The futures of footballers Jack de Belin and Callan Sinclair remain uncertain after a jury acquitted them both of one charge of aggravated sexual assault against a woman in a Wollongong unit in December 2018, but was not able to reach a verdict on remaining charges.
Mr de Belin, who plays for NRL club St George Illawarra, and Callan Sinclair, who plays for the Shellharbour Sharks, have been on trial in the Downing Centre District Court over allegations of sexually assaulting a woman in the bedroom of Mr de Belin’s cousin in December 2018, when the cousin wasn’t home.
Both men pleaded not guilty to six counts each of aggravated sexual assault, maintaining their encounter with the woman was a consensual threesome.
It was the second trial after another last year ended in a hung jury.
The judge has stood the case over until later this month, for the prosecution to consider whether to try the matter for a third time.
During the trial, the complainant testified that Mr De Belin pushed her to the bed, removed her clothing and started having sexual intercourse with her, despite her saying ‘no’. She told the court the men didn’t listen to her, and that she was crying while they were taking turns having sexual intercourse with her and cheering each other on.
She also gave evidence that she was ‘just going dead and numb inside.’
However, upon considering the evidence, the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict and, after being told by the Judge to listen to take their time and listen to one another (which is known as a ‘Black Direction’) they were directed they could reach a majority verdict.
For state offences in New South Wales, the court has discretion under Section 55F of the Jury Act to allow for ‘majority verdicts’ in criminal trials if the jury is still unable to reach a unanimous verdict after being given a Black Direction.
That section provides that:
- Where a unanimous verdict has not been reached after the jurors have deliberated for a period of at least 8 hours, and
- The court considers that reasonable time has been given considering the nature and complexity of the case, and
- The court is satisfied after questioning one or more of the jurors on oath that it is unlikely a unanimous verdict will be reached,
- a ‘majority verdict’ may be agreed upon by 11 jurors where the jury consists of 12 persons, or by 10 jurors where the jury consists of 11 persons.
Judges tend to be reluctant to dismiss juries, because a retrial can be disruptive and emotionally stressful for all involved, and often if given more time to deliberate and discuss issues, juries can reach a conclusion.
It is also important that jury members don’t feel pressured to change their mind. They each have a responsibility to consider the evidence from their own perspective and form their own conclusions, and while they are encouraged to listen to each other’s opinions and ideas, they should not be forced to change their individual stance if they cannot agree.
However, in this case, the jury was not even able to reach a majority verdict.
NRL suspension remains
For now, Jack de Belin remains in limbo with his NRL career too. He was suspended by his club St George under the NRL’s ‘no fault stand down’ policy, which facilitates the automatic suspension of players accused of criminal offences that carry a term of imprisonment of 11 years or more.
Under the policy, affected players are entitled to full pay and are permitted to train with until their cases are heard, and the amount of their pay is not counted towards their club’s salary cap.
Mr De Belin has always vehemently denied the charges. A decision on how the case will proceed from here will be made on May 28.