Winston’s Florida State conduct hearing will go forward on Tuesday

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston's disciplinary started on Tuesday. 

Melina Vastola/Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — An attorney for Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston said Tuesday morning that a code-of-conduct hearing is "going forward" into a rape allegation lodged against the Florida Statequarterback almost two years ago.

Attorney David Cornwell, who is advising Winston in the case, told FOX Sports in an e-mail that he has no plans to take court action to block the hearing, which is scheduled to start behind closed doors at noon EST.

"We will appear," he wrote, "and compel (Winston’s accuser) and her opportunistic lawyers to confront her multiple lies. The hearing is going forward."

John Clune, an attorney for the woman who alleged that quarterback raped her, called it “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 said. “Neither Jameis Winston nor his lawyer can stop what is coming.”

Winston was not charged with a crime in the incident, which occurred at his off-campus apartment early the morning of Dec. 7, 2012, and which his attorneys have asserted was a consensual sexual encounter.

A retired Florida Supreme Court justice will preside at the hearing and has the task of determining whether Winston violated the university’s student code of conduct.


The retired justice, Major Harding, agreed to conduct the hearing at the request of Florida State administrators. He is expected to take testimony from witnesses and consider voluminous records in the case before determining whether Winston violated student conduct rules.

A ruling is expected later in December.

Even as the investigation of Winston has been under way, Florida State itself has been the subject of an ongoing federal investigation into its handling of the allegation against the quarterback, who has the 12-0Seminoles headed to Saturday’s Atlantic Coast Conference championship game. That investigation is being conducted under the gender equity law known as Title IX, which requires colleges and universities that receive federal money to promptly investigate allegations of sexual assault.

Harding was brought in as an independent, outside arbiter in the highly charged case.

If Harding concludes that Winston violated school rules against sexual misconduct or endangerment, the repercussions could be as severe as suspension or expulsion from Florida State.

Florida State is currently ranked No. 3 in the race for one of four spots in the college football playoff, which begins Jan. 1 and concludes with the national championship game Jan. 12.

The rape allegation was investigated and then shelved by Tallahassee police in early 2013 amid assertions that the woman was uncooperative — something her attorneys have disputed. State Attorney Willie Meggs revived the case in November 2013 after his office learned of the woman’s allegations — and his investigation was carried out as Winston was marching the Seminoles to an undefeated season and the team’s first national championship since 1999. Along the way, he won the Heisman.


By then, Meggs had concluded that there was not enough evidence to file criminal charges.

Title IX, however, requires that schools investigate alleged sexual assaults irrespective of whether criminal charges are filed — and that led school administrators to attempt to interview Winston last January and then to interview the woman in August. Following that investigation, school administrators notified Winston 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."

Harding is expected to seek testimony from both the woman and from Winston, each of whom can have one adviser present during the hearing. While each would be allowed to consult the adviser, they will have to answer any questions they choose to. Either has the right not to answer questions at the hearing.

Harding also is expected to 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 ultimately decide 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.

In addition to Winston and the woman, others expected to testify could include two other Florida State players — defensive end Chris Casher and defensive back Ronald Darby.

The two players signed sworn affidavits in which they said they watched a portion of the sexual encounter and that it appeared to be consensual. Casher additionally told investigators that he filmed a portion of the encounter on his cell phone but later erased the images.

Both were charged with violations of Florida State’s student conduct code — but only Casher was found to have broken rules. He was placed on disciplinary probation for one year.

Winston and the woman have the right to appeal any decision made by Harding.

For Winston, the prospect of a hearing poses problems on multiple fronts. In addition to the fact that Harding would 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.

The statute of limitations for sexual assault is five years — meaning that criminal charges could still be filed. And Meggs has said that he would consider reopening the case if significant new information came to light.

Next Sunday would mark two years since the alleged assault.

That evening began when the woman and several friends went to Potbelly’s, a popular Tallahassee night spot. She later told investigators that she consumed several drinks and that someone she did not know bought her a shot.

After drinking that shot, the woman told police, she ended up in a cab with three men and found herself at an apartment, where she said she was raped — first in a bedroom and then in a bathroom. After the incident, the woman said her attacker put her on a scooter and drove her back to the Florida State campus.

She called a friend, then the campus police department. Florida State officers concluded the assault occurred off-campus and turned the case over to Tallahassee police.

The woman told officers she did not know her attacker.

A little more than a month later, after the spring term began at Florida State, the woman called police and said she’s seen her assailant in a class and listened for his name when the professor called roll. She gave the detective Winston’s name.

At that point, Winston was a highly prized two-sport recruit, but he had yet to throw a football or baseball in competition for Florida State.

The initial investigation was fraught with problems — detectives failed to visit Potbelly’s to examine surveillance camera footage, attempt to identify others who were at the bar despite the woman identifying one person there as a freshman football player named "Chris," and had no luck finding the cab driver who gave the woman a ride.

Tallahassee police closed down the investigation, contending the woman was uncooperative — an assertion her attorneys have repeatedly challenged.

In November 2013, after a reporter asked about the case, Tallahassee police turned reports in the case over to Florida State’s campus police chief, who in turn forwarded them to a senior official in the athletic department. Four days later, Tallahassee police notified Meggs’ office of the existence of the case, and he launched a new investigation.

Laboratory tests found Winston’s DNA on the woman’s clothing.

In the end, Meggs concluded the evidence was not strong enough to support criminal charges. He based that decision, in part, on problems presented by gaps in the woman’s memory. Meggs said he believed it was possible the woman had been slipped a so-called "date rape" drug, perhaps in the shot. But a blood test administered roughly six hours after the alleged assault failed to identify the presence of any drugs, although such substances can be hard to detect even a few hours after they are ingested.

That test did show that the woman had a blood-alcohol level of .048, more than twice the level at which a motorist under age 21 can lose his or her driver’s license in Florida.