By now, most of you have heard or should have heard about the shocking news that South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius has been arrested and charged with the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steemkamp. Steenkamp was a top fashion model in the country with eyes set on television.
Pistorius appeared in a South African criminal court in what looked like an arraignment where he was informed he would be charged for premeditated murder. Pistorius is the Paralympic superstar that won the heart of the world with his athletic prowess and inspiring story during the Paralympics.
I will share an excerpt of the story soon for the benefit of those who may not have heard or want seek more information. In the meantime, South Africans and the world remain stunned even as Pistorius was in court earlier today for an arraignment.
Let’s talk about this early stage of his criminal proceeding by looking at US law and specifically what happens in California where I practice. I have discussed the criminal process specific to Nigeria in the past.
Let’s start with the beginning of what happens when a defendant is arrested and ultimately charged with a crime.
1. A person is arrested by the police.
2. The police can release such person if the prosecutor’s office decides not to file charges. In the alternative, if the prosecutor decides to file charges, the person is typically transported to jail by law enforcement officers (the police) pending an arraignment. The third option is for the defendant to post bail or to be released on a promise to appear at a later date in court, which the police tells the defendant what that date will be.
3. Assuming, as is the case here, that a defendant is charged and taken to jail, the next step that should happen in the criminal proceeding is to have the defendant appear before a judge/magistrate.
4. This first appearance in court is known as an arraignment. Every defendant has a right to a speedy trial guaranteed by the constitution. Accordingly, within 48hours of arrest and being detained, such defendant has to be arraigned.
In California in felony and misdemeanor cases, if the defendant is taken into custody, the arraignment should happen within 48 hours, maximum time, weekends and holidays not included. Anything beyond the scope of that becomes an unlawful detention. If the defendant is not in custody i.e. jail, the arraignment may not happen for several weeks.
At the arraignment, the court appoints a lawyer for the defendant if he/she cannot afford one. The attorney appointed is known as a Public Defender. The court then informs the defendant of his/her charges, reads his/her constitutional rights and asks how such a defendant is pleading to these charges i.e. guilty, not guilty, no contest. If a defendant pleads guilty or no contest, a judge can sentence the defendant right away. Most defendants plead “not guilty” buying time to sort out their defense.
The final part of the arraignment is the court, for defendants who are locked up prior to the arraignment, to entertain arguments from the prosecutor and the defense attorney on whether to release the defendant back into the community on their “own recognizance (O.R).”
For criminal defense practitioners, the lingo used in court is ‘O.R.’ With O.R, we argue to the court that our client is not a flight risk, has roots in the community etc. Basically we paint the beautiful side of the client. A defendant on a murder charge or a long rap sheet (criminal record), especially celebrity clients, may most likely face an uphill battle trying to make a case for release into the community pending trial. Usually, they remain locked up pending trial.
The Court’s options at the Arraignment and after listening to counsels make their arguments:
1. Indeed release the defendant on O.R and have the defendant return on a specific date;
2. Set bail and send back to jail until bail is posted (in murder cases bail is set very high); or
3. Deny bail and send the defendant back to jail pending trial.
The Pistorius case is a sad one. We will wait as the court proceedings proceed to see what the Defendant will claim as a defense to his charge of murder; and to discuss some of the evidence the prosecutors and defense will provide during trial.
NOTE: If you should ever find yourself arrested and accused/charged with a crime, you NEVER speak with the cops until you speak with your lawyer, first. Most Africans here in the USA, especially with the African culture, typically begin talking to the cops, when arrested, without asking to speak with a lawyer. Usually, those statements are used against them in a court of law and for a conviction.
“PRETORIA, South Africa Oscar Pistorius held his head in his hands and wept openly in court Friday as prosecutors said they would pursue a charge of premeditated murder against the Paralympic superstar.
Pistorius was formally charged at Pretoria Magistrates Court with one count of murder for the slaying of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, a model and budding reality TV show contestant. The 30-year-old was shot multiple times and died at Pistorius’ upmarket home early Thursday morning.
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel said Friday in court it was premeditated murder, indicating the prosecution would file that more serious charge, upgraded from murder.
The double-amputee athlete’s arrest and murder charge had already left South Africa stunned after Steenkamp’s death on Valentine’s Day at Pistorius’ house in a gated community in an eastern suburb of South Africa’s capital, Pretoria.
Sky News’ Emma Hurd, reporting for CBS News from Pretoria, said Pistorius’ father tried to comfort his weeping son as the official murder charge was read, and other family members also sobbed in the public gallery. Hurd said South Africa had drafted in its top prosecutors to pursue the case, and Pistorius had hired a high-profile defense team, setting the stage for a real court room drama.
Following the hearing, Pistorius’ family and his London management company issued a statement calling into question the criminal charge the 26-year-old athlete faces.
“The alleged murder is disputed in the strongest terms,” the statement read. The statement did not elaborate.
The statement also said Pistorius wanted to “send his deepest sympathies to the family of Reeva.”
“He would also like to express his thanks through us today for all the messages of support he has received — but as stated our thoughts and prayers today should be for Reeva and her family — regardless of the circumstances of this terrible, terrible tragedy,” the statement read.
Those who knew Pistorius, including a former girlfriend, also weighed in on social media.
Trish Taylor, mother of Pistorius’ ex-girlfriend Samantha Taylor, wrote on Facebook: “I’m so glad Sammy is safe and out of the clutches of that man.”
But another ex-girlfriend, Jenna Edkins, defended Pistorius in messages Friday on Twitter.
“All I am saying is let him speak, let his side be heard without jumping to conclusions,” Edkins wrote. She offered “love and support” to the Pistorius family and wrote: “I have dated Oscar on and off for 5 YEARS, NOT ONCE has he EVER lifted a finger to me or made me fear for my life.”
-CBS has the full story.