They got what they wanted, a new, independent investigation into the rape claims against Florida State’s star quarterback, Jameis Winston. And Major B. Harding, a former Florida Supreme Court chief justice, concluded that the evidence failed to meet the burden of a preponderance of the evidence.
“The burden of proof in all cases under the code is the preponderance of the evidence and rests with the university,” Harding wrote in his ruling, a letter to Winston dated Friday that was obtained by several news media outlets. “Stated another way, the evidence must show that it is more probable than not that you are responsible for the charged violations. After a thorough review, the evidence before me does not satisfy this threshold, and therefore, you are not responsible for the aforementioned charged violations.”
So this means . . . absolutely nothing to those who are certain of his guilt, because . . . reasons.
It should come as a surprise to absolutely no one that it seems Winston will walk away unscathed. Fox Sports 1 and the New York Times have detailed the numerous ways in which investigation was either massively botched or purposely sabotaged from the start by both the university itself and the Tallahassee Police Department. School administrators knew about the allegations for over a year yet continued to allow Winston to play, the police waited on DNA testing, ignored potential witnesses, generally dragged their feet whenever possible and on and on it went.
Winston is a star football player, and no star football player can ever not be guilty because, as the title to Robert Silverman’s Daily Beast post explains, “Jameis Winston Cleared of Rape Like Every Other College Sports Star.” They’re all the same, so no need to consider the facts here, no need to waste of moment of one’s time pondering the possibility that maybe, just maybe, a college sports star did not commit rape, because he’s “like every other college sports star.”
Winston’s case has garnered the large-font headlines, but sadly, this is the norm when it comes to athletes and allegations of sexual crimes; the forces of institutional power, whether it’s law enforcement, the justice system or the University’s star chamber-ish hearings, seem to be massively stacked against the alleged victims.
Take Jessica Luther’s investigation at VICE Sports into the Kafka-esque trials that occurred at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, “a process that has left her [the accuser] feeling angry, minimized, manipulated, and ultimately blamed for her assault.”
Or take the UVA rape story. Oh wait. That anecdote doesn’t help. Never mind. The attorney for Winston’s accuser ripped the conclusion:
John Clune, the accuser’s Title IX [attorney?] was predictably baffled by a determination that’s not much more than a legalese version of the shrug emoticon, saying, “It’s not a decision at all but a statement that the judge couldn’t decide.”
“The three football players—Jameis Winston, Chris Casher and Ronald Darby—all refused to testify and answer questions, and somehow Jameis Winston still wins,” Clune said. “The order doesn’t even follow the student conduct code, and it ignores the bulk of the evidence. There are certainly glaring bases for appeal, but at some point we have to recognize that Florida State is never going to hold Jameis Winston responsible.”
Perhaps Clune is unfamiliar with burden of proof, or an accused’s right not to bear witness against himself? Not quite novel concepts, but then, the argument is that banal due process has no place in academic investigations and tribunals, which are supposed to produce the “right” result no matter what. And that, of course, is the complaint, that no athlete is ever found guilty. But then, what if he’s not?
If you’re tempted to say that schools really should get out of the business of adjudicating sexual assault cases altogether, I’m with you. So are many advocacy groups. Having an athlete involved is without a doubt an additional roadblock and definitely amps up the school’s conflict of interest.
Yet, the initial investigation into the rape claim here produced no prosecution either.
A prosecutor announced Thursday that Jameis Winston, quarterback for the No. 1-ranked Florida State University Seminoles, will not be arrested in an investigation into rape allegations last year.
A key factor was the accuser’s recollection of the events during the December 2012 incident, in which she alleged Winston raped her after she had been drinking with friends at a Tallahassee bar, said Willie Meggs, the state attorney for the 2nd Judicial Circuit, which includes Leon County and Tallahassee.
“We have a duty as prosecutors to only file … charges if we have a reasonable likelihood of a conviction,” he said. “We did not feel we could meet that burden.”
How many different ways can a person be investigated and yet, each reaching the same conclusion that the evidence fails to sustain, even under the minimal preponderance of the evidence standard, the conclusion that he committed rape? No, this doesn’t prove innocence, which is why there must be a presumption going one way or the other. In this nation, we chose the presumption of innocence, and it hasn’t, as yet, changed for accusations of rape.
Is there merit to the claim that athletes enjoy impunity from sex crimes? It’s certainly not outside the realm of possibility. Favored defendants have always enjoyed a “more equal” degree of consideration by those charged with prosecuting crimes. This is particularly notable when it comes to police.
Yet, it fails to answer the question in any individual case. Even a star athlete can be innocent. Indeed, star athletes may suffer from being more likely targets of false accusations, giving a reason to be particularly skeptical about such claims. And that doesn’t mean they didn’t commit rape, but just that all accusations deserve to be subject to scrutiny.
Jameis Winston has done pretty well for himself as a football player, and that isn’t a mark against him or a reason to presume him guilty despite the inadequacy of evidence against him. Curiously, one has to wonder whether the same people who refuse to consider the possibility that he did no wrong would feel if he was accused of a crime unrelated to rape or sexual assault.
Would he then be the black kid who made good through his hard work who suffered at the hands of institutionalized racism? He’s the same person. The only difference is the gender of his accuser and the politicized nature of the allegations. That doesn’t make him guilty. That doesn’t change the equation. Not one bit. Jameis Winston is innocent because he has never been found guilty. Even star athletes enjoy the presumption. Even star athletes may not have done anything wrong. Let it go.