Is Oscar Pistorius raising a new defence?

2014-05-14 11:31

Judge Thokozile Masipa has ruled that there are valid doubts about what Oscar Pistorius’ legal defence is.

The athlete’s legal team today lost what Masipa called a “strange” bid to prevent the athlete from being referred to a state mental institution for observation.

Masipa ruled there was a possibility that Pistorius may have generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) and that this, coupled with his physical vulnerability, could affect whether he was criminally responsible for his actions on the night he had killed Reeva Steenkamp.

She said a more thorough report “would reveal ... that at the time the alleged crime was committed, the accused suffered from a mental disorder, which could have resulted in his not being criminally responsible for his act”.

The order came after the defence called a forensic psychiatrist, Professor Merryll Vorster, who testified that Pistorius suffered from GAD, which could affect “his ability to act in accordance with an appreciation of the difference between right and wrong”.

Masipa ruled that Vorster had unwittingly created doubt about what Pistorius’ defence was.

“A doubt has been created that the accused may possibly have another defence relating to his criminal responsibility.”

This is in line with an argument made by state prosecutor Gerrie Nel, who yesterday said in his application for Pistorius to be referred that the defence was trying to introduce another defence because Pistorius had been a poor witness.

He also said there was already confusion over whether Pistorius’ defence was still putative self-defence, or whether it was now automatism, related to the fact that Pistorius had said the shooting was an accident.

Masipa ruled that “the accused may not have raised the issue that he was not criminally responsible in so many words, but evidence led on his behalf clearly raises the issue and it cannot be ignored.”

The judge ruled that a period of mental observation would ensure Pistorius had a fair trial and also mentioned that she found it “strange” that the defence had opposed state prosecutor Gerrie Nel’s application.

Pistorius will now face a thirty-day evaluation period, but will likely not be required to stay overnight at a mental hospital.

Barry Roux, Pistorius’ advocate, asked that Pistorius’ observation be conducted on an out-patient basis, something to which Masipa lent her support.

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