This weekend I talked about the specific case of Jameis Winston at Florida State University and the general question of colleges replacing the authority of a court of law in serious criminal matters. Since then, others have begun pondering the question and attempting to determine what Winston should do next in the face of pending, nonjudicial actions by unaccountable college investigative squads. Michael McCann at Sports Illustrated does a deep dive on the subject and concludes that the Heisman Trophy winner may want to just chuck it all in and drop out of FSU.
Winston has five days to notify Florida State’s Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities to begin the disciplinary process. As I explain below, Winston and his attorneys may be privately considering a radical option: Winston dropping out of school. He could then sign with an agent and begin preparations for the 2015 NFL draft. Alternatively, Winston could petition a Florida judge for an injunction against Florida State.
Winston’s participation in the university’s disciplinary process would carry great legal risk for him. A university disciplinary hearing would involve both fact-finding and testimony. Law enforcement or attorneys for Winston’s accuser could later attempt to subpoena these materials and use them against Winston. While a finding that Winston violated university rules would not mean that he broke any laws, the finding would likely be admissible evidence in a prosecution or civil litigation…
Winston has yet another important reason to drop out: He may later have an adversarial relationship with Florida State as a co-defendant. It is widely expected that Winston’s accuser will eventually sue Winston, Florida State and the Tallahassee Police Department. This litigation could place the three as co-defendants in the same lawsuit or as defendants in separate lawsuits. In either scenario, each would attempt to deflect fault away from itself and onto the other two. Should Winston testify in a disciplinary hearing, Florida State could later use those statements to pin the blame on Winston.
McCann also notes that this will not be an easy decision and may well prove to be a no win situation for Winston. If he leaves the school to avoid an internal investigation – even if he proves to be innocent of the sexual assault claims – it will be taken by some as an unspoken admission of guilt. This would give pause to NFL teams considering drafting him as well as sponsors who might be looking at him for endorsement deals.
But given the heated national debate involving the varying definitions of sexual assault on college campuses, Winston may not have any choice. Without ever having a day in court to clear his name – if innocent – Winston probably looks too tempting for those pushing the Yes All Women theme. They’re smelling blood in the water and Jameis Winston would make for a high profile target.
Todd Zywicki at the Washington Post summarizes it nicely.
While the argument is nuanced, the crux of the argument seems to be that university disciplinary proceedings are kangaroo courts and that any evidence or findings could provide fodder for a future, inevitable civil action. After reading Mike’s column it seemed to me that he makes a pretty compelling argument for Winston to drop out and skip the rest of the season.
Kangaroo courts is the key phrase here. If Winston truly is guilty of the very serious crimes his accusers allege, there has been more than enough public attention drawn to the situation and the state should move forward toward trial and settle this properly, once and for all. But as things stand now, the university is setting up a scenario where they will effectively replace the criminal justice system in a case which the prosecutor’s office investigated and has thus far decided not to pursue. Winston’s prospects in such an Animal House setting don’t look good, and he may want to simply chuck it all, conduct himself in the best way possible, hire some good advisers and prepare for next year’s draft.