Pistorius’s five year sentence ‘significant’ – expert

Wits School of Law Professor Stephen Tuson said the five years imposed on Pistorius was significant, because a longer sentence would not have given him a chance of house arrest.

“The number ‘five years’ was not an ordinary number, it was carefully selected,” he said. According to Section 276 of the Criminal Procedure Act, one-sixth of a jail sentence can be converted to house arrest, if the sentence is not more than five years. 

This meant Pistorius could spend only 10 months in prison. “That is why it was carefully chosen,” Tuson said.

Tuson said both the state and the defence would now have 14 days to apply for leave to appeal. The state could only appeal if there was a question of law or the sentence, while the defence could appeal the conviction and the sentence. 

However, he said this would not be advisable for the defence because Pistorius’s sentence could be made heavier than the present one. “It is inadvisable [for the defence] to appeal the conviction because they got off lightly with culpable homicide,” Tuson said.

Organisations welcome sentence
The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) Women’s Brigade on Tuesday welcomed the sentence handed down in the Pistorius case, but said he should not get parole.

“He should serve the sentence associated with such a crime before he can be released,” chairperson Thembeni kaMadlopha-Mthethwa said in a statement.

“Those guilty of killing must be subjected to serve their full sentence without parole.” She said the IFP Women’s Brigade wanted Pistorius to be treated like any other criminal.

Gun Free SA said it was surprised at the suspended sentence for the firearm offence. “It is one of the most serious offences in terms of the [Firearms Control] act,” it said. 

“The act says you can get up to 15 years… and that signals that the law sees this as a serious offence.” The organisation said it was irrelevant whether someone was hurt or not.

“The point is the discharge of a firearm puts people’s lives at risk… “We are not sure if [the suspended sentence] sends a strong enough message to gun owners that that behaviour is unacceptable.”

Gun Free SA welcomed the decision by the court to declare Pistorius unfit to own firearms and that all his existing certificates and guns be handed in.

‘Appetite to appeal’
There is an “appetite” to appeal the five-year jail sentence imposed on Pistorius, but the facts need to be examined, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) said on Tuesday.

“There is an appetite to appeal and we have 14 days to consider the law, and ensure the facts and the law allow us to appeal,” NPA spokesperson Nathi Mncube told reporters in court after proceedings were adjourned. 

While the NPA had not been happy that Pistorius had been found guilty of culpable homicide and not murder, he said it was a “consolation” that he would go to jail. A reporter asked Mncube whether Pistorius would serve one third of his sentence. He said that was a matter for correctional services to decide. 

Businessman Kenny Kunene said outside the court that his heart went out to Reeva Steenkamp’s family. “I am sad for them,” he said. 

He also lamented Pistorius’s sentence. “Look, its sad knowing prison conditions are what they are. I respect Judge Masipa, but I think a custodial sentence was not fair for Oscar.”

Five year sentence
Earlier, Pistorius had been sentenced to a maximum of five years imprisonment for  culpable homicide in the death of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. 

Judge Thokozile Masipa also sentenced Pistorius to three years suspended imprisonment for discharging a firearm in public, to run concurrently with his sentence for culpable homicide.

Pistorius’s defence Advocate Barry Roux told the court that the athlete would willingly give up all his firearms and firearm licences and conceded to being unfit to carry a firearm. 

Masipa emphasised the balance in sentencing between an appropriate punishment that contributed positively to society’s trust in the justice system but which did not “break the accused”.

“There is a delicate balance between the crime, the criminal and the interests of society,” she said.

The Guardian reported that Pistorius’s uncle, Arnold Pistorius, indicated that the family would not be appealing.

Pistorius is likely to serve his sentence at the Kgosi Mampuru II prison in Pretoria.

Community service ‘inappropriate’
Masipa rejected a suggested sentence of house arrest and community service for Pistorius.

“The sentence suggested by Mrs Vergeer and Mr Maringa would not be appropriate,” Masipa read while sentencing Pistorius for the culpable homicide of Reeva Steenkamp.

A suspended sentence imposed on Pistorius for shooting Steenkamp would not be appropriate, Masipa said.

“The present case is so serious that a suspended sentence would not be appropriate in my view,” she said. “I am of the view that a non custodial sentence would send the wrong message to the community on the other hand a long sentence would not be appropriate as it would lack mercy.” 

She said a long prison sentence would “break” Pistorius but a suspended sentence could mean that society would lose faith in the justice system.

The five-year jail sentence handed down to Pistorius signalled a sad day for women in South Africa, the ANCWL said.

“We are saddened by the judgment… we have never been happy with the conviction of culpable homicide, instead of murder,” ANC Womens League spokesperson Jacqui Mofokeng said outside court. 

“We call for the national prosecutions to appeal this sentence… and do it for our society.” She said Pistorius could be out within 18 months. 

“If he serves 18 months he could be out soon after that, while Reeva is not here… women are saddened by this.” – Additional reporting by Sapa.

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