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Q&A with the latest on Jameis Winston investigation

FSU is investigating whether Jameis Winston broke the school's code of conduct in a December 2012, off-campus sexual encounter with a then-FSU student. [AP photo]
FSU is investigating whether Jameis Winston broke the school's code of conduct in a December 2012, off-campus sexual encounter with a then-FSU student. [AP photo]
Published Oct. 15, 2014

The Jameis Winston saga took another twist Tuesday when his adviser sent a letter to Florida State University calling its investigative procedures "unacceptable."

The letter — a copy of which was obtained by the Tampa Bay Times — is the latest step in the months-old sexual assault allegations against FSU's Heisman Trophy winning quarterback.

To help explain the complex case, here's an analysis with some basic questions and answers:

What's happening?

FSU is investigating whether Winston broke the school's code of conduct in a December 2012, off-campus sexual encounter with a then-FSU student.

What is Winston accused of doing?

He faces four potential school charges, all from the same incident: A sexual act without consent, hostile/intimidating sexual conduct, physical violence and endangering someone's health.

Hasn't Winston already been investigated?

Yes. The Tallahassee Police Department began investigating immediately after it was reported, but the case stalled in February 2013. The State Attorney's Office investigated last fall but declined to press charges, citing a lack of evidence and the woman's spotty memory. Winston has denied any wrongdoing through his attorneys, and he was never arrested or charged with a crime.

So how is this investigation different?

This one is being led by FSU. Evidence from previous investigations could come up: Toxicology results showed alcohol use but no signs of drugs, and a forensic exam showed some bruising and redness on the woman's body.

The biggest difference is the standard of proof. In criminal cases, guilt must be shown "beyond a reasonable doubt." In university hearings, schools must only determine whether it's more likely than not that a violation occurred.

Who will decide that?

A former Florida Supreme Court justice — either Charles Wells, Major Harding or Clearwater native Joseph Hatchett. Winston and his accuser can each eliminate one, with FSU appointing the final one as the outside officer to hear the case. If Winston is found responsible, punishments could range from a reprimand to expulsion.

Why is FSU investigating?

The gender-equity law Title IX considers sexual harassment and assault as forms of gender discrimination. Federal guidelines call for schools to look into allegations if it "knows or reasonably should know" about an incident.

Why is this happening now?

Winston's accuser spoke with the school on Aug. 6. FSU said last week that the woman turned down multiple interview requests over the previous 20 months — a claim her attorneys deny. Either way, federal guidelines call for a "prompt and equitable" investigation with a rough 60-day time frame.

Isn't FSU also under investigation?

Yes. The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights is investigating how FSU handled the case and any other sexual assault allegations under Title IX. Dozens of schools are under similar investigations. Schools that don't comply could lose federal funding.

Could FSU lose its national championship?

It's doubtful. There's no evidence that FSU broke NCAA rules, so the NCAA would have to compare FSU's actions to those at Penn State in the Jerry Sandusky case. The NCAA hammered Penn State with sanctions for its "inadequate" control, but president Mark Emmert told ESPN that the NCAA had "no intention" of ever doing that again.

What do autographs have to do with this case?

Nothing. ESPN has separately reported that FSU is looking into whether Winston broke NCAA rules by being paid to sign autographs.

What's next?

FSU told Winston on Friday that he has five days to schedule an information session to learn about the upcoming process, and a hearing would come "as soon as practicable." But Winston's adviser, David Cornwell, told FSU on Tuesday that the timeline was "unacceptable," according to a letter obtained by the Times. Cornwell also questioned why FSU's investigation has taken so long and whether the school followed its own guidelines. Winston is expected to play Saturday, when No. 2 FSU hosts No. 5 Notre Dame.

Will this end up in court?

Possibly. SI.com has speculated that Winston could seek an injunction to stop FSU's conduct hearing. The accuser's attorneys could also file a civil suit against Winston regarding the incident, and against FSU and/or Tallahassee police for how they investigated the case.

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.