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A strange turn of events has occurred in the Italian murder proceedings involving Amanda Knox. Parents Curt Knox and Edda Mellas have been indicted by an Italian judge for libeling police.
Amanda Knox made national headlines when she was tried and convicted for the murder of British student Meredith Kercher while studying abroad in Italy. The trial was rife with controversy, with the defense alleging gross prosecutorial misconduct and tainted evidence. Amanda Knox also alleged police brutality.
In 2008, the Sunday Times of London printed an interview with Knox and Mellas discussing their daughter's treatment at the hands of Italian authorities. They told the paper that she had not been provided with an interpreter, food, water, and was physically and verbally abused. From these statements about the police and Amanda Knox, libel has been accused.
If this had occurred in the United States, the likelihood of Knox and Mellas being criminally charged for statements made to a newspaper would be virtually nil.
In the U.S., libel refers to written or recorded defamatory statements. In order to recover (it is most often a civil cause of action, not a criminal), a plaintiff must prove that the statement was false, that it caused harm to their reputation, and that the person who wrote or spoke the statement was negligent in doing so. This is for an ordinary citizen. For people in the public eye, there's one more step.
If you are famous or a public official, to prove libel in the United States, you must also prove that the false statement was made with the intent to do harm or with reckless disregard for the truth. The Amanda Knox libel case would ordinarily fall into this category, as police are public officials carrying out a matter of public concern.
When children are in extreme trouble--even Amanda Knox--parents come racing to their defense. They don't mean to harm or spew false information, but merely wish to help their child. It would be incredibly unlikely that a plaintiff would be able to convince a judge or jury that a parent in this situation intended to harm the police or was reckless in recounting what their child had told them.
Unfortunately for Curt Knox and Edda Mellas, Italian law doesn't work this way.
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