What Amanda Knox Teaches Us About Double Jeopardy
The latest chapter in the Amanda Knox murder case played out yesterday in Italy, when a jury determined that Amanda Knox is guilty of murdering student Meredith Kercher. This is the third verdict reached regarding Amanda Knox, and it appears that there will be plenty more litigation ahead. Here is a timeline published by CNN that outlines the twists and turns of this bizarre case.
Every country has their own judicial system with plenty of wacky quirks and rules, and as attorneys, we are fascinated by the way this case has worked out in the courts and in the media. The Knox case would never happen in a similar fashion in the United States, because of our concept of double jeopardy.
Double jeopardy is a concept that many countries employ in their criminal justice systems. In the United States, it is grounded in the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution. It means that a person may not be tried by the government for the same criminal offense if they have been acquitted by a jury for that offense. It doesn’t matter if new evidence is discovered after the trial, or if the defendant confesses to the crime after the acquittal. A criminal defendant may be tried multiple times if he is convicted, appeals, and is granted a new trial, but the government only gets one shot to secure a conviction- if the case results in acquittal, then that is the final judgment.
Prosecutors can appeal rulings that occur from a case that results in acquittal, but they are not allowed to take another bite at the apple on the underlying criminal charge. Prosecutors will often wait to charge an individual who is being investigated for a crime in an effort to collect as much incriminating evidence as possible, especially in cases where the evidence is thin. This is to make sure that they have their case complete before taking it to a jury.
Prosecutors may also dismiss a case on their own for lack of evidence. In this situation, jeopardy does not “attach,” meaning that because the case was not tried before a jury where a verdict is reached, prosecutors may re-file charges if they obtain more evidence.
If the Knox case occurred in the United States, she would be free because she was acquitted. Not so in Italy. It will be interesting to see how the case concludes.