By now we’ve all heard at least something, some of us more than others, about the details of the lengthy trial and appellate proceedings in the Amanda Knox case in Perugia, Italy.
Many of us at this point might think it’s a fairly easy call to accept that the Italian system of justice failed miserably in this case, but do you really know why? In looking at this case from the inception and investigation through the trial and appeal process, it is evident that there are significant differences between our two systems.
The investigation was botched from the start. The first responders to the crime scene were the postal police, whose usual responsibilities included investigating petty crimes such as cell phone theft. Once on the murder scene, these investigators refused to break down the victim’s door, citing concerns about her privacy, and then allowed numerous people to tromp through the bloody crime scene, thereby contaminating any evidence. By contrast, there exists a large amount of uniformity in that in just about any town in any state in this country, this type of investigation is immediately turned over to a major crimes unit. Certainly there are exceptions based upon the particular population, but it’s fair to say that this is a fairly uniform procedure across the country.
In the Italian system, the prosecutor or district attorney is also the chief investigator in the case. Although there are certainly some minor exceptions in the United States, it is fairly uniform that no district attorney or prosecutor would serve as a chief investigator. It may seem obvious, but a prosecutor is charged with proving, and hopefully winning the case, so by forcing him to also investigate, an added pressure is placed on him during the course of his investigation. In other words, it’s only natural that he would be looking ahead to the trial and would lose focus on the investigation in front of him.
In an Italian trial, the presumption of innocence is lost, and the trial is more like an inquisition. Part of the reason for that is that an Italian trial is considered to be merely a lead-up to an appeal, and so there is a bit of a rush to judgment. About the only thing that I have seen in this comparison that might favor the Italian system is the appeal process. An appeal is basically a second trial, in which new evidence may be introduced, which is unheard of in the American system of justice. In the United States, you can file a motion for a new trial, but there is an extremely high burden to meet to get a new trial. In our appellate system, about the only thing that gets you a new trial would be an abuse of discretion by the trial level judge.
Fortunately for Amanda Knox, what turned out to be the one plus for the Italian justice system may have saved her life in the end.
Timothy Farrow, of Dash Farrow, LLP, is an experienced criminal defense attorney and former Prosecutor who handles these offense and crimes, misdemeanors, and traffic offense of all levels. When you need experienced, focused, and responsive legal help, call Dash Farrow, LLP at 856-235-8300 or contact us online. We serve individuals and businesses throughout Burlington and Camden County and all of South Jersey.