Prosecutors appeal Oscar Pistorius judgment, sentence

Story highlights

Verdict can be changed only if a court rules the judge misapplied law, CNN legal analyst says

Pistorius was sentenced to five years in prison last month

The track star was found guilty of culpable homicide

The prosecution says Pistorius' sentence is "shockingly light"

Johannesburg CNN  — 

South African prosecutors have appealed Oscar Pistorius’ verdict and sentence, hoping to convict him of a more serious charge or make him serve more time in the 2013 shooting death of his girlfriend.

The appeal paperwork has been filed, National Prosecuting Authority spokesman Nathi Mncube said Tuesday.

A judge sentenced Pistorius to five years in prison on October 21 after finding the double-amputee track star guilty of culpable homicide, or negligent killing, in the death of Reeva Steenkamp. Prosecutors originally took Pistorius to trial on a murder charge.

In the appeal documents, the prosecution calls Pistorius’ sentence “shockingly light” and inappropriate.

A court hearing will be held on the matter, but no date has been set. The process could take six months, CNN legal analyst Kelly Phelps said.

Pistorius acknowledged shooting Steenkamp in February 2013. Prosecutors said he wanted to kill her; Pistorius said he mistook her for an intruder and her killing was a tragic accident.

Prosecutors are arguing that Judge Thokozile Masipa misinterpreted a complex South African standard defining a technical form of intent that proved to be a central aspect of the case, according to Phelps.

As a result, prosecutors argue, he should not have been convicted on the culpable homicide charge chosen by the judge.

In explaining her sentence, Masipa concluded that Pistorius did not intend to kill Steenkamp.

But critics of the verdict have argued that Masipa didn’t correctly apply the intent standard, which is broader in South African law than what it typically means in casual conversation, Phelps said.

In their appeal of the sentence, prosecutors would have to prove the five years given by Masipa is inappropriate in light of sentencing guidelines and similar cases, according to Phelps. Prosecutor Gerrie Nel called for a minimum sentence of 10 years.

If an appeals court finds that the sentence is inappropriate, the court could set it aside and issue a new one. But appeals courts in South Africa are reluctant to get involved in sentencing decisions, Phelps said.

Under South African law, Pistorius will have to serve at least one-sixth of his sentence before asking to be placed under correctional supervision. Correctional supervision usually means house arrest.

CNN’s Brent Swails reported from Johannesburg. CNN’s Michael Pearson and Jason Hanna reported and wrote in Atlanta.