Monday, April 14, 2014
Those following the high profile South African murder prosecution of Oscar Pistorius, likely noticed that the trial includes proof of a number of instances of gun violence unrelated to the charged murder. Apparently this evidence is admissible to prove other charges that have been joined with the more prominent charge that Pistorius intentionally shot his girlfriend (rather than accidentally mistaking her for an intruder as he claims).
As explained in the New York Times,
“Apart from the murder charge, Mr. Pistorius also faces charges related to firearms possession, and on Thursday the prosecution sought to portray him as a trigger-happy gun enthusiast whose loaded weapon was never far away, even when he was swimming. In one case, he is accused of shooting a gun out of the open sunroof of a car. In another, he is accused of firing a handgun in a busy restaurant when children were nearby.”
I am no expert on South African law, but assuming South Africa, like the US (see Fed. R. Evid. 404), bars character inferences (e.g., evidence intended to show that Pistorius was “trigger happy” or violent offered to prove he is the kind of person who would, in a fit of rage, kill his girlfriend), the joinder of these “firearms possession” charges is an important piece of the trial – as it invites the (non-jury) factfinders to draw character inferences that would be unavailable had the murder charge been tried alone.