Much has already been written about the reversal of Amanda Knox's murder conviction in Italy on Monday. There certainly is reason to be interested -- the Italian legal system is, after all, so different from our own. An appeal here in the United States from a conviction does not allow you to retry the case, there is no jury, no new facts can be brought to an appellate court -- one can only talk about what happened in the first trial. In Italy, one can present new evidence without connecting it necessarily to a constitutional violation as would be required in a post-conviction or habeas proceeding in the United States.
And the case has its own prurient qualities: sexual activity of a salacious kind in a foreign country, a dead young woman, an attractive white woman charged with the crime, cries of "she-devil" from the prosecution, and a no holds-barred attack on character.
Here is the thing: The appellate process in Italy allows for a judge, an assistant judge and six jurors to deliberate throughout the case. They are not sequestered or even told to avoid media, and the case against Miss Knox appears, at least through the lens of the news, to have been circumstantial and weak both times. Two things changed, though: First, the lead judge ordered independent assessment of the DNA used against Knox at the first trial -- and one of the pieces of evidence exculpated her and the second was inconclusive. Second, a massive change in attitude was wrought by the media. Amanda Knox became the young American student reading Dostoevsky while incarcerated, rather than a promiscuous, drug-using pervert.
There are criminal cases where the guilt of a defendant is evident for example where the crime is on video, there is physical evidence connecting her to the crime, there is a corroborated confession and the like. There are also criminal cases where the defense is obvious -- a clear case of self-defense, for example. And then there are cases, like this one, that are capable of more than one interpretation. When that happens, perspective is everything. It's how you see it that matters, and Knox's defense team did a masterful job of taking the interest in her case and turning it in her favor. She was recast as a victim, as the girl next door, and the circumstantial case simply failed.
Under our law, if there is a reasonable hypothesis of innocence in a circumstantial case, the defendant must be acquitted. That is our law, and it is the result achieved by Knox and her team. They changed the view of her, and that changed everything.
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