Oscar Pistorius sentencing: What is culpable homicide?

The Paralympic athlete could serve up to 15 years for killing girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp

Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith
Wednesday 15 October 2014 14:39 BST
Pistorius's sentencing hearing is expected to last for days
Pistorius's sentencing hearing is expected to last for days

Oscar Pistorius, found guilty of killing girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp but not guilty of murder, is yet to find out what his sentence will be from Judge Thokozile Mazipa, after he was found guilty of committing culpable homicide.

Mr Pistorius’s sentencing hearing has now entered a third day, and the court has heard that society wants a “heavy punishment” served to the Paralympic athlete for the death of Ms Steenkamp, according to the chief prosecutor in the case, Gerrie Nell.

It has been suggested to the court by a social worker attached to South Africa’s Department of Corrections that Mr Pistorius serve just three years’ house arrest as his sentence, where he would still be able to train, and be forced to do community service, which the prosecution has termed “shockingly inappropriate”.

On Tuesday a probation officer told the hearing that South African prisons may not be safe enough to house the athlete due to the dangers of drugs, violence, poor sanitation, a lack of facilities for disabled people, and the risk of gang rape, claiming that prison would “break him as a person”.

It is not known how long the sentencing will last, but the maximum prison term Mr Pistorius could serve is 15 years for the conviction of culpable homicide.

What is culpable homicide?

Culpable homicide, in the South African court, is the “unlawful or negligent killing” of a person. Ms Steenkamp was found to have been killed by Mr Pistorius without intent or premeditation.

Equivalent to UK manslaughter

The term culpable homicide is the equivalent to the UK law of manslaughter. In the UK, there is the case of voluntary manslaughter, where someone kills with intention, or has the intention to cause grievous bodily harm, but mitigating circumstances such as diminished responsibility or a suicide pact reduces the charge from murder to manslaughter; and the case of involuntary manslaughter, where a person has killed someone through their reckless actions or criminal negligence.

Why was he convicted with culpable homicide and not murder?

Judge Masipa ruled that the athlete had acted “negligently” when he fired four lethal gun shots through the bathroom door “in the belief that there was an intruder,” but acknowledged that Mr Pistorius had “clearly wanted to use the firerarm” instead of calling security or calling for help.

However, she said there was insufficient proof to convict the double amputee of premeditated murder.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in