Oscar Pistorius, renowned Paralympic sprinter was sentenced yesterday to five years in a South African prison for the shooting and killing of his then girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. Mr. Pistorius was found not guilty of a more serious murder charge he stood trial for earlier this year but was convicted of culpable homicide for shooting Ms. Steenkamp several times in the middle of the night in what Mr. Pistorius claims was self defense out of fear that one had intruded into his home. South African prosecutors argued for a minimum of 10 years as a prison sentence for Mr. Pistorius but were unsuccessful in their bid for the heavy handed punishment. Conversely, Mr. Pistorius’ defense team argued for community service hours and house arrest. Judge Thokozile Masipa seemingly split the difference the two sides were arguing for by imposing a five-year prison sentence of which only 10 months are expected to be served in the Kgosi Mampuru prison with the balance of his time to be served as a house arrest sentence, assuming the requisite negotiation with prison officials is successful.
All in all, despite how one may feel about the outcome of the Pistorius case, his lawyers appear to have done a fine job in their representation of Mr. Pistorius. As a threshold charge, Mr. Pistorius was charged with premeditated murder, a comparable charge to first-degree murder in Florida. As a general rule, a generic first degree murder charge requires proving the same elements as Florida’s first degree murder statute in that someone is dead, that death was caused by the actions of another, and those actions were premeditated. Premeditation means killing after a conscious decision to do so. The decision must be present in the mind at the time of the killing, however in Florida the law does not detail an exact period of time that must pass between the formation of the premeditated intent to kill and the actual killing. All that is needed is that time period be long enough to allow reflection by the killer and that the premeditated intent to kill is formed before the killing. The premeditation is almost always where first-degree murder charge fails, and based upon the facts of the Pistorius case, it is easy to see how there would be reasonable doubt of premeditation versus gross negligence or recklessness, both mindsets insufficient for a first-degree murder charge.
Considering the aforementioned, based upon the facts as I know them, Judge Masipa appears to have gotten the verdict right on the premeditated murder charge. As for the culpable murder charge, all the facts would be needed to opine on the verdict. Much like a voluntary manslaughter charge in Florida, the mindset need only be one of culpable negligence. In order for a manslaughter charge to stick (we’ll use this in our example as I believe it is the most similar form of homicide under Florida law to what culpable murder is in South Africa) someone has to, yes, again be dead, and the death be caused by the culpable negligence of the killer. What the hell is culpable negligence you say? In Florida, culpable negligence is considered to be more than a failure to use ordinary care toward others. For negligence to be culpable, it must be gross and flagrant. Culpable negligence is a showing of reckless disregard for human life, or of the safety of persons exposed to that culpable negligence. The negligent act or omission must have been committed with an utter disregard for the safety of others. Culpable negligence is the conscious performing of an act or following a course of conduct that the individual must have known, or reasonably should have known, was likely to cause death or great bodily injury.
At least in using Florida’s manslaughter jury instruction, one can see why blindly blasting off four shots from a nine millimeter handgun through the bathroom door may lead to a finding that one has been a little reckless and wanton… It’s arguable but the good Judge may have gotten this one right. Perhaps had only one shot been fired a self defense argument may have been more plausible.
Not all instances of shootings within a home are like the Pistorius case. If you find yourself in a similar situation it is imperative to immediately retain the services of a high quality criminal attorney to ensure that your rights are protected. If you’re in need of a criminal lawyer in Tampa, contact our firm today at 813-444-7435 or at 727-71-3847.