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Angiulo: What the Amanda Knox Retrial Says About American Justice

Monday, February 03, 2014


Criminal defendants, witnesses, and victims are often surprised by how long it can take to try a case from start to finish. One example is the very public story of Ms. Amanda Knox who was charged with the murder of Meredith Kercher in Italy back in late 2007. This unfortunate set of circumstances re-surfaced this week when the case was re-tried after appeal and Ms. Knox was convicted again almost seven years after the incident. The case presents an interesting example of how slowly the criminal justice process can go; no matter what country you're in.

A quick online search will tell you how the Italian criminal courts work. No matter the differences, the similarities are apparent. The police do the investigating, a trial occurs and somebody decides whether a defendant is guilty or innocent. That a re-trial could occur because an Appeals Court ordered it is something familiar as well. The appellate courts of the United States, and apparently Italy, operate as check on the very broad power of Trial Judges to make decisions.

The United States Federal Court system is divided into three distinct levels: trial court, appeals court and supreme court. The court we see most in popular culture is the trial court, which is really the center of American criminal procedure. This is where judges sit and make decisions applying legal principles from statutes and case law to the facts of a case.

Now trial judges, as a species, are very intelligent and conscientious, but any system with human involvement is vulnerable to human error. The Appellate Courts act as a review to ensure that legal principles are applied properly to the facts and circumstances of a case. When Appellate Judges issue opinions, they are in an environment very different from the one that a verdict comes from. The Appeals process provides a unique opportunity to consider legal issues detached from all of the pressure and emotion that is often found in trials.

Take murder trials as an example. In Massachusetts, a person convicted of first-degree murder has the opportunity to have that conviction reviewed by the Supreme Judicial Court. When the justices conduct their review, through the advocacy of counsel for the Commonwealth and defendant, they address questions of both fact and law. Section 33E of Chapter 278 of the Massachusetts General Laws lays out all the options the court has when a person is convicted of murder in the Commonwealth. If appropriate, the court could order a new trial or reduce the conviction to a lesser degree of guilt and remand the case to the trial judge for sentencing. Or, they might not do anything. That's the thing about Appeals Courts.

Given the sheer volume of cases the courts have to hear, and the amount of time it takes the attorneys to brief and prepare arguments, an appeal can take years. One of the benefits of this long and laborious process is that it acts as a type of insurance for the trial process. We know that even if something unforeseen or improper happens at trial, the defect can be corrected during the appellate process. Is it expensive? Sometimes. Is it frustrating? Could be. Are appeals essential? Definitely.


Leonardo Angiulo is an Attorney with the firm of Glickman, Sugarman, Kneeland & Gribouski in Worcester handling legal matters across the Commonwealth. He can be reached by email at [email protected].


Related Slideshow: The Best States in New England

Using 14 different state rankings, Politico Magazine recently released its list of America's Best States.  See how the New England states fared...

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Overall Rankings

6. Maine (National Rank: 41)
5. Vermont (National Rank: 32)
4. Rhode Island (National Rank: 28)
3. Connecticut (National Rank: 24)
2. Massachusetts (National Rank: 19)
1. New Hampshire (National Rank: 1)
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Wealthiest Per Capita

6. Maine: $26,464 (National Rank: 28)
5. Vermont: $28,846 (National Rank: 19)
4. Rhode Island: $30,005 (National Rank: 13)
3. New Hampshire: $32,758 (National Rank: 7)
2. Massachusetts: $35,485 (National Rank: 5)
1. Connecticut: $37,807 (National Rank: 2)

Source: U.S. Census

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Lowest Unemployment Rate

6. Rhode Island: 9.0 (National Rank: 50)
5. Connecticut: 7.6 (National Rank: 39)
4. Massachusetts: 7.1 (National Rank: 30)
3. Maine: 6.4 (National Rank: 22)
2. New Hampshire: 5.1 (National Rank: 10)
1. Vermont: 4.4 (National Rank: 5)

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Lowest Poverty Rate

6. Maine: 13.3 (National Rank: 23)
5. Rhode Island: 13.2 (National Rank: 21)
4. Vermont: 11.6 (National Rank: 12)
3. Massachusetts: 11 (National Rank: 7)
2. Connecticut: 10 (National Rank: 5)
1. New Hampshire: 8.4 (National Rank: 1)

Source: U.S. Census

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Highest Home Ownership Rate

6. Massachusetts: 41.6 (National Rank: 51)
5. Rhode Island: 61.2 (National Rank: 45)
4. Connecticut: 68.3 (National Rank: 24)
3. Vermont: 71.2 (National Rank: 8)
2. New Hampshire 72.0 (National Rank: 7)
1. Maine: 72.1 (National Rank: 6)

Source: U.S. Census

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Highest Percentage of High School Graduates

6. Rhode Island: 84.8 (National Rank: 37)
5. Connecticut: 89 (National Rank: 20)
4. Massachusetts: 89.1 (National Rank: 19)
3. Maine: 90.6 (National Rank: 8)
2. Vermont: 91.3 (National Rank: 6)
1. New Hampshire: 91.4 (National Rank: 5)

Source: U.S. Census

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Longest Life Expectancy

6. Maine: 79.2 (National Rank: 23)
5. Rhode Island: 79.9 (National Rank: 13)
4. New Hampshire: 80.3 (National Rank: 8)
2. Vermont: 80.5 Year (National Rank: 5)
2. Massachusetts: 80.5 years (National Rank: 5)
1. Connecticut: 80.8 years (National Rank: 3)

Source: Kaiser Family Foundation

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Lowest Infant Mortality Rate

6. Rhode Island: 6.5 (National Rank: 21)
5. Connecticut: 6.3 (National Rank: 19)
4. Maine 6.0 (National Rank: 14)
2. New Hampshire: 5.1 (National Rank: 4)
2. Vermont: 5.1 (National Rank: 4)
1. Massachusetts: 4.9 (National Rank: 1)

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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Lowest Obesity Rate

6. Maine: 27.5 (National Rank: 31)
5. Vermont: 25.7 (National Rank: 20)
4. New Hampshire: 25.1 (National Rank: 17)
3. Rhode Island: 24.3 (National Rank: 8)
2. Connecticut: 22.7 (National Rank: 4)
1. Massachusetts: 21.5 (National Rank: 2)

Source: Gallup “State of the States”

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Highest Reported Wellbeing

6. Rhode Island: 65.5 (National Rank: 37)
5. Maine: 67.3 (National Rank: 20)
4. Connecticut: 67.6 (National Rank: 16)
3. Massachusetts: 68.1 (National Rank: 9)
2. New Hampshire: 68.4 (National Rank: 8)
1. Vermont: 68.8 (National Rank: 5)

Source: Gallup “State of the States”

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Highest Math Scores

6. Rhode Island: 278 (National Rank: 36)
5. Maine: 286 (National Rank: 19)
4. Connecticut: 289 (National Rank: 10)
3. New Hampshire: 292 (National Rank: 7)
2. Vermont: 293 (National Rank: 4)
1. Massachusetts: 200 (National Rank: 1)

Source: National Center for Education Statistics

Note: Based on 8th grade math scores

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Highest Reading Scores

6. Rhode Island: 258 (National Rank: 39)
5. Connecticut: 267 (National Rank: 12)
4. New Hampshire: 270 (National Rank: 4)
4. Maine: 270 (National Rank: 4)
1. Vermont: 273 (National Rank: 1)
1. Massachusetts: 273 (National Rank: 1)

Source: National Center for Education Statistics

Note: Based on 8th grade math scores

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Least Income Inequality

6. Connecticut: 0.4915 (National Rank: 49)
5. Massachusetts: 0.4813 (National Rank: 44)
4. Rhode Island: 0.4647 (National Rank: 32)
3. Maine: 0.445 (National Rank: 15)
2. Vermont: 0.4392 (National Rank: 11)
1. New Hampshire: 0.4298 (National Rank: 5)

Source: U.S. Census

Note: Data is based on GINI coefficient

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Lowest Crime Rate

6. Massachusetts: 405.5 (National Rank: 31)
5. Connecticut: 283 (National Rank: 19)
4. Rhode Island: 252.4 (National Rank: 13)
3. New Hampshire: 187.9 (National Rank: 3)
2. Vermont 142.6 (National Rank: 2)
1. Maine 122.7 (National Rank: 1)

Source: FBI

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Highest Percentage Employed in STEM Jobs

6. Maine: 4.1 (National Rank: 37)
5. Rhode Island: 4.4 (National Rank: 32)
4. Vermont: 5.7 (National Rank: 15)
3. Connecticut: 6 (National Rank: 11)
2. New Hampshire: 6.9 (National Rank: 7)
1. Massachusetts: 7.4 (National Rank: 5)

Source: U.S. Census

Note: STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)

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H.L. Mencken and Charles Angoff’s 1931 rankings

6. Vermont
5. New Hampshire
4. Maine
3. Rhode Island
2. Connecticut
1. Massachusetts


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