Masutha puts brakes on Pistorius release. But why NOW?

Not yet. Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Minister Michael Masutha has put brakes on the release of Pistorius. The question is why now?

Pistorius was sentenced to five years in jail for culpable homicide after he shot his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp through a toilet door on Valentine’s Day in 2013.

Having served exactly ten months in prison – the minimum period stipulated by South African law – Pistorius was due to be transferred to house arrest tomorrow, following a recommendation from a parole board in June.

However, Justice and Correctional Services Minister Michael Masutha has stepped in, suggesting that the parole board’s decision was premature.

Masutha said that, according to his interpretation of the law, Pistorius should not have been considered for parole until after the ten-month period was completed.

“It is apparent therefore that the decision to release him on 21 August 2015 was made prematurely on 5 June 2015 when the offender was not eligible to be considered at all,” Masutha’s office said.
Stephan Terblanche, a sentencing expert and professor at the University of South Africa, told CNN it was common for parole boards to make decisions about inmates before the minimum sentence was up and rare for a justice minister to get involved in such a case.

Masutha apparently examined the decision after a women’s group urged him to halt the transfer. He announced yesterday that a parole review board would examine the original recommendation, but offered no details about when this might be completed.

Even if Pistorius is released within the next few months, his freedom could be short-lived if state prosecutors succeed in appealing his conviction…

Pistorius was cleared of murder in September last year by Judge Thokozile Masipa, but South African state prosecutors have this week filed an appeal against the verdict.

Under South African law, a judge’s factual findings in a case cannot be appealed, says eNCA. Instead, prosecutors are arguing that Masipa was mistaken in her application of the law and that a different court could reach a different decision – namely that Pistorius should have been convicted of murder, not culpable homicide.

In giving her verdict last year, Masipa said that the state had failed to prove the case was “murder dolus eventualis”, a legal term for when the perpetrator foresees the possibility of his action causing death and persists regardless. This is one point of law the prosecution claims Masipa might have erred on.

Masipa accepted that Pistorius genuinely thought it was an intruder, not Steenkamp, behind the toilet door, and said: “Clearly he did not subjectively foresee this as a possibility that he would kill the person behind the door – let alone the deceased – as he thought she was in the bedroom.”

Legal commentators suggested that Pistorius, with his knowledge of guns and bullets, must have foreseen that he would have killed the person behind the door, be it Steenkamp or an intruder.

However, Masipa insisted that South African law warns against automatically assuming that because a perpetrator “should have” foreseen the consequences of his actions that he actually did. She said the prosecution had failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Pistorius foresaw the fatal consequences of his actions when he shot at the door.

Masipa has since suggested that the prospect of a successful appeal is not remote.

Lawyers for Pistorius have until 17 September to file a response to the prosecution’s appeal. The date for the appeal, expected to be sometime in November, will then be set by the president of the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein. If the conviction is escalated to murder, Pistorius will face a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison.

Ed Note. Since the decision has been made by the Minister, what does this say about our judicial system? A meeting has been called by the judicial system to meet the highest office in the country President Zuma to iron-out the differences plaguing the law makers in the country.

The question on everyone’s lips is why now Minister, when the ministry had enough time to challenge Judge Masipa’s ruling? What does this say about our justice system?

It is expected that such decisions will be on the agenda.  

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