The Pistorius Appeal Judgment 

The recent decision of the Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa in Director of Public Prosecutions, Gauteng v Pistorius (96/2015) [2015] ZASCA 204 (3 December 2015) makes interesting reading.
In its unanimous judgment the Court summarized, rather colorfully, the background as follows:   

[1] This case involves a human tragedy of Shakespearean proportions: a young man overcomes huge physical disabilities to reach Olympian heights as an athlete; in doing so he becomes an international celebrity; he meets a young woman of great natural beauty and a successful model; romance blossoms; and then, ironically on Valentine’s Day, all is destroyed when he takes her life. The issue before this court is whether in doing so he committed the crime of murder, the intentional killing of a human being, or the lesser offence of culpable homicide, the negligent killing of another. 

The Court then identified the essential error of law; in these terms:

[32] What was in issue, therefore, was not whether the accused [Oscar] had foreseen that Reeva might be in the cubicle when he fired the fatal shots at the toilet door but whether there was a person behind the door who might possibly be killed by his actions. The accused’s incorrect appreciation as to who was in the cubicle is not determinative of whether he had the requisite criminal intent. Consequently, by confining its assessment …… to whether the accused had foreseen that it was Reeva behind the door, the trial court misdirected itself as to the appropriate legal issue. 

In other words Oscar meant to kill, it did not matter whether it was Reeva or someone else; and that amounted to murder.


3 thoughts on “The Pistorius Appeal Judgment 

  1. Pingback: Pistorius - PubliNews


    how would anybody know, that somebody shooting through a door is meant to kill who or whatever is behind it ?
    how about scaring…shooting at the moon, who may be hiding in the cupboard ? this may be more a reflection of the judges mind ( well, if this is what happened and if I did this then this is what I had in mind ) than a rational careful observation of ” evidence “.

    this should have nothing to do with ” who WE feel is guilty ” – and, therefore stone them ( according to our judicial system )
    but about weighting up the evidence – whatever there is that is not tainted by belief.

    i found the first verdict correct – from an abstract point of view – not from what i personally believe happened – but who am i to judge?



    • Hi Aki, you raise some interesting points. However, if you read the judgment you will see that the Court of Appeal looked at the evidence of how Pistorius shot through the toilet door and what the likely consequences were. In paragraph [38] the Court referred in particular to the evidence of a police forensic expert, which was (wrongly) not taken into account by the trial judge and related to the position of the bullet holes in the door, the marks the bullets left in the toilet cubicle and the position of the injuries on Reeva’s body. Further, the Appeal Court noted at [39] that Pistorius was using ammunition which would penetrate a wooden door without disintegrating but would mushroom on striking a soft target on the other side of the door. This led the Court to conclude that all of the circumstantial evidence showed that at the time Pistorius fired the four shots he must have foreseen the potentially fatal consequences.

      In my view the reasoning is careful and convincing.


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