Culpable Homicide Sentence in South Africa Means Oscar Pistorius Could Avoid Jail Time

By Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. and world news. He is based in Maryland.
September 14, 2014 Updated: September 14, 2014

The culpable homicide verdict given by the South Africa judge in the Oscar Pistorius murder case could mean that the Olympic athlete avoids jail time.

Pistorius was found not guilty of premeditated murder by judge Thokozile Masipa, meaning that she believed he did not plan the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

But found him guilty of culpable homicide.

Culpable homicide is the South African equivalent of Britain’s manslaughter, notes The Star. It has been defined in South Africa as “the unlawful negligent killing of a human being.” The key difference between culpable homicide and premeditated murder is that the latter requires planning.

While Pistorius could have gotten up to life in prison for the murder conviction, the culpable homicide charge carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in jail with no minimum sentence. The last part is important because it leaves the possibility that Pistorius could avoid jail time–or at least significant jail time–a possibility few would have imagined as the trial went on.

Masipa said Pistorius could not be convicted of premeditated murder or a lesser murder charge because prosecutors did not prove that he knew Steenkamp was behind the locked toilet door when he shot through it in the predawn hours of Valentine’s Day last year.

Pistorius said he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder. The prosecution said he killed her intentionally after an argument. The 29-year-old model had been seeing him for only a few months.

Some legal analysts agreed there was a strong case for conviction on the lesser charge because Pistorius knew that someone — in his version, an intruder — was behind the toilet door when he fired.

“The verdict is shocking to say the least,” said Leonard Gray in Port Elizabeth, Steenkamp’s hometown. “I feel sorry for Reeva Steenkamp’s family because they’re not going to get any closure.”

However, Shrina Padayachy, also in Port Elizabeth, called the judge’s verdict “fair and just because it’s the prosecution that must prove beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Pistorius’ uncle, Arnold Pistorius, said there were no winners in the case, but his family was relieved.

“It’s a big burden off us, off our shoulders,” he said. “We always knew the facts of the matter, and we never had any doubt in Oscar’s version of this tragic incident.”

Disappointed prosecutors said they would decide whether to appeal only after sentencing.

It’s unclear when the sentencing phase of the trial will start, but should be announced soon.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. and world news. He is based in Maryland.