Pistorius Receives Five-Year Prison Sentence

After enduring 20 months of public scrutiny and a long trial back in March, Olympic "Blade Runner" Oscar Pistorius began serving his five-year prison sentence immediately upon receiving it from South African Judge Thokozile Masipa today. Earlier, Judge Masipa found him not guilty of murder but guilty of culpable homicide for killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, citing his "gross negligence." One minute detail of Pistorius' sentence is that he may be released after 10 months behind bars to finish the remainder of the term under house arrest. To be eligible for transitioning to house arrest, Pistorius must serve one-sixth of his sentence - here, 10 months - and it may be given as a response to his defense team's argument that he should not receive a prison sentence because of his disability and because he "has money" since the facilities have been criticized for their disability accommodations. Then again, it may not. The defense has the option to file an appeal within 14 days, but the prosecution is the side who has expressed it may appeal the sentence because of what it views as not enough jail time.

From the looks of it, though, Judge Masipa determined the sentence in a reasoned manner. "I am of the view that a noncustodial sentence would send a wrong message to the community," Judge Masipa stated. "On the other hand, a long sentence would not be appropriate, either, as it would lack the element of mercy." It is worthy to note that South Africa does not use a jury trial in these situations and that the presiding judge alone in his or her sole discretion reaches the verdict and determines the sentence. Once she decided that the prosecution did not reach the requisite standard of proof to hit Pistorius with a murder conviction, the sentence could not be heightened to one akin to a sentence for murder like what the prosecution was pressing for in the sentencing hearing last week.

The South African President issued a public statement backing Judge Masipa, stating, "The fact that judge says he's acquitted of murder, but on culpable homicide convicted, teaches people I think something in law, that you don't just say that because the life was lost it's a murder." He continued, saying, "It could be murder, it could be an unintended kind of thing. I think people must have learned."

This case does a great job of highlighting the heightened standard of proof that a prosecutor must show to earn a murder conviction regardless of the jurisdiction. I discussed Pistorius' conviction and South African law in an earlier post here. Under South African law, Pistorius could have received up to a 15-year prison sentence for culpable homicide, but Judge Masipa weighed the evidence and managed to set aside media scrutiny in arriving at an objective conclusion. Some articles are attempting to draw comparisons to other famous athletes and celebrities who have been criminally convicted, but those articles fall short because here we are dealing with a completely different jurisdiction in a completely different country with different laws and procedures that can affect the legal ruling. Some may see that as a good thing or a bad thing. A judge may wind up reaching more objective conclusions than juries who may be swayed in deliberation. Regardless, here, it appears that each side had a fair and open opportunity to present its side of the story, satisfying due process, and I believe that the judge reached an appropriate conclusion.

[Thumbnail Image Source: http://abcnews.go.com/International/oscar-pistorius-stand-week/story?id=23004293]