Why Charges Really Were Not Brought Against FSU Star Quarterback Winston

I disagree with you Geraldo (Rivera). He tweeted this morning, “Hard to believe star quarterback Jameis Winston would not have been indicted for rape if he wasn’t leading FSU to a national championship.” That’s just not the case. I have no doubt that the reasons provided by prosecutors are the actual reasons Winston wasn’t charged. Whether the accused was a star athlete or simply John Q. Public who disinfects bowling shoes, I am confident that the announcement would have been the same. The evidence, the conflicts in the evidence, and lack of evidence supports their conclusions as to why they couldn’t file charges.

After an extensive investigation, prosecutor Willie Meggs announced, amongst other things, “We have a duty as prosecutors to only file charges if we have a reasonable likelihood of a conviction,” He further added, “We did not feel we could meet that burden.” He went on to say that law enforcement didn’t even have the requisite probable cause to arrest Winston, which is a much lower standard of proof required by prosecutors to prove the case in court. (“Beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt”)

During my over two decades in the criminal arena as both a prosecutor and criminal defense attorney, I’ve seen numerous cases where I question prosecutors’ conclusions after their investigations. This case is not one of them. The proof just wasn’t there.

First, these “one on one,” “she said he said” cases are difficult to prove. Typically, jurors require more than simply the word of the alleged victim to tip the scales to the highest burden under the law. In this case there was absolutely no evidence other than her word to prove that she was raped as opposed to being a willing participant, as Winston alleges. The DNA evidence gather from her clothing that matched Winston was consistent with both of their stories. What was missing was any other physical evidence like bruises or tears that would suggest a rape. I’m not stating that in all rape cases that type of physical evidence will always exist, however, having that type of evidence is often required before a jury unanimously votes to convict.

Another significant factor as to why charges couldn’t have been brought in this case was the alleged victim’s recollection was problematic at best. According to the search warrant, the alleged victim told police that she and friends had five to six shots at a bar before the incident. While she remembered certain portions of the evening, she couldn’t remember key moments like where the alleged rape took place. Furthermore, her blood-alcohol content, taken several hours after the incident, was .04%. Investigators extrapolated the data and determined that she would have been around a .10% at the time of the incident. That would have put her at about 20% over the legal driving limit. No drugs were found in her system. So, prosecutors correctly concluded that what was in her system would not have caused her to forget, as she did, numerous portions of her time with Winston. That would have been a problem that prosecutors could not have overcome at trial.

Additionally, two alleged eyewitnesses, albeit probably fellow football players and friends of Winston, did claim that, “they witnessed parts of the act.” Apparently, they entered the room while Winston was with the alleged victim. Had Winston been charged and the matter proceeded to trial, their testimony would have thoroughly hindered prosecutors’ efforts to secure a conviction.

Let me make several additional points. I wasn’t there when Winston was with the alleged victim. Neither were you. Therefore, no one really knows what occurred between the two. She could have been raped. On the contrary, he also could have been framed like the Mona Lisa. We don’t know and won’t ever know. The truth rarely comes out in the criminal arena. The criminal arena is not, and has never been, about a search for the truth, as so many erroneously believe. The Criminal Justice System is about what can be proven. In this case, prosecutors correctly determined that they couldn’t prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt. Whether one is a football player, ditch digger, life guard, secretary, lawyer, garbage collector, and/or any other profession, the conclusion should be the same. Not proceeding with criminal charges is the only reasonable conclusion that prosecutors could have made based upon the available evidence.