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How fair is Oscar Pistorius’s sentence?




On Valentine’s Day 2013, Oscar Pistorius, world famous paralympian, killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. However, he was only charged recently. The verdict of Judge Masipa, who resided on the entire case, was he was guilty of culpable homicide (equivalent of manslaughter in British terminology) and of firing a gun in public whilst passing it under a table. He was sentenced to 5 years in prison for both charges. She cleared him of the charge of murder and two other firearm charges – one for another alleged incident of firing a gun in public and possession of ammunition.

The reasoning for clearing him of murder was the prosecution hadn’t managed to prove that the shooting was pre-meditated and she believed Pistorius’s claim that he thought he was under attack from an intruder and thus he definitely did not intend to kill Reeva Stenkamp. However, Judge Masipa was clear that prison time was definitely warranted because he had used excessive force and he had been negligent. She commented that his disability was being over-emphasised by his lawyers and that evidence showed that he would not struggle to cope with prison so this was a just cause to change his sentence to a non-custodial one.

Initially when I heard that Pistorius had only been given 5 years for killing his girlfriend I was outraged. The popular image of the South African legal system is one of corruption and this sentence may appear at first sight a byproduct. However, I did some research into manslaughter cases in the UK and realised that although we have a higher maximum charge (life sentence rather than 15 years in South Africa), British judges can also give out non-custodial sentences for manslaughter! So all in all it seems that the 5-year sentence for manslaughter fits with legal norms. I do think that in this particular case 5 years should be the minimum time he spends in Prison, particularly if it for two charges. So for now I agree with the verdict.

However, if he is let out after 10 months imprisonment Pistorius could face serving the rest as house arrest, which would definitely be bearable and actually pretty comfortable seeing as his family are so wealthy, then the sentence needs to be harsher in order to keep him actually imprisoned for longer.

Also, it seems to me that if he is allowed to leave after such a short time, only marginally longer than the length of the trial, then he is getting special treatment, which Judge Masipa tried to avoid in her verdict, and it is definitely not okay for celebrities to get off more lightly for serious crimes.