What next in the Blake Ferguson saga: an explanation of the legal steps

I have long been bothered by the rampant disinformation about matters of law sprouted by the sports journalists of this country when a player gets into trouble. To make matters a bit clearer for fans I thought I would commit to writing what the process is from here, as I see it, for Blake Ferguson.

Let’s start, obviously, with the charge: Ferguson has been charged with, as far as I can glean, one count of indecent assault. I have no knowledge of the facts leading to the charge and make no comment about them. What follows is a generic explanation of the next steps based on my experience and a little confirming research.

Obviously, though rarely it seems reported in cases involving sportsmen, every defendant charged with a criminal offence in this country is considered to be innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt. This is a immutable right that every individual in Australia has and which is enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which has been ratified by Australia.

Most reports make much about the fact that there is another Court date coming up for Ferguson in July. If you are a watcher of American legal dramas you may have cause to think that this will be when the trial occurs. Sadly, justice does not operate that quickly in Australia or, frankly, in an 1st world jurisdiction.

Assuming Ferguson pleads not guilty the process between now and a trial could take anywhere up to twelve months or more. This is because, in part, in Australia for offences such as that which Ferguson is charged with it is necessary for the parties to go through a committal hearing which is a hearing before the Local Court at which the prosecution must place before a magistrate its evidence to determine whether there is sufficient evidence upon which the defendant may be convicted at a trial.

The period between the charge and the committal hearing is punctuated with mentions of the matter before a magistrate that deals with matters such as the continuance of the defendants bail and the provision of the evidence upon which the prosecution wishes to rely at the committal and later at trial.

At the committal hearing the magistrate can decide whether the matter proceeds to a trial before, in the case of an indecent assault charge before a District Court judge or to dismiss the charges. If the matter proceeds to a trial that will be another delay for another series of mentions that will again go to the question of bail, the evidence that both sides want to put at trial and any legal questions the parties have. All of this takes time and thus a swift resolution to this matter should a not guilty plea be made is unlikely.

It is, of course possible for negotiations about charges to occur before a committal and before a trial. Following negotiations between the prosecution and defence, in some cases the accused may agree to plead guilty to a lesser charge e.g. assault occasioning actual bodily harm becomes assault, or to the same charge but with the facts changed in some respect.

All in all this is a long and drawn out process, in the case of a not guilty plea at least. A swift resolution could only come from negotiation between the parties, if the complainant withdrew her complaint or upon a guilty plea. I, for one, will be watching with interest the next steps the parties take.