Reflections on Serving Jury Duty for a Sexual Assault Case when I was 19 years old.
Amongst the jurors, I was the youngest, but during 4 days of deliberations, I became a senior voice. After we delivered our verdict, what stuck with me — is how scared I’d be to face a jury.
Author’s note: My understanding is that it’s legal to recount my jury experience as there were no confidential materials shared during the proceedings. However, in the interest of protecting the parties and jurors involved, I have obfuscated some details.
Readers should also be aware the case involved a graphic description of the Complainant and Defendant having sex and I will detail what I remember in this article. I think it’s necessary to recount as much detail as possible if I’m going to publicise an honest reflection of my time on the case as a juror. I believe my recollection of the overall case is mostly complete but I would expect exact figures and granular details aren’t precise.
Every case is different and this is only my recount of the case I was involved in. I don’t know the circumstances of other cases and I think it’d be inappropriate to comment on them. The nature of the case and the fact the charges related to sexual assault make this article undoubtedly quite confronting.
I hope readers understand that my intention here is to unveil the typical black-box process that is a jury. I think this is important given the role of juries today and the broader social context they exist in at the moment. To do so, I think I have to reveal the verdict we came to, and in doing so, I think I have to recount as many details to best retell the experience for the reader.
I hope readers understand that my intention here is to record just my experience serving on a jury as a 19 year old and what I think about it today.
This is what it looks like to get paid $1961.88 for 2 months of jury duty. As an unemployed 19 year old in 2016 giving filmmaking a go, these payments were what appealed to me most about jury duty. Since then I haven’t had any engagement with jury duty until a few days ago when an employee asked me to write a letter excusing him from being summoned.
I wrote the letter in probably less than a minute, but since then I’ve been considering my time on jury duty for days. I’m going to chronologically recount the case first, list the evidence that I remember, and then lastly, share what I’ve been thinking about.
The Complainant was a woman, ~28 years old living in Sydney. The Defendant was my age at the time, ~19 years and knew the Complainant through their work in Kings Cross, Sydney.
During a night ~1 year prior to the hearing, the Complainant and Defendant were both single for the first time since they had met. They had developed a friendship over the years that led to the Defendant typically sleeping at the Complainant’s residence after work. They usually finished in the early hours of the morning and the Defendant lived ~1.5 hours from Sydney City.
After their shift ended, they went for drinks at a nightclub including ~3 vodka RedBulls each in ~1 hour. Afterwards, they visited McDonald’s in Kings Cross where CCTV footage showed the Defendant hugging the Complainant from behind. They held this position for ~20 minutes while they waited in line, waited for their food and eventually left.
It was during this time at McDonald’s that they first kissed and would continue to repeatedly kiss while hugging. There were no signs of discomfort and the Complainant turned around to initiate kissing on a few occasions.
The Complainant and Defendant then took a taxi back to the Complainant’s residence. When they arrived, the Defendant followed the Complainant to her room.
The Complainant lived with her Mother and Step-Father in an apartment which I think would be described as “small”. The Complainant’s bedroom was ~1m from the bathroom
From here, she went to have a shower.
Author’s note: From here begins the sexual encounters between the Complainant and Defendant. It’s a detailed recount and it was uncomfortable writing but I think the details are important in this case and I’ve tried to be as accurate as possible for the sake of transparency.
The Complainant recount of what happened in the bathroom varied during the four times she recounted it to different sources. This meant there were four versions. The Defendant only provided one statement, bringing the total count of recounts for what happened in the bathroom to five.
- The Complainant closed the bathroom door, and shortly after, found the Defendant had entered the bathroom and was now naked in front of her. She then promptly left the bathroom and went back into her room, leaving the Defendant in the bathroom.
- The Complainant closed the bathroom door, and shortly after, found the Defendant in the bathroom with her. When she opened the curtains, the Defendant flashed her which prompted her to leave the bathroom.
- The Complainant closed the bathroom door, and shortly after, found the Defendant in the bathroom with her. The Defendant joined her in the shower and began masturbating. This prompted her to leave the bathroom.
- The Complainant closed the bathroom door, and shortly after, found the Defendant in the bathroom with her. The Defendant joined her in the shower and washed her back with soap. They kissed in the shower and the Complainant shortly left to leave the Defendant wash himself.
- The Complainant led the Defendant to the bathroom with her where they showered together, kissed and left together.
When the Complainant arrived back to her bedroom, she put on underwear and a bra and then called her Friend. The Defendant was next to her on the bed while she called her Friend and early into the phone call, he began to finger the Complainant while she continued the phone call.
The phone call lasted two minutes and after it ended, the Defendant moved on top of the Complainant. The Complainant said the Defendant moved her underwear aside so he could have sex with her, while the Defendant said she took off her underwear. They then proceeded to have unprotected sex.
The Complainant said the Defendant was on top and held her wrists down, choked and slapped her and only after he had climaxed, did he get off her. She estimated the entire encounter lasted no more than five minutes. During this, she thought he was bending her wrists “so far back they would snap”.
The Defendant said they had sex for fifteen minutes and during so, had sex in different positions.
After the Defendant had climaxed, the Complainant left the bedroom and locked herself in the bathroom. She tried to phone call the Friend she had previously called but was unable to get through.
The Defendant tried to speak to the Complainant but she was unresponsive to him. He later texted her from her bedroom while she was in the bathroom. His texts were to the effect of this:
- “Hey, I’m not sure what happened there. I’m sorry if I upset you.”
- “Hey, are you okay?”
- “Hey, can you call me a cab? Haha.”
I can’t recall exactly how the Defendant got home but I keep thinking about this idea that the Defendant’s friend picked him up from the Complainant’s apartment.
The next morning, the Complainant’s Ex-Boyfriend noticed she had called him during the night while he was asleep. He returned the Complainant’s missed call and she asked him to come over to talk.
When he arrived, he learnt that the Defendant had sex with the Complainant in a manner that sounded like sexual assault. The Ex-Boyfriend then texted the Defendant the following: “I always knew you were a rapist. You black cunt”.
The Defendant responded with messages to the effect of: “Huh? I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I can’t recall the rest of the messages.
The Ex-Boyfriend was friends with a Detective at a local police station and encouraged the Complainant to report what had happened to his friend. I think they first went for breakfast and afterwards, arrived at the police station to report what had happened.
The Ex-Boyfriend led the conversation and was the first one to describe the incident as a “rape”. He was present during the Complainant’s initial statement and later escorted her with police, to a local hospital for tests where a rape kit was used. Blood tests were taken, along with DNA. She spoke to two separate Doctors where she recounted her incident to them.
The Complainant later returned to the police station where she gave a more detailed statement, again with the Ex-Boyfriend present. After this, it was late afternoon or ~12 hours after the incident had occurred.
After the Defendant left the Complainant’s apartment, he returned home but was only able to have ~2 hours of sleep before having to wake up for his day job as a forklift operator. The Defendant later finished this shift and went back to work in Kings Cross where he again, finished in the early hours of the morning and left for home.
At around 7 AM or, almost 56 hours since the incident had occurred, two police Detectives arrived at the Defendant’s house and asked to speak with him. They brought him to the local police station and questioned him about the event for ~2 hours. This was also when he delivered his first statement without the presence of a lawyer.
I believe at the end of this questioning the Detectives formally charged him with:
- Sexual Intercourse without Consent,
- [Another charge relating to sexual assault — I think it was “Knowing the Complainant was not consenting”],
- Inflicting Grievous Bodily Harm,
- [Another charge relating to physical assault — I think it was “Aggravated assault”].
There were a total of 4 charges brought against the Defendant and it would be ~1 year later until the trial began.
Below is a list of notes that I remember about evidence that was submitted during the trial.
- There were no signs of drugs in the Complainant’s blood but just a strong reading of alcohol.
- The Defendant’s DNA was not on the Complainant’s underwear.
- The Defendant recounted they had sex for 15 minutes in his interview with the Detectives. At the time of this interview he had only slept for 3 hours across 56 hours.
- The time difference between the Complainant’s first call to her Friend and the second call which she made to the Friend after the Defendant had climaxed, was approximately 15 minutes according to the phone logs that were submitted as evidence.
- The Complainant called the Friend once, and then spent the next few hours trying to contact the Ex-Boyfriend. She would try calling him 37 times for the next few hours.
- The Ex-Boyfriend had broken up with the Complainant a day or two before the incident. They had been dating for ~3 years.
- The Complainant’s Step-Father was sleeping in the room next to them during the incident. There was a thin, ~1cm wall separating the bedrooms of the Complainant and the Step-Father.
- The Step-Father was unable to provide testimony as he was in Texas, USA, at the time of the hearing and had been unreachable despite the efforts of Detectives.
- The Mother was not at home during the incident.
- The Complainant had a muscle condition where the muscles in her wrists are significantly weakened and tear easily.
- Both Doctors that examined the Complainant at the hospital, less than 12 hours after the incident, found no signs of bruising, marks or any other indications of physical assault.
- I can’t recall the exact evidence for this — but I remember the general impression was the Ex-Boyfriend “led” the escalation of the case into a formal sexual assault case and that he had to convince the Complainant to agree.
- With each recount the Complainant gave, the story became more “brutal”. The Ex-Boyfriend was present at each recount and often provided “prompts” for the Complainant so she could retell parts of the story.
Not guilty on all charges.
The direction was to charge unless there was reasonable doubt, and with the evidence submitted, the jury found there was reasonable doubt. While it felt like at times it was a “he said, she said” case, there was reasonable doubt created by the evidence. This sense of reasonable doubt was largely caused by:
- The absence of DNA on the Complainant’s underwear,
- The absence of signs of physical assault on the Complainant,
- The failure of the Complainant’s recounts ever matching with each other. Essentially, whenever the Complainant recounted the story, it was a substantially different story.
- The unreliability of the Ex-Boyfriend and the distortion he brought into the recounts.
Author’s note: To clarify, for this case, every element of evidence could be independently explained yet collectively, they assembled reasonable doubt.
Thoughts about the Jury
I’ve told a few friends about this case and remembered a few years ago, one of them followed up with a questionnaire for a legal assignment while she was on exchange. This was my response to her questions but I’ve censored a response because of how many personal details are included about another juror.
The jury was mostly composed of women that were middle-aged, from a range of ethnic backgrounds and then from memory, four males: myself, an early 30s male, a 60+ male, and a 70–80-year-old male.
The deliberations took 4 days and the initial vote by the jurors from memory was ~7 not guilty, 4 guilty. Before deliberations though, I had already begun to become fearful of ever facing a jury:
- Towards the end of the trial and before deliberations, a female juror was reading a local paper about an “ice epidemic” in a Sydney region. She then exclaimed “this is why he did it — he was on ice”. I was facing opposite her and was struck with this baseless accusation against the Defendant. I think this was the turning point when I become more vocal amongst the jurors after realising how unfocused some of them could be.
- The elderly man on the jury was sitting in front of me, almost diagonally. I couldn’t tell but it seemed he was near asleep for most of the trial. During the first vote amongst the jurors, we had to explain our reasoning for choosing guilty or not-guilty. He chose guilty and his reasoning was “why else would he be here?”.
- Some of the women on the jury at times reasoned the Defendant was guilty because “you know how men can be”.
- The jury regularly discussed how monotonous the Prosecutor was. His opening statement went on for ~3 hours and even though it was the first time we were hearing about the trial, I have to admit, even I found it difficult to remain focused because of how poorly he spoke.
- The jury also spoke about the contrast between the Prosecutor and the Defendant’s Barrister and they were certainly polar opposites in demeanour. The Barrister was charismatic, engaging and I couldn’t help but be reminded of my last English teacher in high school (incidentally, that teacher also used to be a barrister) whom I had a friendly relationship with. I privately recognised the bias here quickly during the trial but I’m unsure how effective I was in countering it.
- The trial began with the Prosecutor’s argument, and the Barrister’s defence. This meant for ~3 weeks, we heard the Complainant’s story and even though we had only heard one side, I couldn’t help but at times think this was going to lead to a guilty conviction. However, when the defence began, other jurors were surprised at how they thought we were heading to a guilty verdict but that this sense was changing as more evidence was being submitted during the defence.
- Lastly, and what seems to be the most impressionable in my memories was how different the Complainant and Defendant’s friends and family were during the trial. Specifically — no one was with the Complainant besides the leading Detective for the entire trial. Not even the Friend or Ex-Boyfriend. They both provided testimony early in the trial but never attended the trial afterwards. The Defendant however had his family and friends with him throughout the entire trial and the contrast was striking to note. The jury suspected the Complainant came from a broken home given the Mother and Step-Father were nowhere to be seen.
In retrospect I still believe we made the right verdict. The question wasn’t whether the Defendant committed the act, but whether there was reasonable doubt and I believe there was.
The jurors, including myself, speculated that the “story” was that the Complainant had drunk sex with the Defendant and afterwards, realised she had gravely wounded her chances of re-coupling with the Ex-Boyfriend. It was then the Ex-Boyfriend that escalated the story into a sexual assault case.
I should note, this was a theory that was started and repeatedly suggested by most of the women on the jury. The feeling of having to disclose the genders of the jurors is interesting and I think speaks to the climate in the aftermath of #MeToo. Theoretically all jurors should be impartial but realistically this is impossible and I think from my reflections, I’ve shown elements of bias that may have affected my thinking.
Whenever I recount this case, I’m struck by the polarisation of responses.
Men seem to unanimously empathise with the Defendant and the circumstances. I think there’s an unspoken reality here which is how delicate circumstances can be during sex. I know of someone that during school, was charged for having sex with a 15 year old while he was 16. They were both in the same year but the girl was a year young for her age. I know of another person that was told his girlfriend was raped when she was younger, but later she admitted to fabricating the story for his attention.
I remember during Schoolies, a guy I knew dumped his girlfriend on the first day and on the second day, the ex-girlfriend called him to say she had been raped by a mutual friend. The mutual friend was forced to hide in his hotel room for much of the trip because of how fearful he was to be called a “rapist”. Sadly, the ex-girlfriend later admitted to fabricating the story just so the ex-boyfriend would return to her.
These are also far more stories that friends have confidentially revealed to me about them being wrongly accused and to later have the accusation dropped. I won’t detail these but I find these stories to be more intense than the aforementioned. I also suspect most guys personally know of someone that has been once wrongly accused or labeled as a perpetrator of sexual assault.
On the otherhand, women that have heard the case, appear to be split in their responses. Many in the legal profession are quick to point out the function of a defence is to dislodge certainty and create any amount of doubt in the prosecution’s case. Others have sympathised with the Complainant, explaining the noise around the case and how disorientating it is to provide evidence after being a victim of sexual assault.
There are other women though that sympathise with the Defendant, noting how they “understand” how the Complainant would’ve reacted given the Ex-Boyfriend had broken up with her. I find this note to be most interesting because it essentially splits the reactions of women to either:
- “The defence is supposed to dismember the prosecution’s case and it sounds like the Barrister successfully accomplished that”,
- “She [the Complainant] sounded heartbroken. I can understand how she reacted like that.”
Whereas most males seem to just sympathise with the Defendant because they “understand how that could’ve happened”.
I see myself as pretty open-minded, empathetic and intelligent enough to consider the world from different perspectives, but over the past few years I’ve come to realise how disconnected I can be from some perspectives.
I can’t help but think while the verdict rested on the evidence submitted, the jurors and others that have reacted to the case, are using their own sexual experiences as the basis for what is appropriate and what isn’t. I can’t help but think simple, yet crude questions about virginity and the promiscuity would alter provide cruical insight into what someone could understand about the case. I’ve also noted the people that have heard of the case and have been sadly, victims of sexual assault themselves, which they often later disclosed after hearing about the case, are understandably, the most vocal against the verdict.
Ultimately, I’ve found most people responding to the case to be immediately critical and failing to be impartial until all the evidence was heard.
In the end, I’m still not sure what to make of this. As I said, I think we made the right verdict but I think I’m wondering about a more fundamental question — should the jury have even been there. How impartial can a jury be in a case like this? How impartial were you when you read the recount?
Author’s note: I’ve received substantial feedback from this article since publishing. Readers are welcome to send notes and criticism to firstname.lastname@example.org.