Court rulings

In light of the recent ruling on the Amanda Knox case, I know things work different in other countries. My question is about appeals, to any one with legal knowledge, or anyone else is free to to chime in. When a person is found innocent of a crime, isn’t it true, at least in america, that they cannot be tried for the same crime twice? Is that not double jeopardy? I understand where the accused must have the right to appeal, but when the prosecuter appeals, is that not D.J.? Or maybe I misunderstand how it works.

You may find this discussion useful.

well I wasn’t so much up in the amanda know thing. More about the double Jeopardy.

Here’s a full account, but remember that double jeopardy is an English/American legal concept and doesn’t always exist in other countries.

But read that thread that Ferret Herder linked. A large part of that discussion is exactly about double jeopardy, and how it works in America, and how it might or might not apply in the Knox case.

Topics include:
[li] Whether or not there’s double jeopardy at work in the Knox case in Italy.[/li][li] Whether or not, if there is double jeopardy there, she can be extradited.[/li][li] Whether or not the circumstances of the Knox case would involve double jeopardy even if it (the murder and all the trials and appeals) had all taken place here in the United States.[/li][/ul]

ETA: That thread also includes some rather active participation by several lawyers, Bricker most notably, who have something to say.

In general, you understand correctly. In the U.S., when a person is found not guilty, the prosecutor cannot retry the case on that charge or any lesser included charge and cannot appeal, subject to a few very limited and rare exceptions such as when the not guilty verdict was secured through the bribe of a judge. As is explained in the other thread, that’s not exactly what is happening in the Knox case.

Since the Federal Constitution has NO provision for Criminal Trial Appeals, it is a state matter, per the US SC, then DJ is not applicable, as another way to approach it.

Double Jeopardy only applies, AFAIK,to new trials - obviously, anyone can appeal a trial they went through.

The major exception is that the state cannot appeal a verdict of “innocent” in the original trial (except as mentioned when the judge or jury are tampered with, etc. - i.e. not a fair trial). This, plus they cannot lay the same charges (or, essentialy the same charges, over the same action) and try the case all over again. If you are charged with dangerous driving, and vehicular homicide, for example, over the same accident - the charges must happen at the same trial, the state cannot hold one charge in their back pocket in case you beat the first one. Nor can they re-charge you with a lesser crime (like manslaughter, if you get off on murder), etc.

However, an appeal of a guitly verdict can result in all sorts of circular court shenanigans. I recall one prominent case in Canada where the guy (named, Guy Paul Morin) was tried and convicted 3 times before the appeal court said enough was enough and tossed the case.

The usual route is - the first trial finds you guilty. You appeal. The appeal court might:

  • reverse the verdict (may find you not guilty, that maybe some evidence should not have been allowed, without it there’s no way to find you guilty; or the actions of the state were so inappropriate they should not be allowed to win),
    -order a new trial (maybe clarify some points, i.e. admissibility of some evidence, and then let a court re-hear the case with/without certain evidence that was missed last trial; or the judge did not properly instruct the jury on the law)
    -or, bummer, re-affirm that you are guilty.

You or the state might then appeal that result even further up the chain.

The next trial might find you innocent, no more to worry about; or they can find you guilty, at which point you can try to appeal all over again.

Note that typically appeals are not about “the trial got the wrong verict, have another look”. the appeal court does not rehear the witnesses and say “the judge /jury should have believed this one, not that one.” Rather, it’s about whether the trial was conducted fairly and properly. Was some evidence allowed or disallowed when it should have been the opposite? Did the trial judge mis-interpret the law?

The old saw is that the guilty “got off on a technicality”. However, it’s up to the appeal court, if the regular judge does not allow it, to decide if a search without a warrant was acceptable, if the jury is allowed to hear how the prisoner was threatened to make them confess, or if that threat was allowed, if the police ignored or hid other evidence, and other vital points. The appeals court can use their verdict to send a message to a trial judge - if that crap happens again, this will be the result.

In the United States, you can only be convicted of a crime once in a trial court. However, once you are found guilty, it is pretty hard to “shake”.

An appeals court may overturn a conviction if there is some deficit in the case, whether shaky evidence or misapplied law. The appeals court could either send the case back to trial court, or vacate it entirely depending on the situation. The first conviction is treated as if it never happened, and thus the defendant is not facing double-jeopardy if retried.

The media coverage of the Amanda Knox trial is done poorly, so I’m not sure if she is truly faced double-jeopardy (being retried following an acquittal), or if an appeals court vacated the original conviction and send it back to be tried again. The courts might use similar terms in a different manner than in the United States, thus making it difficult get a clear understanding of what is happening.

I leave my opinion of the merits of the case out of this response.