EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Pon de Replay: Comparing Legal Standards to Instant Replay

With the Colorado Rockies advancing to the playoffs over the San Diego Padres in the bottom of the 13th inning based upon a phantom run, the spectre of instant replay in MLB has been raised again.  This got me thinking of how the instant replay standard in college and professional footbal compares to legal standards and whether the American court system could learn a few things from the American football system.

Let's take the rules for Pac-10 football games as one example.  First, the coaches for either team can ask for instant replay of certain calls.  Second, the replay official can call for the review of a play.  Under this second part of the rule, "whenever there is reasonable evidence to believe that an error was made in the initial on-field ruling, the play is reviewable and any reversal of an on-field ruling would have a direct, competitive impact on the game."

Looking first at the term "reasonable evidence," would this be equivalent to a finding of reasonable suspicion in criminal context or the more difficult to achieve probable cause?  Second, in football games, as in trials, certain plays/judgments are reviewable while others are not reviewable.  Finally, the Pac-10 rules state that the reversal of the ruling being challenged must result in a direct, competitve impact on the game.  This can be seen as similar to the harmless error rule, wherein certain rulings, such as evidentiary rulings to admit/exclude evidence can be wrong and yet still not result in convictions being reversed.

In terms of what is required for reversal, the Pac-10 appears to state a clearer standard of review than the standards of review used by courts.  It states that reversal is only warranted when there is "indisputable video evidence."  The rule then goes on to state that indisputable video evidence consists of "sufficient, viewable camera angles that provide undeniable proof that a correction to the call is necessary."   This makes me wonder whether "indisputable video evidence" would be similar to the more nebulous "beyond a reasonable doubt," "clear and convincing evidence," or "preponderance of the evidence" standards.  Or is the relevant comparison to review de novo review or review for an abuse of discretion, with football review tending toward the latter?



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