Accused Valentine Murderer ‘Oscar Postorius’ Get Relased On Bail

Editor’s note: South African Olympian Oscar Pistorius has been charged with murdering his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp, at his Pretoria home. CNN spoke to James Grant, Ph.D. in criminal law and senior lecturer in criminal law and evidence at South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand, about what might happen next.

London (CNN) — Why has Oscar Pistorius been released on bail?

Chief Magistrate Desmond Nair said defense attorneys had met the threshold for proving the “exceptional circumstances” required by South African law for the release of a suspect charged with premeditated murder.

He said prosecutors had failed to prove that Pistorius was a flight risk or had a propensity toward violence.

What are the conditions of his release?

Pistorius must surrender his passport, is not allowed near an airport and will have to report to a police station every Monday and Friday.

He may not return to the home where the shooting happened.

Bail has been set at 1 million rand, or about $112,000.

He will have to pay 100,000 rand in cash before the end of Friday and the remaining 900,000 rand by March 1.

The next court date for Pistorius is June 4.

Why was the issue of premeditation such a focus of the bail hearing?

There is only one crime of murder in South Africa — and premeditation is not a requirement. It is simply defined as the intentional unlawful killing of another human being.

However, premeditation plays a role for bail and sentencing. For the purposes of bail, if the charge is premeditated, it falls into a category with the most serious crimes, for which the defense must show exceptional circumstances to obtain bail.

South African law makes it difficult for defendants accused of premeditated murder to get out on bail. The law requires evidence of “exceptional circumstances” to justify release, and the onus is on the defense to prove this. Grant said it was more difficult to deny bail to someone on the lesser charge.

Nair upgraded the charge against Pistorius to premeditated murder, saying he could not rule out the possibility that the track star planned Steenkamp’s death. But the magistrate said he would consider downgrading the charge later.

Where will Pistorius’ trial take place?

Despite being South Africa’s lower courts, regional magistrates’ courts can hear all criminal cases barring treason, so it is possible that Pistorius could be tried in such a court.

However, Grant said the high court, which hears cases deemed too serious for magistrates’ courts, could be in a better position to hear Pistorius’ case.

“Given the interest in this and given the possible sentencing that might follow — if it is established that this is premeditated — the high court would be in a better position to hear it and to sentence,” he said.

Can Pistorius get a fair trial?
A high court trial could take place before a single judge or before a judge and two lay people, who are usually legal experts such as advocates, academics or retired magistrates, who are known as “assessors.” These assessors are restricted though to answering questions of fact.

Their role is to advise the judge, who is not obliged to follow their guidance on questions of law, but they may overrule a single judge on questions of fact.

Why will Pistorius face a judge rather than a jury trial?

South Africa abolished jury trials in 1969, while the country was under apartheid, due to fears of racial prejudice by white jurors.

Grant said the change showed that despite it being the “very dark old days,” some members of South Africa’s judiciary and legislature had been somewhat enlightened.

When will Pistorius’ trial begin?

Some high-profile or important cases in South Africa have been fast-tracked and pushed through within a month, but that is “highly, highly exceptional.” What is more likely, said Grant, is that the trial would get under way within about six months

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