SA has only one kind of murder

2013-02-20 00:00

THERE is only one crime of murder in South African law.

The state has said it can prove Oscar Pistorius committed “premeditated murder”, leading people to think there are two crimes — murder, and premeditated murder.

However, criminal law expert Professor Tom Coetzee of Potchefstroom University said yesterday: “Murder is murder, with or without premeditation”.

The Criminal Procedure Act makes a distinction only so far as bail is concerned, in schedules 5 and 6.

An accused charged with murder under schedule 5 must convince the court that his release on bail is in the interests of justice.

Under the more onerous schedule 6, an accused must show exceptional circumstances that justify bail.

These exceptional circumstances have been described by the courts, all the way up to the appeal court, as circumstances that make it urgently necessary that the accused should be released on bail.

“Ordinary” circumstances that would permit bail under schedule 5 include the youth of an accused, if it is his first offence, and that he has a fixed address and an income.

These have been described by courts as not sufficient by themselves for bail under schedule 6.

The reason for the more onerous burden of proof in a case of “premeditated murder” is that premeditation implies an intentional decision to murder, which can lead to a mandatory life sentence.

This could make an accused more likely to flee before trial.

Well-known people who have received bail despite being charged under schedule 6:

- Fred van der Vyfer, who was charged with the murder of his girlfriend and ultimately acquitted.

- Dina Rodrigues, who was convicted of hiring hitmen to kill her boyfriend’s baby daughter.

- Bees Roux, the Blue Bulls rugby player convicted of beating a

traffic officer to death after being pulled over.

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