TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The student code of conduct hearing involving Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston began Tuesday, approximately two years after a female student said he sexually assaulted her in December 2012.
Before the Heisman Trophy winner and his Seminoles teammates play Georgia Tech on Saturday at Charlotte, North Carolina, in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game, Winston is participating in the university hearing to determine whether he violated any or all of possibly four sections of the code of conduct — two for sexual misconduct and two for endangerment.
The hearing before a former Florida Supreme Court chief justice is closed to the public and media.
Winston was not arrested and Florida State attorney general Willie Meggs declined to file charges last December, citing a lack of evidence.
The Associated Press does not identify people who say they are victims of sexual abuse.
John Clune, the woman’s attorney, issued a statement as the hearing began saying “this is the day that Mr. Winston has been desperately trying to avoid for two years.”
“This courageous young woman finally gets the chance to stand up for herself and against Mr. Winston and big time college sports which has long run over the rights and protection of women on campus,” Clune wrote. “Neither Jameis Winston nor his lawyer can stop what is coming.”
Attorney David Cornwell, the Winston family adviser, told reporters outside the hearing that the woman is lying about what happened, saying the sexual encounter was consensual.
“Unfortunately, in these type of cases the only way to confront the lie is with the truth,” Cornwell said. “Jameis will tell the truth today and we are confident that Justice (Major) Harding when he hears her multiple lies and Jameis’ truth will find as every other entity to this point, that she is lying.”
The following are answers to questions about the hearing:
Q. WHO ARE THE PARTIES INVOLVED?
A. Jameis Winston: The redshirt sophomore is the quarterback of the football team and won the Heisman Trophy in 2013, given to the top player in college football, as he led the Seminoles to a national championship. The complainant: A former student that left Florida State in 2013. She originally hired Tampa-area lawyer Patricia Carroll, but later retained lawyers from the Colorado-based firm Hutchinson Black and Cook LLC.
The attorneys: Cornwell, the Winston family adviser, is known for representing famous athletes. He has represented Winston during the code of conduct procedure. Clune and Baine Kerr are from the Colorado-based firm representing the woman.
The judge: Major Harding is a former Florida Supreme Court Justice that will preside over the hearing. He was a justice from 1991-2002 and was Chief Justice from July 1998 to June 2000.
Q. WHAT ARE POSSIBLE SANCTIONS WINSTON FACES?
A. Winston could face sanctions ranging from a written or verbal reprimand, to probation that could include being removed from the football team for the ACC title game and/or the national championship contest, to expulsion from the university if found in violation of the student code of conduct.
Q. WHEN SHOULD A RULING BE EXPECTED?
A. Rules specify a formal decision letter must be sent to Winston within 10 class days after the hearing ends. That time limit could be extended “if additional consideration of evidence and deliberation is required,” FSU spokeswoman Browning Brooks previously explained to the AP in an email.
Q. HOW DID WE GET HERE?
A. The action that led to the Florida State hearing occurred in August. That’s when the university says the woman was first made available for an interview with the school (Aug. 6, 2014). The woman’s lawyers have maintained she was willing to talk throughout the process.
Florida State has said the only people aware of the incident before January 2013 were Tallahassee police, campus police and the Victims Advocate Program. The university said its Title IX officials didn’t become aware of the incident until November 2013, when contacted by the Tallahassee Police Department. In December 2013, after a police investigation, Meggs declined to bring charges against Winston.
The university said because the Victims Advocate Program continued to have “confidential interactions” with the woman for months, it was “duty-bound not to share any of the information with FSU Title IX officials.”
Q. HOW WILL THE PROCEDURE BE CONDUCTED?
A. The hearing begins Tuesday and is expected to be held somewhere on Florida State’s campus. Winston, the woman, one representative for each, Harding and a university facilitator from the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities can be in the room. Winston and/or the woman can request to be held in separate rooms. Both Winston and the woman will have the opportunity to give an opening statement if they choose, but it is not required.
The university will call any witnesses first and the judge questions the university witnesses. All parties will be allowed to cross-examine a witness that is called. The complainant can then call witnesses and finally the student facing charges.
Additional evidence can be introduced during the hearing. Winston cannot be forced to answer questions if he so chooses. Winston and the woman both have the opportunity to give closing remarks, though it is not required. There is no time limit for each part, or the hearing as a whole.
Q. HOW IS THE HEARING DIFFERENT FROM A CRIMINAL PROCEDURE?
A. Tampa-based attorney Kristin Melton, who has experience in NCAA legal cases, says: “The standards for finding that there’s a student conduct code violation are a lot less than the standards of proceeding forward with a criminal case.” The burden of proof must be beyond a reasonable doubt in criminal court. In code of conduct hearings, it’s just more weight to one side or another.
“Anything above 50 (percent) means you’ve met that burden,” Melton said. “In criminal court, a lot of times, beyond a reasonable doubt has been assigned a number of 98 or 99 percent certainty. In these types of situations, there’s not that high of a level of a burden of proof.”
There are no formal rules of evidence in a code of conduct hearing that governs hearsay or other items that could raise an objection in criminal court. Witness statements can be delivered in writing at the code of conduct hearing. That does allow the opportunity to cross-examine the witness.
Q. CAN EITHER SIDE APPEAL?
A. Both parties have an opportunity to request an appeal within five days of the initial hearing decision. An appeal is heard by an appellate officer designated by the Vice President of Student Affairs.
The appellate officer can make a decision solely on a file review, but may request additional written materials or hold a hearing to gather more information. The hearing would focus specifically on the grounds of the appeal.
If a hearing is required for the appeal, it must be scheduled within 10 days of the request for an appeal, barring schedule conflicts. The final decision must be communicated to the parties within 15 class days of the appellate hearing. More time can be requested by the officer if needed.