A European Education

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The New York Sun

The acquittal of Amanda Knox of the murder she was convicted of two years ago brings to an astonishing and moving end a case that has gripped the public the world over and offers much on which Americans can reflect. Miss Knox was acquitted on appeal of a murder verdict that could have meant she would spend the next generation in prison — or even, if the appellate jury had gone the other way, had her sentence extended to life in prison. The acquittal came after an independent panel found the evidence — and the collection of the evidence — to be lacking or tainted.

The young woman was trembling and appeared to be on the verge of a breakdown when she was brought into the courtroom to hear the judgment of the panel that hears appeals under the Italian system. The question was whether she participated in the murder of her room-mate, Meredith Kercher, a Briton, whom prosecutors claim was killed in a drugs and sex fueled attack. The judge who spoke for the appellate jurors announced his verdict quickly, starting right off by sustaining Miss Knox’s conviction of slander, for which she has already served her time, but vindicating her on the murder charge, and moving on to her co-defendant, who was also acquitted.

Miss Knox had made an extraordinary plea to the appellate jury shortly before it went out. She declared she was not the person they said she was. And that she was not present when the crime was committed. The thing that struck us, as we watched the proceedings on the Web, is how different the process is in Italy. In America appeals judges do not second-guess the original jury except in rare instances, because under the American system a jury is the trier of fact. This follows from, among other things, the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution, which establishes that in all criminal prosecutions “the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury.”

In America, the main things appellate courts get to consider are the constitutional questions, whether statutes were correctly applied, and whether the accused was given due process. In Italy, the appeal is heard by a jury, albeit a mixed one of both judges and laypersons. It was reported that one of the jurors was weeping as Miss Knox made her final plea, speaking in the Italian she had perfected in her four years in prison. It is hard to imagine any appeals court here sitting for such a plea by the defendant in a case.

Yet it is something to think about. What would have been the outcome had the appeals judges sat eye-to-eye with, say, Troy Davis, who was just sent to his doom despite the fact that seven of nine witnesses against him had recanted their testimony. We don’t mean to suggest that Davis was an innocent man, wrongly convicted. We don’t mean to suggest that the Italian system is superior to America’s. We merely suggest that it is different, and the differences are something on which to reflect. Miss Knox went to Perugia for a European education, and it turns out that she got one.


This editorial was updated to provide a fuller description of what American appeals judges are permitted to do.

The New York Sun

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