One of the most vocal critics of Oscar Pistorius’ culpable homicide verdict has always been retired High Court Judge, Chris Greenland. Not only has Judge Greenland been a regular legal pundit on Carte Blanche, he’s also become a Facebook and Twitter friend to many who follow the Oscar case. He’s been generous with his time and opinions. Speaking personally, I’ve had the opportunity to Skype and Whatsapp with him on several occasions and have always enjoyed our conversations.
Now, three weeks prior to Oscar learning his sentence [on July 6th], the tide has suddenly changed. And oh, the seas are rough. People have unfriended him in droves. They’ve chastised him across social media. The reaction to his most recent public comments has been harsh, yet completely understandable.
Judge Greenland told Carte Blanche:
“The sentence that I would impose is one of 15 years house arrest where house arrest means, house imprisonment. In other words, no liberties except liberties within his home environment. Coupled with 15 years of community service.”
He further explained on his Facebook page:
“…that way he [Oscar] would be in prison without being brutalized and have a chance at rehabilitation, society would benefit, the offence is not trivialized and good is done in Reeva’s name.”
Nick and I do not subscribe to the notion of leniency in sentencing for rehabilitation purposes when it comes to murder. So 15 years house arrest is not something we support. We feel strongly Oscar needs to go to prison. There is the flip side of the conversation though, and that’s addressing the reality of law.
Judge Greenland laid out 19 points on his Facebook page explaining why he would give house arrest. We’ll address those details in our upcoming narrative WHITE HORSE. Here’s the problem. The Court [Judge Masipa] found that Oscar didn’t intend to kill Reeva. Not only that, he didn’t intend to kill the intruder either [although he could foresee that possibility, and decided to act anyway, which was the cause for the reversal of his verdict.] Oscar just shot off 4 bullets like a jackass with apparently no intention at all in the eyes of Masipa. Because that’s kinda sorta reckless, Masipa slapped him with a culpable homicide conviction. Yes, those are the shitty “facts” of this case. So what does a judge do? Do they now issue the appropriate sentence based on their findings, or issue one based on the new verdict alone?
What Judge Greenland is doing is providing a purely legalistic view of what he believes should be done based on the letter of the law, not based on what we all believe the findings should have been. He believes, like most of us, this should have been a Dolus Directus conviction and Oscar should be in prison. But something important to remember, the conviction of Dolus Eventualis does not change the original findings. Sadly, they will always remain.
Interestingly enough, Judge Greenland and I just talked about this topic last month when I asked him if he felt trial by judge was generally better than trial by jury. He believes trial by judge is best, but he did speak frankly that it frustrated him at times when he’d have to acquit an accused that he felt was guilty because of some narrow law. With juries, even though they have instructions too, they’re more inclined to convict if a person is clearly guilty, regardless of what the law says.
There are a few points here for us to debate:
- Taking into consideration the Court’s findings, and forgetting your own personal opinions of what you believe really happened, is Judge Greenland’s suggested sentence reasonable for this crime?
- By sharing his opinion publicly, Judge Greenland runs the risk of Judge Masipa listening and being influenced by his opinion. Should he have shared it publicy or kept it to himself?
- Finally, how much weight should a family’s wishes be considered, above and beyond the narrow letter of the law, when delivering a sentence?
“He has to pay for his crime.” – Barry Steenkamp