When Oscar Pistorius first stepped into the spotlight as a double-amputee who competed in Olympic races, won medals, beat records, and performed incredible athletic feats against all odds, he was an inspiration. Today, Pistorius’ name is associated with allegations of drug use — and most famously with the murder of his late girlfriend, South African model Reeva Steenkamp.
Just last week, Judge Thokozile Masipa acquitted Pistorius of premeditated murder on grounds of reasonable doubt. The trial isn’t over just yet, however. Legal attorneys await the final decision, when they expect Masipa will charge Pistorius with culpable homicide. Even so, appellate attorneys are already gearing up to challenge the decision — ultimately hoping to pin Pistorius with more serious charges.
Just like those convicted of crimes can appeal that decision — prosecutors can also appeal rulings. Although cases like Pistorius’ rarely have grounds for appeals, legal attorneys believe the state may be able to challenge Masipa’s decision owing to an “error of law,” according to a September 11 New York Daily News article.
What was this error? “The judge got it right when she ended up concluding that it doesn’t matter who was behind the door, so as long as there was intention to kill whoever was behind the door,” University of Witwatersrand Professor James Grant says. Considering whether Pistorius intended to kill the person behind the door may yield a different result. (Prosecutors may have an opportunity to appeal the decision. In that case, it would go through a legal process similar to that of the U.S. Court of Appeals, or a federal circuit court.)
Is being found guilty of culpable homicide enough? Many lawmakers (and citizens!) do not think so. The charge is a relatively minor one — especially in comparison to premeditated murder. By charging Pistorius with culpable homicide, he may leave the court as a free man — with the equivalent of a good chiding and a slap on the wrist.
The U.S. Court of Appeals contends with 10,000 cases per term — and numbers are similarly high in South Africa. South African courts will likely be hearing from legal attorneys, who are not prepared to let Pistorius walk away facing minimal, if any, legal consequences.
Speak with an appellate lawyer.