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Science in the Courtroom: Is Pizza a Solid?

Defense attorneys will use whatever trick or loophole they can for their client. But this one was maybe not such a great road to go down.

It seems that in October of 2010, one William James Fennie III threw a slice of pizza at an oncoming car on East Market Street in West Chester, PA. This act was witnessed by Officer Stuart Smith. According to the court document:

Officer Smith contacted the Defendant and asked for identification, a request with which the Defendant repeatedly refused to comply. When advised by Officer Smith that he was under arrest, the Defendant physically struggled and resisted to such an extent that Officer Smith used a taser to subdue him.

Fennie’s lawyer tried to convince the judge, one James P. MacElree II, that the arrest was unlawful. This is because the law states that it is illegal to throw any “solid object” at a roadway, but pizza may not qualify as a solid object.

The judge was not impressed by this argument, but endeavoured to perform his own scientific analysis of the problem to reach a conclusion.

Using NASA’s explanation of the different phases of matter, the Judge systematically tested the properties of pizza to determine its phase. So, using his “own funds” he ordered a pizza for delivery.

The first thing I noticed is 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. I therefore concluded it was not a gas.

That’s one phase of matter down. But is it a liquid?

My  next experiment was to attempt to slice the pizza into six pieces because I was not hungry enough to eat eight pieces. I observed that the slicing process actually  produced six separate and distinct pieces which did not re-form to take on the shape of the bottom of the container.  I therefore concluded it was not a liquid.

Perhaps in my university days, when I was about 25 pounds heavier, I could have eaten 8 slices of pizza. But I think 6 is a reasonable amount. Oh, and it turns out that pizza is NOT a liquid.

But is it a solid? The Judge decided to attempt to eat the pizza in order to find out.

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).  I therefore concluded that it was  a solid.

So, while dripping with sarcasm, the judge’s decision is actually a useful exercise in basic critical thinking and the scientific method.

But what did the Judge think of the defense attorney’s arguments after having performed these lengthy experiments? In short, he was not pleased…

I would  like to thank the esteemed defense attorney for giving me the opportunity to order an early lunch and  spend the rest of my lunch time writing this extremely weighty opinion.  I hope his client enjoyed paying his lawyer for the time used in making his completely frivolous argument. I am inclined to assess the defense attorney a $500 summary penalty for advancing such frivolity which wasted the time of the District Attorney, the police, and the Court. (emphasis mine)

Mmmmm. Justice tastes almost as delicious as pizza.

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