassador was forbidden to leave |Indian, an act that in itself violates internationals law, the 1966 Vienna Convention and principles and convention surrounding diplomats.
A diplomatic crisis was narrowly averted when Italy reluctantly returned the two marines to Delhi, and the (ongoing) trial resumed. This was only after New Delhi gave solemn assurances of its own that the marines would not face inhumane or degrading treatment, or the death penalty if convicted.
Here, the law surrounding extradition worked differently. It is perfectly legal for a state to refuse an extradition request if there is a danger that by doing so the person extradited will face torture, a breach of human rights, or a death penalty as an outcome of legal proceedings. In this case, the marines potentially faced a death penalty for murder, and human rights issues were also cited by Rome. Additionally, the international legal concept of aut dedere aut judicare states that an accused individual must either be surrendered to the requesting state, or face trial for the same crime in their own state; Rome offered to put the marines on trial for the murders in Italy, a perfectly legally and diplomatically reasonable request. It must also be noted that the shootings are said to have occurred in international waters. Whilst the Italian government did go back on its promise to return the marines after the elections, they had good legal basis to do so on human rights grounds.
Can the successful extradition of Marines Latorre and Girone foretell what will happen in Knox’s case if such a request is made? For the marines, a perfectly good legal (and moral) case against extradition did not work. Knox, however, has rather shakier legal and moral grounds to resist extradition; but it is unlikely that the US will concede to her extradition on points of legality and diplomacy.
Ultimately, though, diplomacy and politics will play a large part in such matters; at which point the people involved in such matters become mere insignificant chess pieces on a board between the two countries, as greater national and international issues are at stake.
Whatever the decision, she will put up a great fight in resisting such an extradition so as to not stand in an Italian court once again, and for all parties to relive the nightmare- as will the two marines in India as they try to justify their actions and tactics, and to uphold the honour and proud traditions of the Italian Marina Militare.