Judge Thokozile Masipa ruled Thursday that Oscar Pistorius would not be found guilty of murder — premeditated or otherwise — in the 2013 shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. Masipa ruled that evidence presented by prosecutors on the murder charges was “purely circumstantial.”
Masipa’s ruling hinged on the legal concept of dolus eventualis, in which prosecutors can prove murder by showing that — while the accused may not have intended to kill someone — the accused could reasonably predict that their actions would result in death. “In essence, it means that you are responsible for the foreseeable consequences of your actions,” the Independent writes, adding:
According to South African law, intent in the form of dolus eventualis means it is enough to find someone guilty of murder if the perpetrator objectively foresees the possibility of his or her act causing death and persists regardless of the consequences.
In Pistorius’s case, it would seem that dolus eventualis murder would apply if he had fired four shots into a cubicle that he had known was occupied, aware his actions would kill, regardless of who he thought was in there.
Pistorius has admitted firing the four shots through a bathroom door that killed Steenkamp, but has steadfastly maintained that he thought Steenkamp was sleeping in their bed and that an intruder was trying to enter his home through a window in the bathroom.
In announcing her findings, Masipa said that prosecutors did not prove Pistorius could foresee “that his actions could result in the death of the person behind the toilet door,” the Guardian wrote.
Pistorius could still be found guilty of culpable homicide when the hearing resumes Friday, and Masipa seemed headed in that direction when she abruptly ended the hearing on Thursday, calling Pistorius’s actions negligent and saying he used excessive force. If Masipa believes Pistorius should have known the consequences of his actions, he likely will be found guilty of culpable homicide (manslaughter).
Dolus eventualis is ‘did’ foresee, culp is ‘should have’. Masipa says she believes OP didn’t foresee consequences. It’s a subjective test.
— Mandy Wiener (@MandyWiener) September 11, 2014
One South African legal scholar questioned Masipa’s application of dolus eventualis, because under the most generally accepted interpretation of the legal concept, it doesn’t matter if Pistorius thought he was shooting at an intruder. If he reasonably expected that shooting through the bathroom door four times would kill whoever was behind the door, he should have been found guilty of non-premeditated murder under the concept of dolus eventualis. The prosecution could very well appeal Masipa’s ruling if they believe she committed a legal error, according to James Grant, an associate professor of law at University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.
Essence: Masipa doesn’t accept that accused intended to kill anyone. Huh? His defence was he didn’t intend to UNLAWFULLY kill. 1/ — James Grant (@CriminalLawZA) September 11, 2014
Strange: Masipa correctly identified there was no question of transferred intent – its intention to kill no matter who he intended to kill.
— James Grant (@CriminalLawZA) September 11, 2014
State can appeal legal errors. Arguably a legal error to restrict Dolus Eventualis to Reeva when it’s irrelevant who was behind the door. — James Grant (@CriminalLawZA) September 11, 2014