Pistorius sentence balanced, say legal experts
South African legal experts on Tuesday roundly backed the five-year sentence judge Thokozile Masipa's imposed on Oscar Pistorius as balanced and fitting the crime of culpable homicide.
Pistorius was jailed on Tuesday for killing his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentine’s Day in 2013.
“It’s a sentence befitting the conviction, it’s not extraordinary by any stretch,” said Johannesburg lawyer David Dadic.
“I don’t think it’s too harsh,” he said, citing examples of recent cases of culpable homicide involving multiple deaths that attracted an eight-year jail term.
By sending him to jail, the judge has sent a clear message that that people understand that “mistakes like these cannot go without any consequence”.
“I don’t think that correctional supervision or a suspended sentence would have sent that message.”
Another lawyer Tyron Maseko said given the seriousness of the crime, the sentence is “a very good decision, very balanced”.
Criminal law expert Kessie Naidoo said, “It seems to me it’s not a highly disproportionate sentence.”
But the public might not see it that way. After parole and remission, Pistorius might effectively be locked away for between 10 and 15 months, said Naidoo.
“I think five years is not fair because they’ve lost a daughter,” said 19-year-old student Dineo Mohlamonyane. “They should set an example with Oscar. It shows that being famous and having money makes your life easier.”
– Possible retrial –
Any appeals against the verdict or sentence should be lodged within two weeks of sentence being handed down.
The state, which had sought a murder conviction, could appeal against the verdict, which cleared Pistorius of murder, but convicted him of the lighter offence of manslaughter.
The prosecution may seek clarity from the appeal court on whether or not the principle of dolus eventualis — awareness of the likely outcome of an action — was properly applied by judge Masipa when she acquitted the sprinter of the murder charge.
The prosecution “may very well still say there was actually a misdirection” in the application of the principle, said Maseko.
“There is a possibility that the appeal court could come to the conclusion that she misdirected herself in the application of the law,” said Naidoo.
In the event that the appeal court concludes that judge Masipa misapplied the principle, the case will have to go for a retrial under a different judge.
And that “is a distinct possibility”, said Maseko.