Judge Performs Own Experiments & Rules That Pizza Is, in Fact, a Solid

By Patrick Morgan | March 2, 2011 10:07 am

When you think of the great court cases in the past century where science meets the law, you’re probably thinking about cases like Roe v. Wade or the Scopes Monkey Trial—not Commonwealth v. Fennie. And that’s deservedly so, because this latest science-in-the-courtroom case sounds more like science meets clown: A judge passed his verdict after he methodically proved that pizza’s state of matter is indeed a solid.

It all started last October, when 20-year-old William James Fennie III apparently chucked a pizza slice at a passing car in West Chester, Pennsylvania. He then went on to resist arrest, forcing two officers to Taser him to the ground.

Now, based on the fact that Pennsylvania law clearly states that it is illegal to throw “any solid object” toward a roadway, you might think President Judge James P. MacElree’s decision was an easy one: After all, it doesn’t take a degree in pizza mechanics to conclude that pizza counts as “any solid object.” But Fennie’s attorney argued that the legal definitions are vague and pizza shouldn’t legally count as a “missile.”

This prompted Judge MacElree to undertake a high-stakes experiment, with the starting question: Is pizza a solid object?

According to MacElree’s tongue-in-cheek write-up, having researched the physical properties of solids, liquids, and gases, he ordered a specimen of pizza, and astutely noticed that “it came in a box (a.k.a. container). It was resting in the bottom of the container, held in place by gravity, and did not take up the shape or full volume of the container.” He therefore ruled out the idea that pizza is a gas (shocking, I know).

For experiment number two, he cut the pizza into six slices because he “was not hungry enough to eat eight pieces” (a la Yogi Berra), and observed that that the slices remained separate and didn’t “re-form to take on the shape of the bottom of the container,” as he writes. Not liquid. Check.

As he writes in his transcript, MacElree conducted his final experiment on the pizza as he raised a slice to his mouth:

I observed that the slice of pizza retained its basic shape, although it did droop a bit at the end. Further, I was able to bite off one piece which required some chewing before I could swallow it. I put the remainder on top of a paper towel and observed that it stayed in place, did not spill onto my desk, and held its shape (less one bite).

Based on this overwhelming evidence, the judge “concluded that it was a solid,” and therefore denied the attorney’s request to throw out the case. And despite the tongue-in-cheek antics, he made it clear that the defending attorney’s argument was a waste of his time and taxpayer’s money, threatening to award the attorney a $500 summary penalty for his inane argument.

In his defense, the shamed attorney noted that he thought MacElree didn’t understand the real issue. As the Daily Local reports:

“The issue was whether the law could be read to encompass all solids, not whether a slice of pizza is a solid,” Reed wrote in an e-mail.

Moreover, MacElree failed to show that pizza is not a plasma. Surely that’s good enough for a reasonable doubt.

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Image: flickr / Seth W.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Crime & Punishment
  • Aurora

    If I were a primary school teacher, I’d be seriously considering using this to teach the states of matter in class…

  • Kyle

    To bad the judge didn’t fine the attorney. Science TRIUMPHS.

  • Tim

    The word “solid” refers not to the state of the object, but of its rigidity. A rigid object is much more likely to cause damage than a soft object, which is why that adjective is used in the law. While the judge’s interpretation of science is commendable, his interpretation of the law is not.

  • http://blog.vixra.org Philip Gibbs

    The word solid when used as an adjective has more meanings than just the scientific one, but thank goodness it was not a glass bottle. That would really have opened a can of worms.

  • http://NotionsCapital.com Mike Licht

    And if the defendant had actually thrown a can of worms ….

  • Ian Tindale

    But it isn’t cut into six slices, it’s quite clearly cut into eight.

  • http://backseatdriving.blogspot.com/ Brian Schmidt

    Ian’s got a good point. That picture is of a fraudulent pizza, and not the test pizza.

    Re the plasma issue, the first box test probably rules it out, but the judge should’ve verified the lack of any confining magnetic fields just to be sure.

  • DNA

    I’ve always considered pizza to be some form of Bose-Einstein Condensate.

  • Michael Berry

    That pizza looks awesome. Thanks, Discover. I think I know what I’m having for dinner tonight.

  • Dan

    All I know is that when I consume them, most pizzas generate gas!

  • http://amoebamike.wordpress.com AmoebaMike

    So what happens when the term “organic” makes it into his courtroom?

    Does he take it to mean 1) something natural, or 2) any substance containing at least 2 carbon atoms in a chain, or 3) a semi-vague way to describe the way in which a certain item (esp food) is grown?

  • Kestrel

    Where are Einstein, Podolsky, & Rosen, & Schrodinger ‘s feline, when you need them?

  • Matt B.

    Should the judge have tested whether pizza is a colloid? I think that counts as neither liquid nor solid.

  • http://slrman.wordpress.com James Smith João Pessoa, Brazil

    This ruling should be overturned because the judge failed to consider the fourth state of matter, the plasma.

    Having personally sampled some pizza with certain peppers generously applied, I can attest that pizza can be hot enough to be considered a plasma.

  • lewax00

    @Tim – Unless you can find a legal definition for solid or some legal measure of how rigid an object must be to be considered “solid” then I’d say what he did was perfectly correct. The point is, throwing things at cars is a hazard, and he dealt with the case in a way that upheld the spirit of the law and its definition, if only by a technicality.

  • Kyle

    What a douchebag judge. I agree with the attourney, the judge is arguing something else completely, and is ignorant of the real issue.

    • Angels3640

      This Judge is amazing….he should have his own tv show..truly brilliant and witty Judge. Honorable to the Maxx!! He should run for president in my opinion.

  • Jeff

    Well, in fairness, pizza is only partially solid. There is plenty of water (in liquid form) contained in a pizza, not to mention some grease. It would have to be a frozen slice of pizza to be 100% solid. I suppose the law is intended to differentiate throwing a rock at a car and, say, spraying a garden hose at a car. Technically, there will be plenty of particulate solid matter contained in most liquids, so I imagine the argument goes both ways. There are also certain tar-like substances that are technically liquids (they flow over the course of many years) but are so firm that they would do some serious damage! (see http://www.redicecreations.com/article.php?id=7555 for instance)

  • Andrew

    I don’t think it really matters what argument the attorney was trying to make. The point is you can’t just throw things at cars and not expect some sort of consequence. If you threw paint on a car while it was driving, shouldn’t you expect some sort of punishment? Not only are you vandalizing property, but you’re potentially doing something that could cause a car accident.

  • kyle

    Plasma Pizza. That actually sounds like a pretty good restaurant name.

    Unless of course it was a Bose-Einstein pizza.

  • Clint

    More of a quasi-solid I’d say.

  • http://www.as3blog.org Rick Nuthman

    Oh really? OK, It’s obvious that a slice of pizza is made up of many components which are in idividual states of matter. The sauce is liquid, with possible chunks of solids throughout. There is also potential that there is gas in the form of steam emanating from the sauce/crust if it is still hot enough. The crust is without a doubt a solid, albeit a porous solid. Any vegetable or meat toppings would be solids as well.

  • Escher7

    Would a Kleenex (which is clearly a solid) be an offence under that statute? The lawyer’s argument was clearly about whether the pizza was a harmful solid. (He would still lose.)


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