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.
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