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Category: Justice systems

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

In The US Political Commutations Of Judicial Sentences Are Rarely Greeted With Public Approval

Posted by Peter Quennell

The idea that PM Berlusconi could insert himself into Meredith’s case - or for that matter Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton - has frankly always seemed rather ludicrous. .

In Italy there is not even any clear route for politicians to meddle with the legal processes. The Italian judiciary is one of the world’s most independent, as many politicians (not least Mr Berlusconi) have found out to their cost.

In the United States the president and many state governors have the power to award prisoners clemency and to reduce or fully commute their sentences. Rarely is this very popular, and sometimes it turns into a third rail.

We now have a good example in California. Arnold Schwarznegger left office as governor of California late in January, already under something of a cloud for a lackluster performance while in office.

Just before departing he approved various commutations including a reduction by half of the sentence of the son of a political colleague who had already pleaded guilty to a knife murder and had been awarded a not-very-tough sentence.

Now the outraged family of the murdered boy are running both a legal campaign and a political campaign to have this commutation reversed, and those campaigns are both gathering wide public traction.

Mr Schwarznegger is seeing no obvious gain out of this, and his legacy could be permanently tarnished. Shades of Senator Cantwell? She also has gone very very quiet.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 03/02 at 04:03 PM • Permalink for this post • Archived in Justice systemsUS etc systemsThe wider contextsN America contextComments here (2)

Friday, December 31, 2010

Harvard Political Review Writer Alex Koenig Reproaches The Sliming of Italy’s Justice System

Posted by Peter Quennell


With the Pepperdine University and Washington University student newspapers consistently mis-reporting Meredith’s case, it is nice to see a Harvard publication getting it seriously right.

Alex Koenig writes a column for the Harvard Political Review. He is not commenting on the evidence of Meredith’s case as reflected for example on TJMK and in Massei. But he takes several deadly cracks at the arguments of the conspiracy theorists, which he doesn’t see reflecting the real world.

In 2008, 16,277 people were murdered in the United States. 1,176 of these murders were committed by women, of which about a third were confirmed to be white.

That means that in one year there were around 400 white female murderers on US soil”” the majority of whom were convicted to no public outcry. What America needs to ask itself is: does the fact that Amanda Knox is a white sorority sister exonerate her from the murder she is alleged to have committed on foreign soil?

Knox is currently serving a 26-year sentence in Italian prison, in Perugia, for the murder of her then-roommate Meredith Kercher. Seemingly lost among the outrage towards the Italian justice system, the demands of US government intervention in her defense, and the constant assertions of Knox’s innocence is the possibility that, maybe this once, the trained professionals who investigated, tried, and convicted the 23 year old Knox got it right.

Without getting into the facts of the case, and conceding that people are wrongly convicted on a regular basis both in the United States and abroad, we must consider just how America’s treatment of this case reflects upon our society.

The fact of the matter is, those that immediately claim that Knox was wrongly accused and jailed by a corrupt justice system make two extremely arrogant assumptions that reveal perverse American exceptionalism. 

1) It is assumed that, as an American ““ an American woman no less ““ Knox is incapable of murder. This case differs, of course, from the 1,176 domestic murders committed by women because, well, who knows?

2) It is assumed that not only is the Italian justice system incapable of fulfilling its legal duties, but that the intentions of the court were swayed by anti-Americanism.

This is not merely an abstract sentiment, but was actually articulated by Senator Maria Cantwell (D) of my home state of Washington. Cantwell, whom I generally agree with ideologically, released a statement saying that she “had serious questions about the Italian justice system and whether anti-Americanism tainted the trial.” She went on to say that she would seek assistance from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Regarding the first problem, I take Knox’s assumed innocence in the public eye to be a representation of national pride. I am as proud to be American as the next guy; I understand all the benefits being American has afforded me and appreciate the sacrifices men and women make each day to ensure that these benefits remain for me and my countrymen.

But assume the superiority of the same countrymen when compared to other citizens of the world I do not. It is as if Knox’s co-citizenship has absolved all her sins in the American court of public opinion. This, by itself, is difficult to grasp but can be forgiven.

What’s harder to forgive is the assumption that Knox has been wronged by a corrupt system because she is American.

Having lived in Italy for a year, I would never accuse the Italian justice system of being exceedingly efficient or flawless. However, I wouldn’t accuse the US justice system of this either.

Anti-Americanism does exist in parts of the world, but the chances of it being present in this trial are low. Are the judges supposed to see the conviction of an innocent American college student as a way to deter American tourists from coming to Italy?

“Putting this girl away for 26 years seems to be an easy way to get rid of those annoying tourists with their stupid hotel rooms, airplane tickets and restaurant bills. Good riddance!”

It’s not as if Knox is accused of murdering an Italian either. Kercher was a Brit. Raffaele Sollecito and Rudy Guede, Knox’s alleged accomplices who are both serving similar sentences for the same charges, are both Italian, although Guede emigrated from the Ivory Coast when he was five.

No, I doubt that anti-Americanism was involved in this conviction. It seems, instead, to be nationalism on the side of Knox’s supporters. Amanda couldn’t have possibly been the one at fault, she’s one of us.

And maybe they’re right. I really don’t know. What I do know is that the anger and offense that the American public has taken in response to this trial obscures the real tragedy at hand, the violent death of a young woman.

It’s possible that Knox has wrongly had her future taken from her. It’s a fact that Kercher has. As the appeal process continues and the story gradually slips out of the consciousness of the average American, with the protest left to the truly passionate among us,

I want to remind us all of one thing: Italy’s murder rate is 1/3 that of America. Perhaps, without the actions of one American there’d be one less death in Italy’s tally. I’ll leave that judgment up to the only court that really matters in such a case, the court of law.

One small correction to what Alex Koenig wrote. Italy’s murder rate is actually 1/6th that of the United States. It is a very law-abiding country with a very low crime rate and a very small prison population - less than 1/20th that of the United States.

But Alex is certainly right in his conclusions.Neither the Micheli not Massei Sentencing Reports show ANY sign of extreme nationalism.


Saturday, August 28, 2010

From Shortly Before Last December’s Verdict: Our Poster Hopeful’s Moving Tribute To Italian Justice

Posted by The TJMK Main Posters




We have dozens of posts on TJMk illustrating how the Italian justice system is among the best in the world. Careful, humane, and in fact hardly ever wrong.

In part because police and prosecutors are very painstaking - read here of all the hurdles they have to get through.

In part because judges have to put their careers on the line with each judgment, as with Judge Massei now, and not simply hide behind an unexplained jury decision from 12 amateurs of random education levels.

Six weeks before the December 2009 verdict, Hopeful paid them this kind tribute.

Moved By Italian Justice: Doing The Very Best It Can For Meredith And Her Poor Family

Crestfallen and broken, Amanda and Raffaele react in visible distress in the latest courtroom photos.

Amanda looks sad, smitten, perplexed, astounded, with anger not far under the veneer, yet overall truly sorrowful for the first time in 2 years. Raffaele is weeping as the court denies more evidence do-overs. He feels the weight of this blow.

These two are probably guilty, but it still makes me sad to see what prison can do to human beings. Why, oh why, couldn’t they have let Meredith live and simply enjoy her sweet life? Mercy to her would have been multiplied back to them so very many times over.

I believe Prosecutor Mignini and his assistant, Mrs. Comodi, and all the Perugia homicide cops want to see JUSTICE done above all.

Surely they take no pleasure in the misery that native-son Sollecito is undergoing. They had to arrest him to redress a huge evil. I’m sure they regret the repercussions this has meant to his father, a fine medical doctor, an upstanding citizen of Italy. Despite this, and America’s loud outcries, they have proceeded.

I think the Italian police and prosecutors have acted with more intense caution and discretion in handling the evidence against Amanda because of her U.S. citizenship. I don’t think this is a case of two innocents being railroaded.

If the Italian police had wanted to score points politically, they could have closed the case after the arrest and conviction of Rudy Guede. The police saw undeniable proof to their practiced eyes that Amanda and Raffaele were very guilty.

And I don’t think forensic scientist Patrizia Stefanoni of the Polizia Scientifica in Rome is in the prosecution’s back pocket. I believe she acted in good faith. Patient and careful analysis of forensic lab samples requires real intelligence and excludes quick passion.

“To be or not to be??”. From Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. Methinks Amanda does look a little Danish.

It wasn’t fish blood or cat’s blood or pierced ear blood on their hands, it was the blood of honor. Meredith was defenseless in a foreign land. She was a great asset to her own family, to the Erasmus program, to Italy, and eventually to the world. She deserves the best efforts of her host country, and she’s receiving them here.

It now feels like justice is not only happening here - it’s convincingly SEEN to be happening. We all owed you this one, sweet Meredith. May you forever rest in peace.

Posted by The TJMK Main Posters on 08/28 at 05:43 PM • Permalink for this post • Archived in Justice systemsItalian systemComments here (8)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Why The Italian Judiciary Is Probably Less Prone to Pressure Than Any Other In The World

Posted by Commissario Montalbano



Image above: The Consiglio Superiore della Magistratura in session

Some of the very best lawyers in the UK and USA and around the world are learning a lot about the Italian system by way of the Perugia trial - and are in many, many ways impressed.

Italian magistrates enjoy an extraordinary level of autonomy from the other powers of government (executive and legislative) and the point of this post is to explain why. This autonomy is above all due to the Italian constitutional framework.

That framework is intended to guarantee such an exceptional level of independence so as to avoid the abuses that occurred during Mussolini’s fascist regime, when Italian magistrates were forced by the executive to prosecute (and persecute) political opponents to the fascist dictator.

The source of such independence is set forth in Title IV of the Italian Constitution which in particular provides for an independent body [image at top here] which is called the “Consiglio Superiore della Magistratura” or C.S.M. (Superior Council of Magistrates). This is the self-governing body for Italy’s judiciary, and it comprises ordinary (civil and criminal) judges and prosecutors.

Its competence is based upon Articles 104 and 105 of the Italian Constitution, as well as several ordinary laws. Article 105 says that the C.S.M. is responsible for the hiring, training, assignments, transfers, promotions, appointments to the Supreme Court of Cassation, disciplinary actions and terminations of all Italian judges and prosecutors.

Article 104 opens with the statement: “Magistrates constitute an order autonomous and independent from any other power”. The article then proceeds to provide norms relating to the composition of such a self-governing body.

In order to guarantee the independence of magistrates and in accordance with the general principle of the balance of powers, the constitution establishes a mixed composition of the members of the CSM.

According to the constitution, two thirds of its components are in fact judges elected by all magistrates (judges and prosecutors) in special nationwide elections of the CSM (these are called “membri togati”, i.e. judicial members).

And one third is chosen by Parliament among law professors and attorneys with at least 15 years of experience (these are called “membri laici”, i.e. lay members). And in addition, there are three so called “˜De Jure’ members:

  • the President of the Republic, who is the President of the CSM
  • the President of the Supreme Court of Cassation
  • the General Prosecutor before the Supreme Court of Cassation

The CSM then elects the Vice President of the Council choosing among its lay members appointed by Parliament. The Vice President is the real acting President of the CSM, since the role of the President of the Republic is primarily symbolic. The current Vice President of the CSM is Nicola Mancino [image below} who is a former Speaker of the Italian Senate.



Image above: Nicola Mancino, Vice President of the C.S.M., addressing the Council

The constitution establishes the above mentioned proportions, but not the number of members. However a law passed in 2002 sets the number of elected members at 24. Therefore at present there are 16 members (all judges) elected by magistrates and 8 members appointed by Parliament. With the three “De Jure” members the total is therefore 27 members.

The position of member of the CSM is incompatible with that of legislators, therefore CSM members cannot be members of Parliament or members of the Regional Assemblies.

Art. 107 reiterates the extraordinary independence of magistrates (judges and prosecutors) by stating: “Magistrates are not removable. They may not be dismissed or suspended or transferred to other locations or functions if not after a decision of the CSM, adopted either for reasons and with the guarantees established by law or with the magistrate’s consent.”

Ordinary laws also confer other powers to the C.S.M. including the power of giving opinions to the Government and to Parliament on proposed laws affecting the order of magistrates and the judiciary in general.



Image above: Palazzo dei Marescialli in Rome. The Seat of the C.S.M.

The extraordinary independence of Italian magistrates, especially considering that Italy is probably the only country in the world where not even State prosecutors report to the executive power, has created a lot of tensions between magistrates and politicians.

The Italian Prime Minister, Mr Silvio Berlusconi, who is indicted and undergoing prosecution in over twenty separate cases, some of which already concluded (for bribing of judges, illegal campaign financing, tax evasion, fraudulent accounting) dating back to the time before he entered politics in 1994, has often accused magistrates of having proceeded against him for politically motivated reasons.

His pressures on the CSM to discipline those magistrates whom he alleges are politically motivated in their prosecutions against him, have not succeeded, and the CSM has always defended the actions of magistrates against the frequent attacks from the executive power and from the many politicians who are under investigation for corruption and other crimes.

Recently Mr Berlusconi’s coalition passed a law to guarantee immunity from prosecution to the four highest offices of the Republic, including that of the Prime Minister, but the Supreme Constitutional Court struck it down as unconstitutional.

Currently out of 945 Members of Parliament in the two houses, there are about two dozen convicted felons and over 70 more under investigation by Italian magistrates. They’re all holding to their seats very tightly, since all members of the Italian parliament are immune from arrest, if not from prosecution.

Pressure on this extremely powerful and immune judiciary has not worked where real heavy-handed political and media persuasion was attempted. Be assured, the judiciary in Perugia will take no notice of it at all.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

How This Cable Car In The Dolomites Hangs Over The Trial In Perugia

Posted by Peter Quennell


The Dolomites (image below) are a spectacular range of mountains east of the Alps in north-east Italy.

In 1998 a squadron of American Prowlers (image at bottom) based in Italy as part of the US NATO presence was roaring up and down those valleys, when one cut the cable of the cable car shown above. Twenty people in a gondola died when it crashed to the ground 350 feet below.

The US military has a huge presence in Italy (scroll down to “Conditions in Italy”) and good US-Italian relations are extremely important as a result. But in this case, the airmen were yanked back to the US, under NATO rules, tried by other military officers - and found not guilty of anything except destroying a videotape.

Outrage in Italy and across Europe and even in the US was intense. There have since been very, very few US interventions in any judicial process in Italy.

Now suddenly there is a new US intervention and Italian emotions are getting stoked.

If the FOA campaign ever thought the US government would spring Amanda using political pressure, they could not have picked a worse country in Europe to ridicule and try to strong-arm.




Wednesday, November 26, 2008

“They Were Held For A Year Without Even Being Charged!!” How Italian Justice REALLY Works

Posted by Nicki



[Above: Cassazione, the Italian Supreme Court Of Appeals}

A misleading mantra

This frequently quoted claim above is maybe the most mindless and misinformed of all the mantras on the case.

Much of the US media and some of the UK media - sometimes enthusiastically, sometimes with reserve - has parroted the claim that Raffaele Sollecito and Amanda Knox were “held without charges” for nearly a year.

Perhaps bringing to mind the notion of two innocent bystanders to the crime being arbitrarily arrested? Locked up in cockroach-infested jails by abusive police? Led on by an evil prosecutor with endless powers up his sleeve, and nothing at all to slow him down? Lost and forgotten by any judges in the case?

Well, good luck with that one, if it’s designed to sway the process.

It irritates just about everybody here in Italy, the judiciary and the media included. And it is doing the defendants no good at all.

Negative stereotypes like these really should not be applied to a country that is one of the founding members of the EU, of NATO, and of the European Council, and of the G-7, G-8, OECD, and United Nations (the non-permanent member of the Security Council in 2007-2008).

So for media reporters and commentators, please let us get the facts straight. Once and for all?!

Origin of Italian jurisprudence

Italian jurisprudence developed from Roman Law. It was shaped in the course of history to become a modern and very fair system. Judicial powers are subjected to a very complex and extremely pervasive set of checks and balances, which really assure maximum protection of every citizen’s rights.

Comparing the US and UK common law system - a model founded on non-written laws and developed through judicial proceedings - with this system which arose from the Roman Law model - based on a written civil code - is really like comparing apples to oranges.

They were both conceived to protect individual’s rights at a maximum level, while seeking justice for the victims. But with entirely different processes.

One is not necessarily better or worse. But there are legal experts who think the Italian system is distinctly fairer - much more weighted toward the defendants. In the US and the UK the prosecutor usually has to make it through only one pre-trial hoop. In Italy the prosecutor has to make it through a whole row of pre-trial hoops.

Legal status of a witness and a suspect

Let’s see what happens in Italy to the legal status of a person who, while considered a “persona informata dei fatti” which means “a person who could yield useful information” in relation to a brutal murder, suddenly becomes a suspect in the eyes of the police.

If while interviewing the “person who could yield useful information” the suspicion arises that such person could have played an active role in the crime, their status then turns into that of a suspect. The police can then detain that suspect up to 48 hours.

Those 48 hours are the period within which a prosecutor - if he believes that the evidence of guilt is meaningful - can request a validation of the arrest by the Judge of Preliminary Investigation (the GIP).

If the judge agrees with the prosecutor that a serious indication of guilt exists, a warrant for the arrest is issued by the judge, and the person’s detention is thus validated.

Immediately, as soon as the status of “person who could yield useful information” status changes into the status of a suspect, the suspect person has a right to legal counsel. This legal counsel normally immediately appeals for the release of the suspect.

Subsequent hearings by different judges

Thus setting in motion what can be a LONG sequel of hearings - for which in US and UK common law there is no such equivalent. Each hearing is headed by a different judge. This judge examines prosecution and defence arguments, and decides if the suspect may be released on any of these bases:

  • Seriousness of the clues presented by prosecution

  • Likelihood of repeating a similar crime

  • Likelihood of fleeing the country during the ongoing investigation

  • Danger of tampering with, or fabricating evidence

If every one of the defence appeals fails, in front of a number of different judges, in a number of different hearings, and the investigation is officially closed, the suspect then goes on to a pre-trial hearing.

Once again here, yet another judge rules either to clear and release the suspect by rejecting the submitted evidence, or to send the suspect to trial on the basis of that evidence, thus making the charges official.

Judicial decisions on bail, house arrest, or jail

Now that the charges are official, the judge can decide if the defendant must await trial under house arrest, or in freedom, of if the defendant must remain in jail.

If the judge, based on their knowledge of the crime and the defendants, estimates that the chances of re-offending or fleeing the country are high, the suspect must remain in jail.

So nobody in Italy can be detained without a reasonable suspicion, a long series of judicial hearings (any one of which could set them free) or eventual official charges.

Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito have not in fact been incarcerated for over one year due to zealous police or a bizarre prosecutor or the complicity of a number of judges throughout the process.

They have been incarcerated because an articulate and balanced process of law has officially and very fairly established there are strong indications that they willingly participated in the vicious murder of Meredith Kercher.

Failure of defenses to persuade judges

Their own lawyers have put up a tough fight for Raffaele Sollecito and Amanda Knox throughout the judicial process.  But they have simply failed to convince the judges throughout that process.

One that actually seems strongly weighted in their favor.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Next-Day Press: A Good Take By Andrea Vogt For Hearst’s Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Posted by Peter Quennell



PERUGIA, Italy—A little more than a month from now, Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito will stand trial for murder in an Italian courtroom. For Americans following the case, it’ll seem a little strange.

The trial is expected to be open to the public—in stark contrast with the series of closed-door hearings held over the past year just to get to this point.

Under Italian law, Knox and Sollecito could be held in prison for several years during the trial and appeals, if any, but this case is likely to take only months to play out because there’s already been an unusual amount of trial preparation, according to legal observers.

Unlike a typical criminal trial in the United States, the Italian version is longer—often taking months to get to a verdict.

Until two decades ago, the trial process here was similar to that of France, but recent reforms have brought the system closer to what might be expected in an American trial.

There are usually six civilian jurors and two judges, one of whom serves as the “president” of the jury and helps manage the procedural elements of the trial. All of the jurors, including the judges, are chosen randomly.

Although it’s a sensational case, Knox and Sollecito will probably be tried in Perugia, a central Italian city with a population of about 340,000. A change of venue to another city jurisdiction is seldom granted.

The capital of the region of Umbria, Perugia is known for its high-profile jazz festival each summer, its chocolate fair in the fall and as a magnet for international students. But the influx of foreign students and tourists belies how the real Perugia operates, many say.

“It is a paradoxical city,” said veteran Italian journalist Meo Ponte, who is covering the case for the Italian daily La Republica and lived several years in Perugia before transferring to Turin.

“It has the dimension of a small town,” he said, “but because of its large student population, it also has the openness of a large, cosmopolitan city.”


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