A hearing to determine whether Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston violated Florida State University rules the night he was accused of rape has been delayed two weeks, FOX Sports has learned.
The hearing had originally been scheduled for next week, but an attorney advising Winston asked for a delay in the proceedings and it was granted by the retired Florida Supreme Court judge who was brought in to hear the case.
Major Harding, the former judge, pushed it back to Dec. 1 after a conference call Wednesday afternoon with representatives of both Winston and the woman who alleged that he raped her in December 2012, according to a source familiar with the case.
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The decision to push back the hearing means that it won’t occur until after the Seminoles conclude their regular season Nov. 29. And it’s possible that he won’t render a decision until after the national championship game on Jan. 12 – although for that to happen would require a number of things to occur.
Once the hearing concludes, Harding can take up to 10 school days to make a determination – a fact that might mean it’s not settled until after the football team plays the Dec. 6 ACC championship game. It’s also at least theoretically possible that Harding’s decision could be delayed until after the national championship game more than a month later. For that to happen, the hearing would have to conclude on Dec. 5 – or later. Because classes end for the semester on Dec. 12 and don’t begin again until Jan. 7, if Harding took the full 10 class days to render a ruling it wouldn’t come until Jan. 13.
It’s not clear how likely that scenario is. Florida State has three more games on its regular-season schedule –Saturday at Miami, Nov. 22 at home against Boston College and Nov. 29 at home against Florida.
Winston was not charged with a crime in the incident, and his lawyers have asserted publicly that he and the woman had a consensual sexual encounter.
If Winston were to be found responsible for a serious violation of Florida State’s student conduct code, such as sexual misconduct, he could face a sanction ranging from a reprimand up to expulsion from the university.
Harding agreed to conduct the hearing at the request of Florida State officials, who concluded that the case should be handled by an independent, outside arbiter. Harding is expected to take testimony and examine evidence to determine whether Winston violated Florida State student conduct rules against sexual misconduct and endangerment in the alleged incident, which occurred Dec. 7, 2012.
Florida State officials did not respond to a request for comment.
An attorney working with Winston, David Cornwell, requested a delay in the hearing last week.
The hearing comes as Winston has quarterbacked the Seminoles to a 9-0 record, a No. 3 ranking in the playoff poll and – at least at this point – a good chance to make it into the new four-team playoff for the national championship. In 2013, he led Florida State to an undefeated season, won the Heisman Trophy and quarterbacked the team to its first national title since 1999.
More than 23 months have passed since the incident in which a woman reported to police that after she’d gone out drinking with friends at a Tallahassee nightclub she ended up in a cab with several people and was taken to an apartment, where she alleged she was raped.
When she made her initial report, she told officers she did not know her attacker. Then, about five weeks later, she was in a class when she saw the man, waiting for a professor to call his name, wrote it down and then notified a Tallahassee police detective.
She identified the man as Winston. The woman later withdrew from Florida State.
Winston was notified in October that he faces four potential violations of the Florida State student code of conduct:
— Sexual misconduct – defined as “any sexual act that occurs without the consent of the victim, or that occurs when the victim is unable to give consent.”
— Sexual misconduct – defined as “conduct of a sexual nature that creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment for another person. This includes unwanted, unwelcome, inappropriate, or irrelevant sexual or gender-based behaviors, actions or comments.”
— Endangerment – defined as “physical violence towards another person or group.”
— Endangerment – defined as “action(s) that endanger the health, safety, or well-being of another person or group.”
Florida State administrators, who are facing a federal investigation over their handling of the allegations against Winston, earlier had announced they were going to send the case to an independent, outside arbiter to determine whether rules were violated and, if so, what the sanctions should include.
Harding is expected to seek testimony from both the woman and from Winston, each of whom is allowed to have one adviser present during the hearing. While each will be allowed to consult the adviser, it will be up to Winston and the accuser to actually answer questions.
The arbiter can also consider the voluminous documents associated with the incident – hundreds of pages of reports generated by Tallahassee police and the state attorney in their investigations as well as other records.
Harding will be tasked with deciding whether Winston violated any of the school conduct rules using a standard that is much lower than that used in criminal courts – “preponderance of evidence.” That burden is generally described as enough evidence to tip the balance one way or another – to determine that it is more likely or less likely, in this instance, that sexual misconduct or endangerment occurred.
Both Winston and the woman have the right to appeal any decision Harding makes.
For Winston, the hearing poses problems on multiple fronts. In addition to the fact that Harding will be bound by a lower standard of proof than is used in criminal courts, testimony and evidence from the hearing could be used to revive the criminal case.
Although State Attorney Willie Meggs concluded last December that there was not enough evidence to file criminal charges, new information could lead to a reopening of the investigation.