A Pennsylvania statute provides:
Whoever intentionally throws, shoots, drops or causes to be propelled any solid object, from an overpass or any other location adjacent to or on a roadway, onto or toward said roadway shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree.
The question in Commonwealth v. Fennie was whether pizza qualified as a “solid object” for purposes of this statute. You could probably guess the answer even if I hadn’t told you in the headline, but here it’s not so much the answer as the explanation.
A police officer saw the defendant throw a piece of pizza toward a roadway (and in fact the slice hit the windshield of a moving car). Seems to have been clear this was an intentional act, and so the only issue was whether throwing pizza was illegal. Those of you who have experience with solid objects, including but not limited to pizza, might jump to the conclusion that pizza is indeed a “solid object.” Happily, however, this judge decided to share his analysis.
He first set forth the applicable rules:
Matter normally exists as a solid, a liquid, or a gas. In the solid phase, the molecules are closely bound to one another by molecular forces, A solid holds its shape, and the volume of a solid is fixed by the shape of the solid. In the liquid phase, the molecular forces are weaker than in a solid. A liquid will take the shape of its container with a free surface in a gravitational field. In the gas phase, the molecular forces are very weak, a gas fills its container, taking both the shape and the volume of the container. NASA, Phases of Matter, Glenn Research Center (September 9, 2010).
Next, he applied the rules to the facts of the case:
Using personal funds, I bought some pizza in order to test its physical properties. 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. 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. My next experiment was to attempt to pick up one of the slices and eat it. 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). I therefore concluded that it was a solid.
In a concluding paragraph, the judge thanked the defense attorney for giving him an excuse to eat an early lunch. He also suggested he was considering sanctions, though, so writing a funny opinion did not entirely improve his mood.
The attorney was later quoted as saying he thought the judge had missed the point. “The issue was whether the law could be read to encompass all solids, not whether a slice of pizza is a solid,” he said. That’s a valiant effort, but the judge didn’t need to reach that issue. One day someone may test the law by throwing something gelatinous and then you might run that one up the flagpole.
The attorney did admit that he had enjoyed reading the opinion, “up to a point.”