13 Oct 2014

What sentence could Oscar Pistorius get?

He was cleared of murder, but found guilty of the culpable homicide – or manslaughter – of Reeva Steenkamp. But could Oscar Pistorius avoid jail? And how long could his sentence be?

Photo: Oscar Pistorius and one his supporters in court after the first day of his sentencing

It took six months of intense legal wrangling and questioning for a judge to find Oscar Pistorius not guilty of murder last month.

Judge Thokozile Masipa ruled that there was not enough evidence to support claims from prosecutors that he had deliberately shot his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp at his Pretoria home in the early hours of Valentine’s Day 2013.

The verdict was a shock to some, but since it was dished out on 12 September, the spotlight has now turned to the sentencing, which began on Monday and is expected to be finalised this week.

What is the maximum sentence?

Pistorius has escaped the 25 year prison sentence for murder in South Africa, but he still faces up to 15 years in prison if he is given the most severe sentence for culpable homicide.

Over the next few days, the prosecution is expected to argue that Pistorius, who had been known as the Blade Runner for his prosthetic legs, should be jailed for a significant amount of time, given the seriousness of the case and the fact that his girlfriend died as a result of his actions. Two state witnesses are expected to be called.

But regardless of how many years he is given, the judge could decide not to send the double-amputee to a mainstream prison, because of his disability and his fame.

As well as culpable homicide, the Paralympic sports star was also found guilty of a firearms offence: shooting his gun under the table in a restaurant.

What is the minimum sentence?

There is no minimum jail term for culpable homicide, so Pistorius could be given a suspended sentence – one which he could serve at home, and which could be cancelled by a judge if the accused passed his probation period. Community service is another potential option.

On the first day of sentencing, the defence called psychologist Lore Hartzenberg who said that Pistorius would need continued psychological support for PTSD, and described the former athlete as “traumatised” and a “broken man”.

Another witness called by the defence, prison officer Joel Maringa, suggested a monthly allocation of community service, and house arrest for three years – something that Chief Prosecutor Gerrie Nel said was “shockingly inappropriate”.

Pistorius has been living at his uncle’s house since shooting Steenkamp, and was released on bail even after being found guilty of culpable homicide.

If he was to escape a jail sentence after the verdict, it could spark public anger in South Africa among those who believe that wealthy, white celebrities are treated more lightly by the law. The sentencing is expected to be delivered this week.