The timing of this report — the alleged assault occurred in December, 2012 — and other factors have understandably raised some eyebrows now that the Seminoles are championship contenders and Winston is a front-runner for the Heisman Trophy.
Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports expressed many of these concerns in a column criticising the investigation and the timing. However, there are perfectly logical explanations that could explain why this story is just now breaking and it may have little to do with football and everything to do with how a typical sexual assault case is handled.
It should be noted that I previously worked in a crime lab as a DNA specialist and I handled hundreds of sexual assault cases. From everything that I know about the Winston case, there is nothing unusual about how it has been handled so far.
Let’s take the concerns one at a time, starting with Wetzel’s:
“No one from the police to the prosecutor’s office has bothered to speak to Winston. Not one interview…”
First of all, the police spoke with Winston at the scene. As for not being interviewed by prosecutors, that is fairly standard.
With most sexual assault cases, the only evidence would be injuries to the victim (photos were taken) and DNA. Unfortunately, most DNA labs, for a variety of reasons, have a backlog that causes testing to be delayed. The backlog in the lab I worked in was over six months and it is not unusual for some labs to have backlogs that are over a year.
When DNA is going to be the main evidence in a he said, she said situation, there is nothing the prosecutors can do until results from the tests come back. At that point, the prosecutors will decide whether or not there is enough evidence to proceed with a case.
“It doesn’t take 11 months to investigate the incident…”
Actually, often it does. As mentioned earlier, DNA labs have backlogs and in these cases DNA is often the most important piece of evidence. Quite often, the decision to press charges is not made until the results of the DNA tests are known.
This is a horrible situation and extremely frustrating for everybody involved, but it is also a situation that often cannot be avoided.
“The police report lists the accused as standing between 5-foot-9 and 5-foot-11. Winston is 6-foot-4.“
Unless a suspect is denying he was at the scene, this is almost meaningless. The police are not going to take out a tape measure.
Another concern made by many is “why now?” The suggestion is that somebody leaked this information at a time when it would hurt Winston and Florida State the most. However, again, there may be a logical reason and it may have little to do with football.
One way to speed up a sexual assault investigation is to make sure the case is given priority status. The quickest way to get priority status for a case is to get the story in the news.
Once a case is deemed newsworthy, the public wants answers. Once the public starts wanting answers there is increased pressure to produce answers and cases get bumped up the list.
We don’t know why the Winston case was leaked now. But it may have just been a situation where some involved were not satisfied with how fast it was moving and to get the process sped up they may have taken advantage of Winston’s public status.
We also don’t know if Winston will eventually be charged with a crime. But so far, the investigation appears to be proceeding much like many other sexual assault investigations.
Just like it is not fair to assume Winston is guilty of anything, it is also not fair to assume he is the victim.
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