S v Pistorius [2014] JOL 32664B (GP)

Criminal law – Culpable homicide – Sentencing

The accused having been convicted of culpable homicide and contravention of section 120(3)(b) of the Firearms Control Act 60 of 2000, the Court now had to impose sentence.

Held that to reach an appropriate sentence, the Court had to consider the nature and the seriousness of the offences that the accused has been found guilty of, the personal circumstances of the accused as well as the interests of society. It also had to take into consideration the main purposes of punishment; namely retribution, deterrence, prevention and rehabilitation.

The Court began with the evidence in mitigation and in aggravation. Witnesses were called by the defence and the State, to give evidence in that regard. The Court then turned to consider the personal circumstances of the accused. The evidence before the Court was of the difficulties faced by the accused, as a double amputee, and the extent to which prison conditions would impact on his disability. The Court noted that the disability rendered the accused vulnerable, but found that he was shown to have excellent coping skills. The Court emphasised the need for a balanced view of the accused’s disability. The issue of the accused’s contribution to society was considered next, with the Court taking cognisance of the good work he had done.

Both offences of which the accused was convicted were very serious ones. Even though the accused felt threatened and vulnerable at the thought of an intruder being in his home, he acted recklessly in firing four shots through a closed door, knowing that there might be a person behind it.

Having regard to the circumstances in the matter, the Court was of the view that a non-custodial sentence would send a wrong message to the community. On the other hand, a long sentence would also not be appropriate either as it would lack the element of mercy. The sentence imposed was a maximum imprisonment of five years imposed in terms of section 276 (1) (i) of the Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977. A whole suspended sentence of three years’ imprisonment was imposed in respect of the second conviction, which sentenced was to run concurrently with that imposed on the first count.