Oscar Pistorius Prosecution Will Appeal His 5-Year Sentence, But Is it a Good Idea?
For a brief time, it seemed like the long, winding legal saga of ex-Olympic sprinter and convicted killer Oscar Pistorius had come to an end. After a dizzying seven months of courtroom drama, psych evaluation, and procedural delays, Judge Thokozile Masipa finally delivered her verdict on Pistorius' slaying of Reeva Steenkamp — he was found guilty of culpable homicide, a charge similar in nature to manslaughter, and sentenced to five years in prison. But now, there's news that the Pistorius prosecution will appeal his five-year sentence, hoping for a new verdict closer to what they'd originally sought on premeditated murder charges. In other words, we could all be seeing Oscar in a courtroom again real soon. But is it a good idea for the prosecution?
It's frankly no surprise that they'd want another crack at Pistorius, given the relatively light punishment he received over shooting and killing of Steenkamp, and the high-profile nature of the case — in spite of landing a five-year sentence, he could be eligible for transition to house arrest after serving a mere sixth of that time, or 10 months. Given the wide range of potentially negative outcomes Pistorius faced in his trial, he came out about as well as could've been anticipated, in spite of fervent, pointed accusations of deception from lead prosecutor Gerrie Nel.
According to South Africa's National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) spokesperson Nathi Mncube, the appeal will be based on an interpretation of the law which differs from how Masipa rendered her judgment. In the aftermath of her decision, Masipa's interpretation of South African law relating to "dolus eventualis" has been debated and criticized — some outlets and legal experts believe she accurately ruled that Pistorius had no foreseeable certainty his actions would lead to Steenkamp's death, while others have strongly disagreed.
The appeal on conviction is based on the question of law. The merits and the demerits of the NPA's argument in this regard will become evident when we file papers for leave to appeal. The prosecutors are now preparing the necessary papers in order to be able to file within the next few days.
According to Mncube, Nel and his assistant Andrea Johnson have been "hard at work studying the judgment, researching and also consulting with legal experts with the view to establish whether or not there are sufficient grounds to appeal both the judgment and sentence." And it appears as though they've decided that, yes, Pistorius should've gotten more time, and they think they can achieve it.
They'll have to do it without presenting anything that wasn't covered in his initial trial, however. As Reuters details, this is a pivotal aspect of the appeal — in South Africa, as detailed by the BBC, appeals by state prosecutors are only allowed over arguments on application of the law. It's not actually a retrial, and as such, they won't be able to introduce any new evidence, instead having to argue that Masipa's ruling was, as a matter of legal precedent, incorrect.
But all in all, it could be a fruitful course of action. In spite of the Steenkamp family reportedly being satisfied with Pistorius' sentence, and likely eager to have this whole tragedy and drama behind them, there's an understandable sentiment among many observers of the trial that he got off lighter than he might have. Now, if Nel and the NPA have their way, that could change — they'd be seeking a 15 year prison sentence, which in addition to tripling Pistorius' time behind bars would also invalidate his ability to transfer to house arrest within the next year.
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