The arrest of the American study abroad student Amanda Knox in Perguia, Italy has made international headlines. Her arrest and ultimate conviction of the murder of her flat mate Meredith Kercher in 2009 and the subsequent appeals have been analyzed over morning cups of coffee and dinner tables all over the world, yet we haven't seen much focus the lessons for other Americans who my find themselves in similar situations when dealing with police abroad. As this new appeal draws to a close it's important to look back at the lessons to be learned from Amanda's arrest. Looking at the facts it's apparent that Amanda Knox would have been better off with a firmer understanding of her rights abroad.
The facts as we know them are that Amanda Knox and roommates call Italian authorities November 2nd 2007 when they could not find their roommate, Meredith Kercher. After authorities arrived, Knox and roommates discovered Kercher dead in her bedroom. After this Knox and her boyfriend voluntarily went in for questioning. In the hours and days that followed Knox talked to the Italian authorities, her parents in Seattle, and relatives in Germany, however, she neglected to contact the American Embassy. She never enacted her consular rights, and due to this the American Consular authorities went unaware of her questioning and detention until November 7th 2009, the day after Knox was arrested and 4 days after Knox had voluntarily been brought in for questioning.
Knox's cousin Dorothy Craft Najir, told ABC News in an interview that "when Kercher was killed she advised Knox to call the U.S. Embassy where she would find someone from her own country to help her. ‘But Amanda replied that everything was ok, and she did not need to because she was cooperating and wanted to help the police with its investigation'"Altruistic in intent or not, Knox's decision to cooperate and assist the police with their investigation rather than contacting the American Consular authorities was of great detriment to her case. As a result of her decision she was interrogated without consular representation and subsequently arrested.
The biggest lesson here is if you find yourself the witness to a crime or a person of interest in a crime and dealing with local authorities abroad, REQUEST ACCESS TO A US CONSULAR REPRESENTATIVE. I cannot not stress this enough!!! Regardless of guilt or innocence a consular representative will help you understand the legal and judicial process of the country you are in and help safeguard your rights under international law. In countries where the US has consular relations (all countries except for: Bhutan, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Taiwan) you have the right to refuse to answer questions until a U.S. consular representative arrives and consults with you. Even when you want to "help the police with its investigation", keep the lesson of Knox's arrest in mind and request a U.S. embassy representative, they will help you to navigate the judicial process and let you know of your rights abroad.