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.