On December 5, 2013, Florida State Attorney Willie Meggs announced on national television that Florida State quarterback, and Heisman hopeful, Jameis Winston would not be charged with sexual assault. The allegations surrounding this situation were hazy to begin with, and ended uncomfortably with laughter at the final press conference with Meggs.
The alleged assault occurred on December 7, 2012 in Winston’s off-campus apartment. The victim immediately reported the sexual assault to the police, although it seemed to be discouraged by the Tallahassee police. A Tallahassee detective told an attorney assisting the victim’s family that “Tallahassee was a big football town and the victim needs to think long and hard before proceeding against him [Winston] because she will be raked over the coals and her life will be made miserable.”
That statement is a picture perfect example of police misconduct. It may also be the reason why theses allegations leaked to the media rather than played its course through the legal system, due to the police’s inept approach toward the initial allegations.
Jameis Winston Not Charged – But Is He In The Clear?
The Florida State Attorney found that there was not enough evidence to pursue this case any further because of gaps in the victim’s story (due to several possibilities) and a DNA sample matching another man (possibly the victim’s ex-boyfriend), along with Winston’s DNA.
Although this case is currently closed (unless new evidence is produced to corroborate the victim’s story), the victim could seek other remedies. As Michael McCann points out, the victim could sue Winston and the Tallahassee Police Department, along with other parties.
Jameis Winston And His Liability
The two possible claims the victim has against Winston are intentional infliction of emotional distress and battery.
Infliction of emotional distress
To prove intentional infliction of emotional distress, the victim will have to show by a preponderance of the evidence that:
- Winston’s conduction was intentional or reckless
- The conduct was outrageous. That is, as to go beyond all bounds of decency, and to be regarded as repulsive and utterly intolerable in a civilized community
- The conduct caused emotional distress
- The emotional distress was severe.
Similar to the sexual assault complaint, there will be an investigation (pretrial discovery) by both sides to determine what happened that night. That discovery period could produce similar evidence that was released in the police reports from the sexual assault case (which both parties could use), or it could produce new evidence or witnesses for either side.
In high profiled cases such as this one, discovery is a process that could shed negative light onto an athlete, regardless of their innocence or guilt. Therefore, a pre-trial settlement would help protect any negative perceptions that may be ascertained during discovery.
To prove battery, there must be
Intent refers to the intent to commit the act, contact refers to non-consensual contract with the individual (victim) and harm/damage refers to any injuries that are caused due to the battery (not limited to just physical harm).
If this claim were brought, consent would be essential in determining if there was a battery or not. Since it is likely to be a disparity in both parties recollection of that night, evidence will be brought in to prove either parties case. Witnesses will serve as the best evidence in this case; witnesses from that night or witnesses that were in contact with either party soon after the alleged assault.
Since the Statute of Limitations allows a party to sue within a four-year timeframe from the date of the event, December 7, 2016 is the deadline for the victim to bring any other potential claims against Winston. However, waiting until just before the Statute of Limitations ends bears the risk of not having certain evidence available due to aging.
Tallahassee Police Department And Its Liability
Section 1983 of Title 42 of the U.S. Code allows victims of domestic violence to sue police departments for various reasons. Those reasons include intimidation and harassment – which are both evident here. As a public policy concern, we want victims of sexual crimes (or any crimes) to feel compelled to come forth with their story in order to apprehend the assailant.
However, given the stigma of sexual assault and instances where cases are not taken seriously, women are less compelled to come forward. As a society, we should want to hold law enforcement accountable when the proper procedures are not followed (here, DNA testing was not done for 10 months and witnesses were not immediately interviewed). A similar process will take place, as both parties will present evidence to prove or rebut the allegations.
Time To Assess Our Priorities
As much as we all want to see our favorite team win a National Championship or our favorite player win raise the Heisman trophy, how much are we willing to overlook to for this to happen?
From 2008 to 2012, the National Crime Victimization Survey conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 67 percent of sexual assaults were not reported to police. At the same time, a slim number of assailants actually spent time in prison for their crimes (roughly 3 percent).
Although this may seem shocking to most of us, it is the unfortunate truth of our society. One in four women in college will be sexually assaulted each year, but we are more concerned if the star football player is eligible. Jameis Winston may not have been charged with sexual assault, but that does not mean he is innocent of the crime (nor am I attempting to assume his guilt). It means there was not enough evidence to convict him.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, between 2 and 10 percent of sexual assault reports are false. That is a very low number.
However, as sports fans, we fuel the delusion that these victims are only looking for a quick paycheck (or any other false justification we tell ourselves). As ESPN columnist Jemele Hill shares her personal story about sexual assault, remember that sexual assault occurs more often than we think. Let’s advocate for those victims of sexual assault rather than prosecute them and root for our favorite sports team.
To read the full sexual assault report and accompanying documents, please see here.