Amanda Knox Support May Be Result Of Misunderstanding Italian Law, Says Professor

( [email protected] ) Feb 05, 2015 04:27 PM EST
Amanda Knox
Amanda Knox arrives with police to a court hearing in Perugia, Italy. Photo: Reuters/Daniele la Monaca

The Amanda Knox legal battle has captured the attention of many people all over the world as a final verdict is expected to arrive as early as next month. But a University of Kansas professor suggests that many Americans may be basing their opinions of Knox on a misunderstanding of the differences in the judicial systems of the U.S. and Italy.

"If someone is going to offer broad criticisms of an entire legal and criminal justice system, they ought to at least have an understanding of the culture of the country and its legal system," said John W. Head, Robert W. Wagstaff Distinguished Professor of Law at the university "I doubt that was the case with most of the people who were offering the loudest criticisms in the Amanda Knox trial." 

The professor contends that the trial was blown out of proportion in both the U.S. (where Knox is from) and Italy (where the murder of Meredith Kercher took place) to include criticisms that may have been detrimental to the guilty/not-guilty verdicts that have gone back and forth in recent years.

Amanda Knox was originally a prime suspect in the assault and murder of British woman Meredith Kercher in 2007. Knox and her boyfriend at the time, Raffaele Sollecito, were both questioned by police after the murder and put on trial in 2009.

While a third man, Rudy Guede, was ultimately found guilty for the murder thanks to overwhelming DNA evidence, many believed that Knox and Sollecito were the facilitators. Some believe that Knox delivered the fatal blow to Kercher.

But the evidence went both ways, as some agencies were reporting that there were no physical links between Knox and the murder, believing that the Italian press tainted the first trial with "anti-Americanisms."

Professor Head, who was living and working in Trento, Italy during the 2009 Knox trial, says that the Italian media obsessed too much about the case and it was a bit too sensationalistic.

"While I was in Italy, I was working on a comparative law course book," Head said. "One of the angles I was working on was comparing criminal procedures in Europe, the United States and China. So this case and all the attention it was getting really grabbed my interest."

Knox and Sollecito were found guilty during that first trial, but a retrial returned a not-guilty verdict in 2011 due to what was believed to be a flawed original verdict and tainted DNA evidence. Head explains that the differences in the Italian justice system confused many Americans, especially when it came to how the jury worked and how the Italian people viewed the multinational aspect of the trial.

Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito face more legal battles as their murder conviction was reinstated last year, yet the two are still walking free. That, in itself, is another misunderstood piece of Italian law as many Americans don't understand how people found guilty of murder can live and work like normal. Amanda Knox is currently working as a reporter for a West Seattle newspaper, but may face extradition back to Italy after all appeals have been exhausted.

As Forbes' Robert Anello points out, "Despite the overwhelming support for Amanda Knox in her home country, under the extradition treaty between the United States and Italy, the United States cannot deny an extradition request from the Italian government simply because Knox is an American citizen located on American soil."

Either way, this trial may result in much more than a guilty or not-guilty verdict for Knox and Sollecito; it may be a defining case in determining how extradition law is handled in the future.

"I think we simply miss a lot because we don't pay close enough attention to the underlying cultural differences between legal systems and especially nations," Professor Head said. "Unfortunately, our response is often inadequate because of that."