Oscar Pistorius Gets Double Jeopardy

Sprinter Oscar Pistorius served only one year in prison after being convicted of manslaughter. Now, he's facing fifteen years in prison after being convicted of murder in the same case.

Sprinter Oscar Pistorius served only one year in prison after being convicted of manslaughter. Now, he’s facing fifteen years in prison after being convicted of murder in the same case.

TIME (“Oscar Pistorius Is Being Re-sentenced for Murder. Here’s Why“):

Pistorius was initially convicted of the lesser charge of culpable homicide, or manslaughter, at his 2014 trial for shooting Steenkamp through a closed toilet door in his home. He testified he mistook the model and reality TV celebrity for a nighttime intruder hiding in a bathroom, and shot with his 9mm pistol in self-defense fearing an attack. The trial judge accepted part of Pistorius’ story, and he was given a five-year jail sentence based on the judge’s ruling that he acted recklessly, but didn’t mean to kill. After serving a year in jail, Pistorius was released on parole in line with South African procedure and has been living under house arrest at his uncle’s mansion since October last year.

But following Pistorius’ manslaughter verdict, prosecutors appealed to the Supreme Court, saying that the former star athlete, a multiple Paralympic champion, should have been found guilty of murder. They argued that Pistorius intended to kill someone — even if he didn’t know it was Steenkamp in the toilet cubicle — when he shot four times through the door with no justification.

In December, a panel of Supreme Court judges agreed with prosecutors, overturned Pistorius’ manslaughter conviction, and raised it to a more serious murder conviction. Pistorius must now be sentenced for murder.

Supreme Court Justice Lorimer Leach said: “The accused ought to have been found guilty of murder on the basis that he had fired the fatal shots with criminal intent.”

I’m inclined to agree that Pistorius is guilty of murder and that even fifteen years is getting off easy. Still, it offends my sense of justice that the state has a right to appeal the initial verdict, creating what in the American system would clearly be double jeopardy. While Pistorius is a wealthy celebrity and hardly a sympathetic figure, the same process could of course be used against an ordinary citizen. Giving the state, with all its resources, multiple bites at the apple puts the citizen at a tremendous disadvantage.

FILED UNDER: Crime, Law and the Courts, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Mister Bluster says:

    Double Nickel…

    The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as part of this Constitution,..
    Article 5 USCon

    …nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb;..
    Amendment 5 USCon

  2. Mister Bluster says:

    On This Day in Philadelphia 1787

    Mr. PINCKNEY and Mr. SHERMAN moved to insert, after the words, “one supreme tribunal,” the words “the judges of which to be appointed by the National Legislature.”

    Mr. MADISON objected to an appointment by the whole Legislature. Many of them are incompetent judges of the requisite qualifications. They were too much influenced by their partialities. The candidate who was present, who had displayed a talent for business in the legislative field, who had, perhaps, assisted ignorant members in business of their own, or of their constituents, or used other winning means, would, without any of the essential qualifications for an expositor of the laws, prevail over a competitor not having these recommendations, but possessed of every necessary accomplishment. He proposed that the appointment should be made by the Senate; which, as a less numerous and more select body, would be more competent judges, and which was sufficiently numerous to justify such a confidence in them.

    Mr. SHERMAN and Mr. PINCKNEY withdrew their motion, and the appointment by the Senate was agreed to, nem. con.


  3. Neil Hudelson says:

    *Me, clicking on the link:*

    “That’s odd. I wonder why the producers of Jeopardy would even think of having him on the…oh, I’m an idiot.”

  4. grumpy realist says:

    Actually, if you look back far enough, you’ll discover that the rule against double jeopardy was laid down by the Inquisition (during their first round of trying to stamp out heresy–the whole Cathar heresy mess)

    Given how far back the roots lie, I’m sort of surprised with the South African action. It may simply come down to two different interpretations here of what “double jeopardy” means and how it’s interpreted in the two countries’ legal systems–It’s not like Pistorius is having a completely duplicate trial on the same charge, is it?

    Similarly, it’s perfectly possible in the US to have two trials, one civil and one criminal, for the same action. And we don’t consider that double jeopardy.

    Also please don’t forget that South Africa is a civil law country with its roots in old Dutch jurisprudence.

  5. JKB says:

    South Africa has a Dutch-Roman system of law, although apparently with some common law from the British.

    As for Roman civil law, look at how many times the Italians went after that Amanda girl who supposedly was involved in her roommates murder. They appealed to retry her even after they had convicted someone else, not associated with her for the crime.

    People are to quick to give up our Constitution and common law history, the latter now mostly usurped by statute law. But look at what happens where the People are only sovereign by government leave.

  6. bill says:

    and he tries to get the pity vote by showing up without his blades attached , pretty pathetic.