Thursday, October 27, 2005

More Useless Math

My students will rationalize this away by insisting, "I still don't need to know it because I'm not going to be a lawyer."

From the New York State Court of Appeals Summaries of Cases heard in October 2005 (pdf), case 162, People v James Robbins (argued October 20, 2005):
James Robbins was arrested in March 2002 after allegedly selling crack cocaine to an undercover officer in a buy-and-bust operation at West 40th Street and Eighth Avenue in Manhattan, roughly three blocks from the Holy Cross grade school on West 43rd Street. He was convicted of third degree criminal sale of a controlled substance and criminal sale of a controlled substance in or near school grounds which, under Penal Law ยง 220.00(14), requires proof the sale occurred in "any area accessible to the public located within 1,000 feet" of school property. Now serving concurrent prison terms of 6 to 12 years in prison, Robbins argues in this appeal that there was insufficient evidence the sale occurred within 1,000 feet of Holy Cross.

The statute does not declare whether the distance is to be measured as the crow flies or as a pedestrian would have to travel. Because buildings stand in the way, a detective was unable to directly measure the bee-line distance from the point of sale to Holy Cross; he measured one pedestrian route to be 1,294 feet and another route to be 1,091 feet. However, Supreme Court ruled the distance should be measured "in a direct line" from drug sale to school and it allowed the prosecution to employ geometry to figure it out, taking judicial notice of the Pythagorean theorem. The detective was sent back out to measure the two sides of the right triangle: up Eighth Avenue from 40th to 43rd street (764 feet) and then along 43rd Street to the school (490 feet). Calculating the hypotenuse in accordance with the theorem produced a distance of 907.63 feet from the drug sale corner to the school