Score one for the "Blade Runner." In a somewhat rare occasion, Oscar Pistorius was granted bail in his South African murder prosecution after his defense attorney proved "exceptional circumstances" necessary to allow the Chief Magistrate in the case to release Pistorius from custody.
According to reports, the Chief Magistrate found that the prosecution failed to show Pistorius has a propensity towards violence or that he is flight risk. This is a good call: bail is not meant to be punitive; it is meant to protect the general public and insure that the accused will be present and subject to the court's jurisdiction.
Pistorius, a double-amputee and Olympic athlete, took the world by storm with his "beat-the-odds" mentality and uber-optimistic approach to life. These are undeniably traits that Pistorius will need to exercise to his full advantage in the upcoming months.
So What's Next?
Pistorius will face charges of premeditated murder in one of South Africa's regional magistrate (lower) courts, or more likely South Africa's high court, which often handles the country's high-profile prosecutions.
Regardless of which court the trial takes place in, the American public will see first-hand one of the major differences between the South African criminal justice system and the system based on the United States constitution. In South Africa, Pistorius is not guaranteed a jury trial.
As a criminal defense attorney, you never attempt to push a case to jury trial. Still, it is comforting to know that, given the appropriate facts, you have the option of putting your client's fate in the hands of competent citizens and their collective common sense.
However, in the instant case Pistorius will have to plead his defense to a magistrate or judge, effectively taking away the protections of a unanimous verdict that we in the United States so often take for granted.
Plea bargaining. This case has too many dynamics that simply can't be left to chance. Even if Pistorius is acquitted of the murder charge, he could still be found guilty of negligence-based homicide if the trial judge decides that Pistorius's decision to fire four shots through a closed door (without knowing what was on the other side) was unreasonable. There is too much exposure at risk not to proactively bargain for some middle ground.
As such, watch for Pistorius's defense team to ramp its damage control up to warp speed to negate some of the perceived culpability. This is already evident by the news that Pistorius held his own private memorial service for Steenkamp and has hired a media firm to revamp his website and handle his public statements. Looking forward, expect even more commentary regarding Pistorius's disability in relation to a perceived home-invasion, and the effect it may or may not have had on his quick-trigger.
However, if a plea agreement is reached, it probably won't be for some time. Pistorius is no longer in custody, and he probably isn't in any hurry to go back. Bootstrap that with the presumption that the prosecution's first offer will more than likely include some incarceration time, and there is plenty of negotiation left to be had.
Consequently, both the defense and the prosecution will need adequate time to assess the strengths and weakness of their respective cases. Truth be told, the majority of the facts seem to be undisputed, outside of Pistorius's mental state at the time of the shooting.
Still, the criminal defense attorney for Pistorius has a few aces in his hand: the shoddy nature in which the investigation was conducted (by a lead investigator who currently faces attempted murder charges himself), the lack of a motive on the part of Pistorius, and the home-invasion defense.
Regardless, a criminal trial is often times a game of chance, and in this case the pot is too big to wing-it. Pistorius could receive a life-sentence if convicted.