South African Appeals Court Convicts Oscar Pistorius of Murder - Why it Could Never Happen in the U.S.

Even though a trial court convicted Oscar Pistorius of a lesser charge of culpable homicide, in the February 2013 shooting death of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, a South African appeals court reversed the trial judge and convicted Pistorius of a more serious murder charge.

The appeals court sharply criticized Pistorius for shooting four times through a closed door, without even firing a warning shot, as it was inevitable that he would kill whoever was on the other side.

Doesn't This Constitute Double Jeopardy?

  • Under South African law, because the trial court did not completely acquit Pistorius, it was permissible for the appeals court to give the murder charge a second look.
  • In the United States, though, once a jury finds a defendant guilty of a lesser included offense, as occurred with Pistorius, the more serious charges are off the table.
  • If a Defendant receives a sentence, appeals that sentence, and wins on appeal, they cannot get a harsher sentence if they are convicted again.

Why Couldn't This Happen in the United States?

In the United States, when someone is convicted, they have the automatic right to appeal their conviction to a higher court.

Appeals involve questions of law, not questions of fact. In other words, legal issues such as whether an illegal search was conducted or whether a defendant’s statement was voluntary can be argued on appeal, but whether or not evidence was sufficient to warrant a conviction is virtually never an issue. Appeals courts almost always defer to the trial judge or jury as to their interpretation of the facts that were presented at trial, and will not impose their own judgment or assessment of them.

Murder Charges Should Not Be Taken Lightly

Whether the charge is murder, manslaughter, or negligent homicide, the penalties upon conviction are severe. Going to trial without one of Phoenix’s most experienced and aggressive criminal defense attorneys can make the difference between spending decades in prison and having your freedom. Jason Lamm has successfully defended numerous clients charged with murder and has both the courtroom experience and technical know-how to get justice for his clients.

If you or someone you love is charged with murder or any type of homicide offense, call us at (602) 663-9100 for a confidential consultation. The time to begin your defense is now.