How Long Would Oscar Pistorius Be In Jail If Convicted? It's All Down To Judge Thokozile Masipa
The murder trial of ex-Olympian Oscar Pistorius — the double-amputee sprinter who fatally shot his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentine's Day 2013 — has been suspended for now. But amid grisly details of the shooting, testimony about Pistorius' mental state, and the seemingly endless trial which holds his freedom in the balance, how much time will Pistorius spend in jail if he's convicted? And, for that matter, how much time would he serve if Judge Thokozile Masipa found him guilty of a lesser charge, considering Pistorius has admitted responsibility for Steenkamp's death from the outset?
The trial is currently postponed, pending Pistorius' completion of a 30-day psych evaluation, which may prove pivotal in sealing his fate one way or the other. If he comes out of the evaluation with a clean bill of mental health — precisely the goal prosecutor Gerrie Nel had in mind when he requested the postponement from Masipa in late May — he'll have a tough road ahead to avoid a conviction. But within the unique confines of the South African legal system (evidenced by the absence of a jury in favor of a bench verdict, for example), a conviction on a so-called "life sentence" might not put him away forever. Here are three ways it could play out.
1. Pistorius is Convicted of Premeditated Murder
The charge Pistorius currently faces is the heaviest the South African justice system could have imposed: premeditated murder, which carries a life sentence in prison. But it's not a true "life" sentence, as he'd be allowed a chance for parole after serving 25 years.
For some perspective, if he were jailed after November 22 of this year, he'd be 53 years old by the time he was eligible. This is, obviously, the outcome Pistorius and his defense team fears most.
2. Pistorius is Convicted on a Lesser Charge
It's not unlikely that Judge Masipa will convict Pistorius for Steenkamp's death, but to rule that the killing fell short of the standards of premeditated murder. If the four-member psych panel assessing him agrees that he suffers from "generalized anxiety disorder," as one defense witness attested, such a decision could happen.
He could still ultimately be sent away on a charge of "culpable homicide," however, a practical equivalent to the concept of manslaughter in the U.S. system. If this were to happen, he'd face a sentence of up to 15 years.
3. Pistorius is Deemed Mentally Incapacitated
Generally, somebody submitting to a mental health evaluation would prefer to get "good" news about their condition, but in Pistorius' case, the opposite is true. The eventual determination on his mental state is without a doubt the single most critical facet of the trial going forward — did he actually shoot Steenkamp out of anxiety-induced paranoia, assuming she was a burglar in his bathroom?
If he's found to have a clinical mental condition serious enough to convince Judge Masipa of his haplessness, that aids his case in a big way, and he could avoid imprisonment. His legal troubles likely wouldn't end, however — he could still face civil charges brought by Steenkamp's family.