Retired Supreme Court Justice Major Harding wrote in a letter to Florida State University quarterback Jameis Winston’s attorney Sunday that Winston was cleared of all code of conduct allegations against him. In Justice Harding’s letter it was cited that, “[i]n sum, the preponderance of the evidence has not shown that you (Winston) are responsible for any of the charge violations of the Code.” For a little over the past year Jameis Winston has been the focus of an alleged sexual assault against a former FSU student after the two left together from local bar Potbelly’s. In spite of Leon County State Attorney Willie Meggs declining to file criminal charges against Winston, FSU went forward with their own Title IX investigation, electing to allow the option of one of three retired Florida Supreme Court Justices to sit as the finder of fact. In using this process, both Winston’s attorney and the accuser’s attorney could veto one of the three judges each. After the vetoes were made from both parties the ultimate selection was Justice Major Harding, a man without ties to Florida State. Justice Harding is a distinguished and respected jurist having sat on the Florida Supreme Court from 1991 to 2002, with two years of his tenure as Chief Justice.
In Winston’s code of conduct review, the threshold allegation was whether it could be proven by a preponderance of evidence that Jameis Winston violated Florida State University Student Conduct Code 6C2R-3.004(1)(e)1 for an allegation of sexual misconduct. “Preponderance of the evidence” under Florida State University code, means that the evidence, as a whole, shows that the fact sought to be proved is more probable than not. 6C2R-3.004(1)(d)8. In other words, if Winston’s accuser could have shown by just a tip of the scale or by 50.1% of the evidence, that Winston violated the code of conduct, he would have been found to be in violation and could have faced expulsion from the institution. Unlike the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard in a criminal case, preponderance of the evidence is a considerably easier standard to meet for the party that bears the burden of proof. As a Tampa criminal attorney when I defend someone accused of a crime, I have the benefit of defending an individual to a standard that in order for them to be convicted, the State must show there is no other reasonable explanation for what occurred than the specific facts they allege. When one thinks of beyond a reasonable doubt in the inverse it is a little easier to see just how difficult the standard is to meet assuming the jury holds strongly to the jury instruction’s dictate.
So what does the clearing of Winston in this code of conduct hearing mean for the long haul? The short and easy answer is, who knows!?! This certainly seems like the case that never ends. The accuser’s attorney has been steadfast in his assertion that a civil suit for damages will be filed against Winston. One can’t help but think that his chances in his pursuit have taken a rather damaging hit after this opinion. Then again, when push comes to shove a plaintiff in a civil suit bears the same burden by the same preponderance of evidence standard, so they may have a fighter’s chance when and if that time comes. Arguably Winston could still assert his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent until the statute of limitations runs on any potential criminal case and at the end of the day it would be wise for his civil attorney to keep his criminal defense lawyer involved in any process. With every lawyer comes an opinion or twelve. Personally I wouldn’t assert the Fifth as it could cast a shadow of consciousness of guilt that could end up hurting him in the end. It certainly seems his story hasn’t waivered and has been verified by other witnesses. I would let him speak. I’m a believer that juries want to hear from the accused and if possible I like the idea of my client testifying so as to tell his story and show his cards. Every case is different as is every client. In this unique set of circumstances I think Winston is intelligent and it would serve his interest to tell his story if his accuser sues him civilly.
Time will tell where this all leads and ultimately ends. If you’re in need of a Tampa criminal attorney, contact Jason Mayberry today at 813-444-7435 or at 727-771-3847.