Amanda Knox and Italy's 'Carnivalesque' Justice System

"Nobody here's good at their job," Frank Sfarzo, a local blogger who has followed the trial more obsessively than anyone, told Rolling Stone. "If they were, they wouldn't be in Perugia."

And granted, Knox didn't help her case by reportedly doing "cartwheels and splits" in the immediate aftermath of the murder and canoodling with Sollecito during the police investigation.

The news of Knox's second conviction might appear, to Americans, as yet another glitch in what seems like a broken legal system: It wouldn't have happened in the U.S., legal scholars write, because Italy doesn't forbid double jeopardy, a cornerstone of American law.

Italians' displeasure with Knox' 2011 acquittal seemed to stem from a desire to see someone—anyone—punished for Kercher's murder and from a sense that she was a bit too bubbly for a wrongfully accused suspect in a murder case. Polls in Italy showed that the majority of Italians believed Knox and Sollecito were guilty, and after the 2011 acquittal was announced, spectators outside the courtroom shouted: "Shame! Bastards!" at judges and lawyers.

But reactions to the handling of the couple's original trial were, in some cases, even more outraged.

"Even if the rules have been followed, and the sentence is, probably, irrefutable, for the Italian justice system this is not, however, a victory," said an editorial in La Stampa. "The confirmation of the evidence was missing; faced with doubt the judges inexorably, but justly, reached their conclusions. Yet this is an acquittal that leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.... And so, almost by necessity, the debate shifts to the efficiency of our judicial system and the capacity of our judges, because now there are too many murder cases in which they have failed to give responses that fail to convince completely, or fail to convince at all."

To others, the acquittal showed that whatever procedural errors there might have been, the truth was destined to out itself eventually, and Italy's courts proved themselves, however slowly:

"Amanda Knox's case demonstrates how the system is able to react to any errors," Paola Severino, a lawyer and a professor of criminal law at Rome's LUISS University, told Time in 2011.

As Jones points out, Knox's case is far from the only one in which the country's legal system fumbled. Judicial appointments in Italy are made through nepotism, juries aren't properly sequestered, and the courts are in dire need of reform.

A Reuters analysis of Italy's courts paints an even more depressing picture:

There is a backlog of around nine million cases, 5.5 million civil and 3.4 million criminal ...

The state paid 84 million euros in compensation for miscarriages of justice and legal delays in 2011. There were nearly 50,000 such claims compared to 3,500 in 2003. Another 46 million euros was paid out to people unjustly thrown in jail.

Some 42 percent of those in jail or 28,000 people, are awaiting trial and the prison population is 68,000 in institutions intended to hold 45,000.

Prosecutors may have been right to pursue the case until they're fully satisfied, but the bizarre, never-ending saga that Knox's case has become detracts from the legitimacy of the final verdict.

Or as Vittorio Macioce wrote in Il Giornale in 2011, "It's the law, but maybe in Italian justice there's a black hole where uncertainty reigns."


This post is based on a version originally published on March 26, 2013.

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Olga Khazan is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where she covers health.

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