Pistorius eligible for parole over miscalculation in sentence duration

In a significant legal development, Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee Olympic and Paralympic runner, has appealed for parole, asserting that a critical miscalculation in his sentence duration led to his wrongful denial of early release from prison. Court documents unveiled this revelation, shedding new light on his legal battle.

Justice and correctional services authorities have submitted these documents to South Africa’s Constitutional Court, indicating that they won’t oppose Pistorius’s appeal. The appeal contends that he has already served the mandated portion of his prison sentence, rendering him eligible for parole.

South African law stipulates that offenders sentenced to more than two years in prison must serve half their sentence to become eligible for parole. Pistorius’s appeal states that he met this requirement when he appeared before a parole board on March 31. However, during that hearing, the board ruled that he was not eligible for release until August next year.

The documents submitted to the Constitutional Court clarify the error, with authorities now acknowledging that Pistorius had completed half his sentence by March 21. These documents were presented on behalf of South Africa’s minister of justice, the commissioner of the corrections department, and parole and prison authorities by a senior parole board official.

The confusion surrounding Pistorius’s sentence traces back to his complex trial for the fatal shooting of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentine’s Day 2013. After a series of appeals, he was ultimately convicted of murder and sentenced to 13 years and five months in prison in 2017. This sentence, however, should have been 15 years, the minimum for murder in South Africa. Still, a calculation error deducted the time he had already served, leaving him with the shorter sentence.

Crucially, another oversight occurred when the start date of Pistorius’s new sentence was determined. Instead of starting from July 2016, when his murder conviction was finalized, the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled it should begin on November 24, 2017. This gap period, during which Pistorius remained incarcerated and his sentence was under appeal, wasn’t counted.

Pistorius’s parole lawyer highlighted this “obvious mistake” in April. However, the Supreme Court of Appeal has not yet corrected the error in its judgment. Consequently, when parole board officials sought clarity regarding Pistorius’s sentence, they were informed that no new judgment had altered the dates. This led to the parole board’s decision to declare Pistorius ineligible.

Pistorius is now appealing to South Africa’s Constitutional Court, seeking immediate eligibility for parole. The court has yet to schedule a hearing for the appeal, and the recently submitted documents serve as preliminary materials.

However, even if Pistorius secures a new parole hearing, his release from the Atteridgeville Correctional Centre in Pretoria is far from certain. Parole boards take various factors into account when considering early release, including input from the victim’s relatives. In this case, Steenkamp’s parents, Barry and June, opposed Pistorius’s parole in March, with Barry Steenkamp sadly passing away recently at the age of 80, maintaining his stance that Pistorius should remain in prison.

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