South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority will appeal the controversial murder acquittal of Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius and his five-year sentence for the lesser crime of culpable homicide.
The decision to appeal was announced Monday and follows speculation from legal experts that Judge Thokozile Masipa may have erred in her interpretation of murder law.
In South Africa, the prosecution can appeal a judgment -- but only if an error has been made in law. A 1982 judgment, S vs. Seekoei, appears to further limit the state’s right to appeal judgments, confining appeals to cases where there has been an acquittal.
Pistorius was handed five years jail for culpable homicide (negligent killing, similar to manslaughter in the U.S. justice system) for the fatal shooting last year of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. Under South African law, he could be out of prison in 10 months, a sentence many regard as lenient.
A spokesman for the National Prosecuting Authority, Nathi Mncube, said the appeal was based on questions of law and the NPA’s argument would become clear once it filed papers seeking leave to appeal.
Mncube said prosecutors in the Pistorius case have been busy studying the judgment and consulting legal experts on the question of an appeal.
“The prosecutors are now preparing the necessary papers in order to be able to file within the next few days,” Mncube said.
James Grant, a law professor at the University of Witwatersrand, was among those saying that Masipa’s judgment was not well reasoned and would not likely stand up to scrutiny in a higher court.
Grant tweeted last week that he was “strongly in favor” of an appeal. He said lead prosecutor Gerrie Nel consulted him on whether to appeal, and he advised him to do so.
“I have advised that he should appeal & agreed to assist,” Grant wrote.
Grant has specifically criticized the judge over her interpretation of a South African legal principle that murder includes a situation in which a person foresees that his or her actions will kill, but goes ahead anyway.
In the Pistorius case, there was intense argument around the question of whether the athlete must have foreseen that shooting four expanding bullets into a small toilet cubicle would kill anyone inside, regardless of whether this was an intruder or his girlfriend.
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