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Don't Stay in School

Jameis Winston should quit Florida State—and not just the football team

AS FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY plans a disciplinary hearing on allegations that Heisman Trophy--winning quarterback Jameis Winston raped a fellow student, I ask a simple question: Why is Winston still enrolled in college?

The Seminoles' star, expected to enter the 2015 NFL draft, has little to gain and much to lose if he participates in a hearing. By leaving school, Winston would evade the university's jurisdiction and lawfully frustrate an investigation that threatens his future.

Examining Winston's legal strategies is not meant to ignore the fact that there is another person in this disturbing story. If she is telling the truth, she was raped, but her claims of rape were met with disturbing resistance by those in authority and by those with an interest in Winston's playing football. Winston's leaving Florida State may give him a legal advantage, but it does nothing to further justice.

Encouraging a college student to drop out of school sounds terrible. It might also sound hypocritical for a law professor like me to advocate this view. But Winston is the atypical college student for all the reasons that make quitting school sensible.

For starters, he probably would not benefit by a new investigation into what happened in the early morning of Dec. 7, 2012, at his apartment. Winston's accuser contends that he raped her. Recent reports by The New York Times and Fox Sports suggest that the Tallahassee police department and Florida State badly, and perhaps intentionally, mishandled the accusation. (The school and the police maintain that they have handled the case appropriately.) A faulty investigation obviously does not mean that Winston is guilty. He denies the allegation, teammates who were with him have signed affidavits supporting his assertions, and, most significant, law enforcement declined to charge him. While Winston's accuser is expected to sue Winston, FSU and the Tallahassee police department, there is no indication now that law enforcement will reopen the case.

But a university investigation could have legal repercussions for Winston, who could still face criminal charges. Implicating evidence might surface: Courtroom rules that limit the admissibility of incriminating materials and that offer opportunities to confront accusers are not required in university proceedings. Winston would surely be asked to testify. If he agreed, and again denied rape, he might be forced to acknowledge he broke university rules. Any indication of wrongdoing could prompt the Tallahassee police department, which is most likely sensitive to media commentary that it protected the local sports star, to reopen the case. Law enforcement and Winston's accuser could also subpoena materials and testimony from the disciplinary hearing. While some of those materials would prove inadmissible in a trial, they could still help to build a case against Winston.

The university has also proposed an unusual arrangement in which Winston would be given a hearing before the school even charges him. In the proceeding, Winston would plead his case to someone who isn't affiliated with Florida State but who has been picked by the university.

Florida State is also implicated in the same scandal that it pledges to probe fairly. The U.S. Department of Education has launched an inquiry into whether the university violated Title IX in how it investigated the case, and the NCAA could investigate school officials as well. Lawsuits from Winston's accuser could put Winston and the university in a position to strike a deal and perhaps implicate the other. Winston's attorney David Cornwell has raised serious concerns "about the impact of outside factors on FSU's decision making."

Winston might not have to quit college before the season ends. He could petition a Florida judge for an injunction and argue that the disciplinary hearing would violate due process. An injunction might delay a hearing until after the season. The chances of Winston's obtaining an injunction, however, are low. Universities have broad authority to investigate student conduct, particularly allegations of sexual violence.

Quitting college could have negative consequences for Winston. It might be interpreted as an admission of guilt, but his representatives could instead frame his decision as a rejection of a biased hearing. Missing games might cause NFL teams concern about his football development, but an agent could hire coaches to prepare him for the draft. And, of course, Winston, who is pursuing an "exploratory major," would miss out on his education, but he would be exiting an environment where he has struggled to follow rules. His civil citation for shoplifting and his one-game suspension for yelling obscenities suggest that he might benefit from the close supervision of professional advisers.

Jameis Winston's time at Florida State has been a regrettable drama. I'll ask it again: Why is he still enrolled at Florida State University?


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