Following a two-day hearing, the Italian Supreme Court of Cassation has affirmed the decision of a lower court to overturn the convictions of six Italian seismologists (H/T ScienceInsider). They were convicted (along with a public official) back in 2012 based on actions taken right before a serious earthquake in L’Aquila.
Once again, I am not a lawyer, nor an Italian. I’m certainly not an Italian lawyer, nor a seismologist.
The judgment in the original trial considered the scientists guilty of not discharging their duties under the law as part of an advisory committee. The judges in the local appellate court overturned the conviction in part because they felt the judge should have focused on the scientific quality of their analyses. This rationale was contested in the Cassation court because the scientists on the panel did not object to the claim that previous tremors had discharged energy in the area, thereby reducing the possibility of future quakes.
However, as is often the case at the appellate level, the deliberations focused on the legal analysis applied in the cases, and not the level of scientific analysis. (If you’re confused yet, you’re not alone). In that analysis, the court found that only the public official should have been convicted because he reassured the public prior to the advisory committee meeting. The scientists’ statements were considered by the appellate court to be neutral and not sufficient support for the official’s reassurances of a lower chance of tremors.
In related news, the manslaughter trial for another public official connected to the L’Aquila earthquake was delayed until next March.