Retrial of Amanda Knox in Italy Raises Questions About Jurisdiction, Extradition If She Is Convicted

800px-United_States_extradition_treaties_countries.PNGThe retrial of Amanda Knox, an American college student convicted of murdering her roommate in Italy, then later acquitted of those charges, began on September 30, 2013. A court overturned her conviction in 2011 and allowed her release from prison, but also ordered a new trial. Knox promptly returned to her home in Seattle, Washington, and the Italian court has conducted the new trial without her present. Since courts in Italy are not subject to the Fifth Amendment’s limits on double jeopardy, Knox cannot object to the new proceeding on those grounds. If she is convicted again, however, Italy may not be able to exercise jurisdiction over her to enforce a prison sentence.

Knox was a University of Washington student attending school in Perugia, Italy in the fall of 2007. One of her roommates, British exchange student Meredith Kercher, was murdered in the house they shared. A jury convicted Knox and her Italian former boyfriend of murder in December 2009, even though another man confessed and pleaded guilty to the murder in 2008. The conduct of the police and prosecutors have been the subject of extensive criticism and debate. Knox’s appeal eventually resulted in the reversal of her conviction in October 2011, with an order to conduct a new trial.

A court in Florence, Italy is currently trying Knox’s case in absentia. The prosecutor asked the court to sentence her to twenty-six years in prison for the murder, plus an additional four years for slander for falsely implicating a Perugia bar owner in the murder. If the current trial results in a conviction, an appeal will follow, but it raises the question of whether Italy can enforce any prison sentence or other penalty against Knox. International law generally prevents one sovereign country from exercising jurisdiction over individuals in another country, except by agreement of both countries.

U.S. law only obligates the surrender of individuals to foreign countries for criminal prosecution if an extradition treaty with that country is in effect. 18 U.S.C. ยงยง 3181 et seq. The current extradition treaty with Italy, codified at 35 U.S.T. 3023, took effect in 1984. It requires extradition between the countries, upon request, for offenses punishable under the laws of both countries by at least one year in prison.

Article VI of the treaty prohibits extradition “when the person sought has been…acquitted…by the Requested Party [the U.S.] for the same acts for which extradition is requested,” which is in line with the double jeopardy protections of the Fifth Amendment. This would only seem to apply if a U.S. court had acquitted Knox of the murder, but the U.S. could claim that it is no longer obligated to extradite her since her original conviction was overturned in Italy. Another possibility, of course, is that either Italy does not seek extradition at all, or that the U.S. simply refuses to surrender her. If she ever traveled outside the U.S., however, Italy could theoretically request the country she visited to commence extradition proceedings and allow Interpol to arrest her.

Michael J. Brown is a board-certified criminal defense attorney who fights for the rights of Texas defendants. For over twenty years, he has worked to make certain that law enforcement and the courts abide by all of the criminal justice system’s rules and procedures. Please contact us today online or at (325) 574-2000 to schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your case.

Web Resources:

Italy International Extradition Treaty with the United States (PDF file), date-in-force September 24, 1984
Extradition To and From the United States: Overview of the Law and Recent Treaties (PDF file), Congressional Research Service, March 17, 2010
More Blog Posts:

Appellate Court Must Defer to Trial Court’s Findings of Fact, According to Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, May 29, 2013
State High Courts Rule that Post-Conviction Registration Law Violates Constitution’s Ex Post Facto Clause, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, April 8, 2013
Italian Supreme Court Overturns Amanda Knox Acquittal. What About Double Jeopardy? Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, March 29, 2013
Photo credit: By Roke [GFDL, CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.