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The Amanda Knox Case: Could What Happened In Italy Have Happened Here?

“I am not who they say I am.  I am innocent!”  These were the words of Amanda Knox standing before an Italian Appeals court in Perugia, Italy after having been convicted two years earlier in the sexual assault and murder of her roommate, Meredith Kercher.  For the four years prior, Amanda Knox sat in an Italian prison, away from her family and friends in Seattle, all the while professing her innocence as the Italian prosecutors and the world-wide media made her out to be a satanic, sex-crazed murderer.

A review of the evidence presented at Amanda’s trial however results in the conclusion that she was convicted of murder based on unreliable forensic evidence collected by shoddy police work; an alleged confession given after approximately 50 hours of interrogation (an interrogation conducted mostly in Italian when Amanda spoke little Italian); and, by an overzealous prosecution who continued to throw theories and motives against the proverbial wall in the hopes that something would stick.

Let’s take a look at just a sample of the “evidence” as it was presented by Italian prosecutors, Giuliano Mignini and Manuela Comodi.  First, and perhaps most troubling, were the key pieces of DNA evidence presented by the prosecution at Amanda’s trial.  Most of this was evidence collected an astonishing 47 days after the murder when the Italian police thought it might be a good idea to return to the crime scene and further investigate.  One piece of evidence was blood, alleged to be Amanda’s, found on a kitchen knife that may or may not have been the murder weapon.  Also presented was blood located on a bra-clasp belonging to Ms. Kercher and finally, a footprint that, in the prosecution’s words, “was consistent with that of Amanda Knox.”  While Amanda’s defense challenged the validity of the DNA testing at trial, the evidence was admitted and likely played a key role in Amanda’s conviction.

During Amanda’s appeal, in December 2010, the Judge ordered a re-examination of the DNA evidence.  The re-examination concluded that the DNA evidence used in the prosecution’s case did not conform to the international standards of collecting and analyzing DNA evidence.  Further, it concluded that the evidence was unreliable and could have been the result of contamination.  Incredibly, the Appellate Court review concluded that the police mishandled evidence or failed to follow proper forensic procedures over 50 times.

Regarding Amanda’s alleged confession, it was ultimately found by the Italian Supreme Court that the police investigating the murder violated Amanda’s rights by failing to advise her of her specific legal rights, by failing to appoint an attorney to protect those rights and, by failing to provide her with an official interpreter for the interrogation.  Ultimately, this alleged confession was suppressed at the criminal trial, however, the Italian media had a field day with it and the idea that a potential juror was unaware of it was simply ludicrous.

Could this scenario have played out in the United States?  Would the American justice system have prevented this miscarriage of justice from taking place?  Frankly, the question is not as simple as it seems.  Do innocent people get convicted of crimes they have not committed in America?  Unfortunately, yes!  Do people spend a significant amount of time incarcerated in American prisons before being cleared of their alleged crimes by DNA evidence or the uncovering of police and prosecutorial misconduct?  Absolutely!  Does the media play a role in the outcome of high profile cases?  You be the judge.  So how is what happened in Italy any different than the hundreds of murder cases that have been overturned in the States?

Truthfully, we are not sure it is.  Defendants in New York and around the country are often subject to shoddy police work, coerced confessions and prosecutors more interested in obtaining convictions than seeking the truth.  While our system, on its face, might have more protections delineated for the accused, do not fall victim to the adage that our system is designed to protect the innocent.  In the United States, as in Italy, the criminal justice system is an adversarial one.  Criminal trials result in winners and losers and those who conduct them, on either side of the aisle, do not like to lose.  This fact is especially true when the playing field, created by the media, is a stage like Amanda Knox’s or Casey Anthony’s or OJ’s.

All of that being said, if you find yourself in a legal jam, you should have a fundamental understanding of your rights and, perhaps more importantly, have someone on your side that knows the system, understands its pitfalls, and is accustomed to winning.

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