Oscar Pistorius also known as “Blade Runner” because of his accomplishments as the first double leg amputee to participate in the Summer Olympics, was charged with the premeditated murder of Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day this year. His daily court appearances before a South African magistrate displayed the emotional impact and toll to all parties involved, including a stunned following who celebrated the determined athlete during the Olympics. Yet, just as stunned were the fans who embraced his reality show girlfriend for her beauty and charm.
South Africa and the United States have two different justice systems, yet when the chief magistrate granted Pistorius bail of 1 million rand or $113,000 in US Dollars, the decision showed a fundamental value that many countries hold regarding bail. The magistrate said Pistorius also must hand over his passports and turn in any other guns that he owns. Pistorius cannot leave the district of Pretoria without the permission of his probation officer. Nor can he take drugs or drink alcohol.
South Africa’s court system takes root in Roman-Dutch law. Defendants have no option of a jury trial, which is common in the United States and other countries. A single judge hears the entire case and then rules on a person’s guilt or innocence. The judge can be assisted by two advisers who can offer assistance in viewing the more technical aspects of the evidence during the trial. If found guilty, a person can later appeal the ruling or sentence. South Africa abolished the jury system in the 1930s because of racial politics. Only white people were allowed to sit on juries and there was no hope of black defendants being given a fair trial.
In the U.S., the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution, much like the English Habeas Corpus Act of 1679, requires that a suspect must “be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation.” This allows a suspect to demand bail if accused of a bailable offense. Bail laws vary somewhat from state to state, but generally, a person charged with a non-capital crime is presumptively entitled to be granted bail. Some states have enacted statutes modeled on federal law that permit pretrial detention of people charged with serious violent offenses, if it can be demonstrated that the defendant is a flight risk or a danger to the community.
For all the sensationalism the “Blade Runner” case has generated, and no doubt will continue to generate, it must not be forgotten bail is a highly sought prize not only in court cases in the United States, but around the world. The pre-bail experience can be troublesome to anyone. No matter who the accused is, there is a constant need for a support system through legal assistance and a qualified bondsman. This is especially true in the U.S. where bail bondsmen have worked for years to professionally serve and deliver for their clients.
Whatever we take away from the “Blade Runner” case, we should realize the court system can be a lonely place for the famous and unknown. We should remember legal proceedings are hardly a big show, much less in a heart-wrenching case.