As mathematics teachers, we are always looking for interesting examples of the use or misuse of mathematics in the real-world. Occasionally, opportuntities fall into our laps. Consider this New York Times item, which has been shared on multiple news services and reflects on the use of Pythagoras in Court.
Conviction With an Angle Is Upheld by Court of Appeals
By Michael Cooper
November 22, 2005
Pythagoras won his day in court on Tuesday.
The question before the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals, was whether a man named James Robbins was guilty of selling drugs within 1,000 feet of a school - which carries a longer sentence - when he was arrested in March 2002 on the corner of Eighth Avenue and 40th Street in Manhattan and charged with selling drugs to an undercover police officer.
The nearest school, Holy Cross, is on 43rd Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues. How to measure? On foot, Mr. Robbins's lawyers argued, the school is more than 1,000 feet away from the site of the arrest, because the shortest route is blocked by buildings. But as the crow flies, the authorities said, it is less than 1,000 feet away.
Law enforcement officials calculated the straight-line distance using the Pythagorean theorem (a2 + b2 = c2) measuring the distance up Eighth Avenue (764 feet) as one side of a right triangle, and the distance to the church along 43rd Street (490 feet) as another, to find that the length of the hypotenuse was 907.63 feet.
Lawyers for Mr. Robbins argued that the distance should be measured as a person would walk it because "crows do not sell drugs."
But in a unanimous ruling, the seven-member Court of Appeals upheld his conviction and held that the distance in such cases should be measured as the crow flies.
"Plainly, guilt under the statute cannot depend on whether a particular building in a person's path to a school happens to be open to the public or locked at the time of a drug sale," Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye wrote in the opinion.
Mr. Robbins is currently serving a 6-to-12-year sentence.