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What you need to know about Jameis Winston's university code of conduct hearing

Jameis Winston was never arrested or charged after a rape accusation was made nearly two years ago. He has said he had consensual sex.
Jameis Winston was never arrested or charged after a rape accusation was made nearly two years ago. He has said he had consensual sex.
Published Dec. 2, 2014

Barring an 11th-hour delay, Florida State star quarterback Jameis Winston will face a university code of conduct hearing today.

The scheduled hearing is the latest step in a complex case that stretches back two years and could alter the Seminoles' hopes of a second straight national championship.

Here's everything you need to know about the country's most high-profile Title IX case:

What's at issue

Winston and a then-FSU student had an off-campus sexual encounter in December 2012. The woman accused Winston of rape.

Winston was not arrested or charged after last year's criminal investigation, with State Attorney Willie Meggs citing "major issues" with the woman's testimony. Through his attorneys, Winston has denied any wrongdoing and said the sex was consensual.

Winston's adviser has alleged that the accuser continues to change her story, most recently telling FSU that Winston gave her a shot of alcohol — a contradiction from previous statements. The woman's attorneys have accused FSU of breaking the law to protect its football program.

The basics

The hearing is the latest step in the university's investigation, which is required for sexual assault allegations under Title IX.

Both sides may give opening statements, present evidence and question witnesses. The involved students don't have to answer all questions. Outside advisers are allowed to consult with the students but can't speak on their behalf.

Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Major Harding will determine whether Winston violated up to four parts of the school's conduct code.

Title IX requires the standard of proof to be lower than in criminal court: Harding must only determine with 50.1 percent certainty that an assault took place to find Winston responsible.

The hearing has been postponed twice and could last several days. A ruling must be made within 10 school days of the hearing. Winston, a redshirt sophomore and the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, is eligible to declare for the NFL draft after the season and will likely be a first-round pick.

What's at stake

For Winston: If found responsible, possible punishments range from reprimand to expulsion. It's unlikely that a decision is made before Saturday's ACC title game, but a ruling could affect his eligibility for a possible national semifinal game on Jan. 1.

For his accuser: A ruling either way will affect any potential civil lawsuit against Winston, FSU or the Tallahassee Police Department.

For FSU: The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights is investigating FSU (and dozens of other schools) for its handling of sexual assault allegations under Title IX. FSU could also be a defendant in a civil suit by Winston or his accuser.

Key players

David Cornwell, Winston's adviser: The Atlanta-based attorney formerly served as legal counsel for the NFL and has represented numerous high-profile athletes, including Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and baseball stars Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun.

John Clune and Baine Kerr, the accuser's advisers: The Colorado-based attorneys have handled similar cases at Wake Forest, Colorado and Arizona State. Clune previously represented the woman who accused Lakers star Kobe Bryant of sexual assault.

Major Harding, hearing officer: The North Carolina native and Wake Forest alumnus served on the Florida Supreme Court from 1991-2002. Widely viewed as a moderate, Harding was on the dissenting end of the 4-3 decision that ordered a recount in the 2000 presidential election. More recently, he reviewed almost 2,000 pages of documents as part of a squabble over the state's congressional map.

Similar cases

Xavier: Basketball player Dez Wells was expelled from school over rape allegations, though he was never charged with a crime. He later sued the school, arguing that he was aggressively punished because of a federal investigation into Xavier's Title IX policies. Wells and the university later settled.

Iowa State: Basketball player Bubu Palo missed much of his final two seasons with the Cyclones. Months after sexual abuse charges against him were dismissed, Palo was ruled ineligible by the university president because of the school's conduct code. A district court reversed the university's decision, and Palo is suing his accuser for making "false and defamatory statements."

Oklahoma: The school suspended linebacker Frank Shannon for one year over sexual assault allegations. A district court issued a stay to let him keep practicing and taking classes, but the Oklahoma Supreme Court reversed that decision in September. Shannon was never charged with a crime and hasn't played for the Sooners this season.

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