BRUSSELS, Belgium — Italy's highest court has ordered a retrial for Amanda Knox over the murder of her British housemate, overturning her acquittal by an appeals court.
Knox's former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito has also been ordered to face a re-trial over the 2007 killing and sexual assault of Meredith Kercher.
Tuesday's decision means the judicial proceedings into the murder of the British student are likely to drag on possibly for years.
Italy won't be able to oblige Amanda Knox to return for the re-trial, and lawyers for representing Sollecito said his client would not be arrested again.
"Proceedings are in a sort of limbo," Luca Maori was quoted telling the Italian news agency ANSA. "For Raffaele and Amanda there is no risk of custodial measures being applied."
However, if convicted, Knox would likely face an Italian request to extradite her from the United States. Knox and Sollecito were sentenced to 26 and 25 years in 2009, before an appeals court quashed the verdict in 2011.
Whatever the eventual outcome of the re-trial, Tuesday's decision has underscored the problems facing Italy's much-criticised judicial system. The Court of Cassation accused judges in the 2011 appeal of producing a "contradictory and illogical" verdict. Police, prosecutors and magistrates have already faced a raft of criticism for their handling of the Kercher case.
The new trial, which officials said could get underway in Florence this summer, will cast more international attention on the inefficiencies of the Italian justice system.
The country is estimated to have 10.8 million ongoing or pending court cases — one for every 5.6 inhabitants. Around 160,000 criminal proceedings are annulled each year for exceeding the statute of limitation.
Little has changed since a critical report from the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner in 2005, which estimated "about 30 percent of the Italian population was awaiting a judicial decision."
Italy's notoriously slow judicial system has led to serious prison overcrowding. The country was fined by the European Court of Human Rights in January for keeping prisoners in inhumanely crowded conditions. More than 60,000 prisoners are held in jails designed to hold just over 40,000. About 40 percent of detainees are still awaiting a final sentence.
Knox and Sollecito were initially found guilty of killing Kercher, 21, in a drug-fueled sex game in the Italian university town of Perugia. Kercher was found with her throat slashed and more than 40 wounds to her body.
Meanwhile, an Ivorian living in Perugia, Rudy Guede, was tried separately and convicted, receiving a 16-year sentence.
The Court of Cassation upheld his conviction.
Knox, who is from Seattle, is now a student at the University of Washington studying creative writing, the AP cited her family spokesman, Dave Marriott, as saying.
She has written a book, "Waiting to be Heard," due out April 30, the same day she is set to be interviewed by Diane Sawyer of ABC’s "World News" in a world exclusive.