In 2013, Oscar Pistorious, a South African Olympian, was notoriously accused of murdering his girlfriend model Reeva Steenkamp.  He faces charges of premeditated murder as well as gun-related charges.  His trial is currently ongoing in South Africa.

In Florida, a homicide is the killing of another human being.  A charge of premeditated murder requires a finding of a specific intent to kill.  In other words, there must be a finding of a decision to kill that was present at the time of the killing. Prosecutors must prove that there was some type of plan formed to carry out the killing.  In Florida, a finding of premeditated murder would lead to a first-degree murder charge that is punishable by either a life sentence or the death penalty.

            The judicial system of South Africa is markedly different from that of the United States.  In 1969, South Africa got rid of jury trials.  Therefore, Oscar Pistorious will not be tried by a jury of his peers and instead will be tried by a judge in a high court.  One important difference between the United States legal system and the South African legal system is evident in the issuing of a verdict.  Unlike in the United States, where the presiding jury does not have to provide reasons for their decision, in the South African legal system, the judge must issue clear reasons for his or her accompanying verdict.

            If found guilty, Pistorious would be facing a life sentence since the mandatory sentence in South Africa for premeditated murder is a life sentence unless extraordinary circumstances can be proved.  However, if Pistorious is not found guilty, he could still face a lesser charge of culpable homicide based on negligence.  Pistorious’ defense is not that he fired his gun out of self-defense, but rather that he mistakenly thought his girlfriend was an intruder and therefore, needed to employ self-defense.   In other words, Pistorious is declaring that he did not intentionally kill his girlfriend.  Therefore, whether Pistorious is found guilty will depend on whether his mistake was reasonable or unreasonable under the objective, ordinary South African standard.

Following a conviction, Pistorious could appeal to the supreme court and further to South Africa’s constitutional court if he is given the right to appeal.  The ability to appeal is granted depending on whether the judge believes that another court could reach a different verdict.  However, if the initial court does not give him permission to appeal, Pistorious would have to petition South Africa’s chief justice for that ability.

The ongoing trial is expected to conclude at the end of July 2014 at which time Pistorious’ fate will be decided.

If you have been charged with murder or other homicide related charges, contact a criminal defense attorney.  Contact experienced Miami criminal defense attorneys Christopher Pagan or Julian Stroleny at Pagan & Stroleny, P.L. to discuss your case and explore your legal options.