Oscar's psych evaluation could affect verdict - expert

2014-05-21 05:00
(Daniel Born, AFP)

(Daniel Born, AFP)

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Pretoria – A legal expert said Oscar Pistorius’s psychiatric evaluation could affect both the verdict and if he is convicted, the sentencing.

Judge Thokozile Masipa ruled on Tuesday that Pistorius begin a 30 day period of psychiatric evaluation at Weskoppies Psychiatric Hospital in Pretoria next week, as she postponed the star athlete's murder trial until 30 June.

Pistorius will be treated as an outpatient and must present himself at the hospital every weekday at 09:00.

A panel of mental health experts is now to decide if the double-amputee runner can be held criminally responsible for killing his girlfriend.

Kelly Phelps, a senior lecturer in the public law department at the University of Cape Town and a legal expert observing the trial, said the psychiatric evaluation could affect both the verdict and, if Pistorius is convicted, the sentencing. She saw three possible outcomes:

An "extreme" conclusion in which the panel decides Pistorius was unable to distinguish between right and wrong, or act in accordance with that understanding, because of an anxiety disorder when he killed Steenkamp. Such an outcome, according to Phelps, would result in a verdict of "not guilty by reason of mental illness”.

The panel basically agrees with the defence witness, Dr Merryll Vorster, who said Pistorius was able to distinguish between right and wrong but had the anxiety disorder, possibly bolstering Pistorius's argument that he was acting in "putative self-defence" because he feared his life was in danger from a perceived intruder.

The panel contradicts Vorster and says Pistorius does not have an anxiety disorder, possibly casting doubt on the defence's argument that Pistorius had a long-held fear of crime and felt anxious and vulnerable when he shot Steenkamp.

In terms of the Criminal Procedure Act, a person who commits a crime and suffers from a mental illness or mental defect which makes them incapable of appreciating the wrongfulness of the act; or acting in accordance with an appreciation of the wrongfulness of the act, shall not be criminally responsible for the act.

Based on the outcome of the assessment, Pistorius could be detained in a psychiatric hospital or prison in terms of the Mental Health Act.

He could also be treated as an outpatient, released subject to conditions from the court, or released unconditionally.

Judge Masipa said on Tuesday that the panel should determine whether any mental illness may have affected Pistorius's capacity to be "criminally responsible" for killing Steenkamp.

She said the panel would evaluate "whether he was capable of appreciating the wrongfulness of his act or of acting in accordance with an appreciation of the wrongfulness of his act”.

The Paralympian faces 25 years to life in prison if found guilty on the premeditated murder charge.

Criminal law expert William Booth weighs in what Oscar's psych evaluation means for his ongoing murder trial. Watch.

- AP
Read more on:    oscar pistorius  |  pistorius trial  |  crime
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