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Sprinter Could Claim Self Defense in Girlfriend's Shooting Death


Oscar Pistorius might claim self defense against charges he murdered girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp (left) seen here with the sprinter at an awards ceremony in Johannesburg, South Africa, Nov. 4, 2012.

Oscar Pistorius might claim self defense against charges he murdered girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp (left) seen here with the sprinter at an awards ceremony in Johannesburg, South Africa, Nov. 4, 2012.

With South Africa's star sprinter Oscar "Blade Runner" Pistorius facing murder charges in the shooting death of his girlfriend, at least one expert believes his legal team will likely turn to a self-defense argument.

"Objectively though, he wasn't being attacked," says Steven Tuson, who teaches at the University of Witswaterand's School of Law in Johannesburg. "It was on the version given that he thought it was an intruder, and it was, in fact, his girlfriend, so there can be no actual self defense scenario, because he wasn't responding to an attack. It was his girlfriend surprising him."

According to Tuson, the sprinter's lawyers might use what's know as a putative self defense.

"That is an intention defense," he says. "It goes to his state of mind. The defense is that he honestly and verily believed he was responding to an intruder and defending himself."

Even if that defense is accepted, there will still be questions.

"The second inquiry from the court would be 'but is he guilty of manslaughter?' or, in our law, culpable homicide, which is the negligent killing of another person," Tuson says. "The court, even if it accepts his explanation that he thought he was being attacked, would examine his conduct, his behavior at the critical moment against the standard of a reasonable man, and ask was he negligent in discharging his firearm in those circumstances."

Pistorius, who reportedly was a frequent visitor to shooting ranges over the past few years, might be held to a different standard for pulling the trigger, given his training with firearms.

""The higher you are trained, the greater your competence," Tuson says, "you will be held to that greater standard."

He expects Pistorius' status as a national hero, he's the most recognized man after former President Nelson Mandela, to play a part in this case.

"I think it’s a very high-profile matter and, therefore, will be given priority in terms of investigation time and resources," Tuson says. "I don't anticipate too much delay."

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