Could Jameis Winston drop out of Florida State as a legal strategy?


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ESPN reported on Friday night that Jameis Winston would face a disciplinary hearing with Florida State on sexual assault charges. Winston was given five days from the announcement -- meaning he has until this coming Friday -- to contact the school and schedule a hearing.

Sports Illustrated's Michael McCann, who is also a lawyer, writes that Winston's best legal strategy might be to drop out of Florida State. You can read the full piece here, which offers an in-depth look at the legal reasons Winston could explore dropping out, and the pros and cons of that decision.

Winston's participation in the university's disciplinary process would carry great legal risk for him. A university disciplinary hearing would involve both fact-finding and testimony. Law enforcement or attorneys for Winston's accuser could later attempt to subpoena these materials and use them against Winston. While a finding that Winston violated university rules would not mean that he broke any laws, the finding would likely be admissible evidence in a prosecution or civil litigation.

As noted above, Winston could still face criminal charges until 2017.

By dropping out of the school, Winston would be out of FSU's jurisdiction, and therefore could not be forced to be part of any disciplinary hearings. McCann explains in detail other legal benefits of dropping out, including the potential for the school to pin blame on Winston for potential lawsuits they may face from the defendant in the Winston case and/or Title IX suits.

McCann also notes that dropping out has its negatives.

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Critics would contend that Winston is admitting fault by sidestepping the university's investigation. They would deduce that if he's really innocent, he should be willing to answer questions about what happened the night he is accused of raping a woman. This critique might be unfair, but it would be very easy to make and would undoubtedly harm Winston's reputation.

The public's opinion of Winston has already shifted negatively, and dropping out would be, to many, an admission of guilt however unfair that may be. By dropping out of school, Winston would begin preparing himself for the NFL Draft in April, but another hit to his image would probably do more damage to his already reeling draft stock.

As Jay Glazer of Fox Sports noted yesterday, Winston is being moved down draft boards -- or even off them entirely -- as NFL GMs become increasingly wary of having players that could bring off-the-field legal issues with them.

Every general manager I talked to this week said 'we are either dropping Jameis Winston down, or we have to consider whether we really want him in our locker room.' ... At the NFL owners' meetings the idea was actually brought up of stripping draft picks of teams in the future with multiple offenders. 

An attorney McCann spoke to in New Jersey noted the strange nature in how the school has approached this case.

First, it seems they tried to shield him from an investigation, and now they want to show they are policing their program, all in an effort to protect their considerable valuable brand.

 

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