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Pythagoras for the Prosecution:
The Wednesday New York Times had this report about a court ruling on how to measure whether a defendant was selling drugs within 1,000 of a school:
  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.
  The opinion of the New York Court of Appeals is here. Thanks to HJB for the link.
Zargon (mail):
Next time I get a speeding ticket, I'm going to suggest that the police failed to measure the vector along which I was travelling, and merely measured velocity. Wind speed and incline are surely complicating factors, no?

I won't bother to report back on how this argument fares.

Also: doesn't this report just beg for a Google maps app that shows where one should sell drugs, in order to minimize penalties?
11.25.2005 12:55pm
Brooks Lyman (mail):
While Mr. Robbins was a criminal engaged in criminal activitiy, and thus is only trying to get a lighter sentence, many law-abiding citizens face similar problems with regard to laws that regulate the posession of firearms within a certain distance of a school or school grounds. What if you are driving by a school and have a gun in your car? Or if you live next door to a school and own guns? This is not even to mention the person who has a gun in his car - whether for defense or hunting and has to drop off or pickup his or her child at school. I am sure that the distance-measurement question either has, or will come up sooner or later. I am not very encouraged by the Robbins case decision - sounds to me like the court was more interested in nailing Mr. Robbins than in common sense.

Brooks Lyman
11.25.2005 12:59pm
CJColucci (mail):
What else could they do?
11.25.2005 1:16pm
Ellen:
I had a similar dispute with my health insurance company about measuring distances in a way I could travel, as opposed to "how a fish swims," in my case. They maintained that there is an "in network" specialist within 20 miles of my home, so I could not go to an "out of network" specialist unless I paid myself. The "in network" specialist is at the tip of Long Island, which is within 20 miles of my house in coastal Connecticut. But the land route is over 170 miles. Even by ferry, it's 75 miles. But, the health insurance company measures across Long Island Sound.

I imagine the same thinking (?) would prevail in a criminal case, too.
11.25.2005 1:26pm
lucia (mail) (www):
sounds to me like the court was more interested in nailing Mr. Robbins than in common sense.
How does this ruling violate common sense? In my neighborhood, kids cut across yards, vacant lots, jump fences and take all sorts of weird routes. Why shouldn't the law be based on the actual, real, honest to goodness distance? The alternative is to figure out all the possible paths and short cuts in all possible locations in the state.
11.25.2005 1:32pm
BruceM (mail) (www):
What about the fact that the police very likely set up the drug buy to be within the 1000' higher penalty zone (arbitrary and capricious but for our nation's insane desire to "protect the children"), thus manipulating the sentencing. Under the federal system there are certain circumstances where, at sentencing, it can be shown that the gov't manipulated the sentencing guideline factors (even post-Booker) as a sort of 'sentencing entrapment' defense. I wonder if a similar situation took place here.

Also, where possession in a school zone is a enhancement/enhanced crime, what if you are driving your car down a street, the cops decide to pull you over for something, and to find a safe place to pull over you keep driving another quarter mile prior to stopping. You stop in a school zone, but the police had sounded their siren (i.e. initiated the stop upon probable cause) outside of the school zone. They find drugs in your car. Possession in a school zone?

These laws are so idiotic it's amazing to me. At least make it "selling drugs on school property" rather than create an artificial juridical bay of higher sentences surrounding it to an arbitrary distance.
11.25.2005 1:39pm
Cornellian (mail):
Defense counsel should have argued that the Pythagorean theorem is "just a theory" and that the alternative theory of "intelligent distance measuring" proves his client was not within the culpable range.
11.25.2005 1:44pm
John Armstrong (mail):
I'm perfectly willing to accept the l2 distance rather than the l1 distance for law enforcement, but this makes me wonder. Say that the same law held in Chicago, and that there were a school of some description on the first floor of the Sears Tower. Now suppose a drug deal goes down on the top floor. It's more than 1000 feet away in a straight line, but it's less than that if you look at what point of the surface of the Earth the deal takes place over. So, is it within 1000 feet or not?
11.25.2005 1:59pm
lucia (mail) (www):
So, is it within 1000 feet or not?
No.

But, there is no reason the legislature can't write the law to use only the length projected on plane if they are worried about schools at the top of the Sears tower, or at it's base.
11.25.2005 2:14pm
lucia (mail) (www):
I should have specified: horizontal plane-- we wouldn't want slovenly written laws. :)
11.25.2005 2:15pm
Zargon (mail):
Lucia: Why shouldn't the law be based on the actual, real, honest to goodness distance?

A better question is, "why do we have such a stupid law in the first place?" Those who want the judiciary to behave with dignity would be well served by not making them make inane distinctions.

John: Now suppose a drug deal goes down on the top floor. It's more than 1000 feet away in a straight line, but it's less than that if you look at what point of the surface of the Earth the deal takes place over.

I'm confident that judges, upon review, would determine that crows fly in two dimensions. This is about drugs, afterall, and it has long been known that 'drugs' (and, now, 'terrorism') is the root password to legal common sense.
11.25.2005 2:21pm
corngrower:
1st I agree with Cornelian, its Pythagorean theorem. so holds no scientific weight.

2 cnd; Ellen makes a most practical point. Just cause you can read the writing on a billboard is no proof you can get there in less than 1000 ft.

Lucia. That is exactly what the judges have done. Made a call. Just like in miranda, just like in Miller, just like in the recent ruling on the 'legal age' to institute the death penalty. They just make it up an the go with impunity. Only judges get away with this crap
11.25.2005 2:26pm
Zargon (mail):
Upon review, I think a better measurement for this law would be in ergs expended. Thus, as children become more fat, the raduis shrinks. Afterall, it is only fair to index the "more-bad" selling of drugs with the ability of children to get them, right?
11.25.2005 2:27pm
Andy (mail) (www):
lucia: "How does this ruling violate common sense? In my neighborhood, kids cut across yards, vacant lots, jump fences and take all sorts of weird routes. Why shouldn't the law be based on the actual, real, honest to goodness distance? The alternative is to figure out all the possible paths and short cuts in all possible locations in the state."

In the real world (i.e. New York City, corner of 40th &8th), there really is no "shortcut" to get from where Robbins was dealing to Holy Cross. The intervening object would be the Port Authority Bus Terminal, which on a typical weekday is so crowded as to make navigating through it akin to an ant trying to chew through a cube of jello.
11.25.2005 3:25pm
mattperkins (mail):
Don't quote my math on this, but the Pyth. theorem only holds for right triangles. If the walking route follows a wider-angle intersection, like 115 deg. rather than 90, then the distance is over 1000 feet under either calculation method.
11.25.2005 4:10pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
For this law the "Manhattan Distance" or the "Taxicab Metric" |x1 --x2| + |y1-y2| (everything projected on the horizontal plane) makes the most sense because that's the way you generally travel on New York's lattice of streets. As Ellen points out,the straight-line distance from her home in Connecticut to a specialist on the tip of Long Island makes no sense because you don't get there by traveling a straight line. If I have to travel a convoluted path to get from point A to point B, the distance along that path best measures the effort or time it takes me to travel better than some imaginary straight-line distance. In Los Angles people generally quote distances in terms of driving time, because that's what really counts there.
11.25.2005 4:31pm
corngrower:
Mattperkins

Your grasp of math has no hold on a judge, that does not.
11.25.2005 4:36pm
davidebsmith (mail):
As to Zargon's initial comment, the speeder actually benefits from the non-application of the Pythagorian theorem because the your speed as measured by police radar off to the side of the road is less than your velocity along the direction of the road. Google on "cosine effect" for more details.

As to John Armstrong's question, I was involved in a case in which, in a (sadly) unpublished order, the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the trial court's conclusion that in the context of distance from a liquor-licensed establishment to a church (which may not be less than 100 feet), the proper method of measurement was as the crow flies (10 feet from the back door of the licensee to the back wall of the church), not along the path that a person would take walking between the licensee and the church (out the front door of the licensee, around the block, and to the front door of the church). So in Illinois, the Pythagoran theorem gets applied in two dimensions.

Does it apply in three dimensions? In your example, arguably not, because the drug deal and the school are actually happening in the same building. Even if you put the school across the street from the Sears Tower, it seems like splitting hairs to argue that if you enter the bottom of a skyscraper at a point that's within 1000 feet of a school while carrying drugs with intent to distribute, take an elevator up, do the drug deal, and return to the bottom floor with your proceeds (again within 1000 feet of the school), it makes any difference if you've gone to the 2nd, the 50th or the 100th floor to make the actual exchange.
11.25.2005 4:58pm
Defending the Indefensible:
A. Zarkov,

Precisely so. Using a "Euclidean metric" may be appropriate for some applications, and a "Taxicab metric" in others. In this case, the Euclidean metric has no relevance to the distance one must travel between the two locations. Even the "as the crow flies" metric is misleading because crows typically have to fly over buildings.

This decision is absurd.
11.25.2005 5:04pm
David Zarmi, Not Esq. (mail):
In response to the speeding ticket comment, I was told my a Physics professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee that there is actually a point where you can not stop when a light turns yellow, so that you will be forced to go through a green light. Try that next time (if I have this wrong, please feel free to tell me why).
11.25.2005 5:23pm
David Zarmi, Not Esq. (mail):
I meant a red light, of course. Oops - I guess Preview's not just for typos...
11.25.2005 5:52pm
lucia (mail) (www):
They just make it up an the go with impunity. Only judges get away with this crap
What do you mean they just made this up? The legislature passed a law. It may be a good one, or it may be stupid. But the law says "1000 ft". Why shouldn't the judges use the mathematical definition of length? I'm an engineer; their definition of length is the one I'd use.

I agree the better question might be "why have such a stupid law"? However, I understand it, that is a question for the legistlature. The judges seem to have picked the simplest plainest definition of "distance" and implemented in the simplest possible way. Why would a more complicated definition make sense in this instance.
11.25.2005 7:48pm
StandingFan:
Lucia:
Actually, the mathematical definition of "length" depends on the metric you use. As A. Karhov pointed out (before I had a chance to!), the taxi-cab metric would have been entirely appropriate in this situation given that we are not talking about open fields where anyone within 1000 feet of the school could see the school. Instead, a person would have to walk up streets and avenues to get from one place to the other. The taxi-cab metric measures that distance (and even if a person were to cut through a building or an alley, I suspect the distance traveled would be closer to the taxi-cab measure than the Euclidean measure once everything is computed).

BTW, I happened to get a masters in math before becoming a lawyer--does that trump an engineer opining on this issue? (Yes, I'm being sarcastic for relying on "credentials" when an argument should be made in support).
11.25.2005 8:25pm
lucia (mail) (www):
Yes, Standing Fan, I use the dot product in geometric space. It's the simplest most common one.

(Yes, I'm being sarcastic for relying on "credentials" when an argument should be made in support).

As it happens, I didn't my engineering credentials to buttress an argument. I'm simply responding to the insinuation that shortest path distance in Euclidean space is some strange metric dreamed up by a judge rather than "ordinary" people. It's a plain, standard metric that many, many non-legal people use, engineers included.


So, being an "ordinary" person, rather than a "legal eagle" (like one with a MS in math, who would never drop credentials in place of an argument) I ask, one again: Why would you imagine the taxi cab metric would apply? Why not the distance along a the path a typical drunk would take? Or the metric as a molecule or perfume might travel through the atmosphere? Or the path a cannon ball would travel when launched at a 45 degree angle?

So, once again, as I asked before: Why not assume the legislature meant a simple straight line, shortest path metric which doesn't depend on a large variety of complicating factors?
11.25.2005 8:45pm
Zargon (mail):
Weird, that folks failed to rebut me with the simplist metric I left them (think math). I'd call them light-weights, but damn, if they're that easy, I don't want to alert them to an intelligent observer.

Hell, I left them a wide-open door, and they didn't even see it. I feel like a wuss -- I baited them, and failed. What are we making lawyers out of these days(!?!)
11.25.2005 9:20pm
Zargon (mail):
I meant what, of course.
11.25.2005 9:23pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
So, being an "ordinary" person, rather than a "legal eagle" (like one with a MS in math, who would never drop credentials in place of an argument) I ask, one again: Why would you imagine the taxi cab metric would apply? Why not the distance along a the path a typical drunk would take? Or the metric as a molecule or perfume might travel through the atmosphere? Or the path a cannon ball would travel when launched at a 45 degree angle?
Because the purpose of the law is to provide extra punishment to people who endanger kids by dealing drugs near them.

That may be stupid for many reasons, but once you accept that this was the purpose, the distance that matters is the distance a person would have to travel to get between the two points -- not the distance a crow, molecule, or cannonball would have to travel.
11.25.2005 9:38pm
StandingFan:
Lucia:

While I am not a fan of trying to imagine legislative intent (for many reasons that I'm not going to bother going into here--and besides, I doubt that many legislators would spend much, if any, time thinking about how to measure distance), I will point to a phrase that the court uses to justify its decision. Apparently, the goal of the legislation was to promote a "corridor of safety for children coming to and from school." Now, while there could be a few definitions for corridor, I think a fair approximation of them would be an area through which someone could travel. I can't pass through the solid wall of a building. However, I can walk up a city block. The taxi-cab metric approximates that mode of transportation, while the straight line method assumes that a pedestrian could violate the laws of physics (another weird point: the opinion says that crafty drug dealers would place obstacles along the path to get out of jail--hardly likely under the taxi-cab metric unless those same drug dealers happened to be Donald Trump!).

And remember, as I said before, the "mathematical definition of length" depends on the metric used. If the goal is to create a "corridor of safety", then a metric that would more accurately measure a corridor should apply.

Keep in mind, we can't get mathematical certainty here. But, when presented with two choices, straight line versus taxi-cab, the taxi-cab metric is more realistic and better suited for the problem. If the legislature wishes to say otherwise, then it could craft the law to say that the distance shall be measured by the shortest line between the two points on a given map.

Finally, we aren't concerned here with any parabolic or stochastic path but, if you could present an argument for why either should be thoughtfully weighed next to the above two options, I'd love to hear it.

(Just as a note, was anyone else less-than-impressed with the court's reasoning that a drug dealer would exploit the "pedestrian metric," as the court uses the term? Either metric is open to exploitation--and the straight line one would be the easier to exploit!--so this point seemed rather weak.)
11.25.2005 10:04pm
Bottomfish (mail):
Being a person who often takes walks in the city, and being of a measuring turn of mind, I used to amuse myself after a walk by determining on a street map the actual length of a walk and then comparing with the distance I felt I had walked. My tendency was to underestimate. I would think of a distance of three miles as two. Probably this tendency comes from a natural human feeling that a mile is a long distance although in fact it is not.

So a prudent drug dealer, if there is such a person, will stay much further away than the statutory limit.
11.25.2005 10:16pm
StandingFan:
Nah, the prudent drug dealer would use a computer model to determine the exact "zones of safety" and operate up to their limits. And even if that drug dealer didn't choose to go to the geographical limit, another one would to take advantage of the gaps left in the market.
11.25.2005 10:25pm
Bottomfish (mail):
How often is a dealer even a high school graduate?
11.25.2005 10:43pm
The Plumber (www):
great (and funny) comments. this decision is further proof that some people have all of the common sense educated right out of them (if they ever had any). The law is stupid, as all drug laws currently are. Therefore the idiot legislators are as much to blame as these idiot judges.
11.25.2005 11:25pm
Bottomfish (mail):
So you are the Plumber. Then one who agrees with you would be a Plumbers' Friend.
11.25.2005 11:44pm
lucia (mail) (www):
StandingFan,

And remember, as I said before, the "mathematical definition of length" depends on the metric used.
I am perfectly aware that length can be measured along paths and that you have said it before. I believe you noticed I mentioned some other paths? :)

The difficulty is that I don't think your argument for measuring length along a taxi-metric makes any more sense than a stochastic path.

For one thing, to my mind "taxi" and "1000 ft" are somewhat incompatible concepts.

And since you repeat yourself, I will too: the shortest distance between two points is the most commonly understood distance when no modifiers are provided.

This isn't just a metric cooked up by judges or the police to screw criminals. So, this is the terms I'd initially assume legislators meant.

I continue to think it's the best interpretation for this application. Likely, you will be surprised to learn that I find support for the shortest distance metric when reading your discussion of the "safe corridor" idea.

And why? I think the only problem with the judges' use of the term "corridor" is that it's the crummy word to describe region of protection legislators likely wished to provide students.

I sincerely doubt the legislators thought students need protection only on precisely carved out paths and no longer need protection if they stray off these paths or "corridors".

If legislators wished to provide a safe anything, they likely wanted to provide "safe haven". That would imply something more like the geographic region enclosed within a radius rather than a set of paths with some finite width.

Now, if we consider the concept of a "haven", barriers like bus terminals lengthen student's walking distance. That doesn't mean the radius of their safe haven should be made smaller. The shortest linear distance provides more comparable protection to students across districts, and so should be preferred to any "taxi-metric" choice. In fact, the shortest distance metric protects those students in congested regions with bus terminals, who, likely need more protection rather than less. So, why pick the taxi metric which deprives children who need to get around the bus terminal of protection?

So, given the natural interpretation of distance, and the desire to provide safe havens, why would anyone think this:
If the legislature wishes to say otherwise, then it could craft the law to say that the distance shall be measured by the shortest line between the two points on a given map.

Why not expect the converse? If the legislature means something other than the shortest distance between two points, it could craft a law that says "as driven by a taxi-cab"?

Of course, if the legislators are unhappy with the judges' interpretation, they can change the law. Should they debate this, I suspect that no one will want to specify a taxi-metric measurement of distance. Kids, drug dealers and joggers often do cut through plazas and parks sometimes even traipsing through flower beds. This is especially true when the distances discussed are as short as 1000 ft.

Now to other somewhat sillier point. You implied using the shortest distance metric to interpret the law implies some sort of violation of physics such as walking through walls.

It never occurred to me that I was suggesting that students walk through walls. So, why bring up a strawman?

I suspect we will continue to disagree, but I'm still convinced the minimum distance between two points makes much, much more sense than a taxi-metric distance, particularly if the goal is to provide a very small 1000 ft radius safe haven for students traveling to school.

But, I do have a question:

Out of curiosity, does the differential penalties based on distance apply when school is in summer recess? Or at night? Or only during school hours?

This is not a rhetorical question by the way. I'm asking.
11.26.2005 12:48am
Bill R:
What's with this new "taxicab" metric? Just as most drugs are not sold by crows, most children don't take taxicabs to/from school. Certainly one school I went to was much closer to my home by the "kid" metric (if it's not fenced and not marked "no trespassing", it's fair game for shortcuts) than by the "taxicab" metric (I don't recall ever seeing a taxicab in my neighborhood anyway - so the "taxicab" distance might have been infinite).

Of course, the law seems pretty misguided, but I guess we deserve the government we elect...
11.26.2005 12:57am
Stormy Dragon (mail) (www):
The really ironic thing about this ruling is that the mathematical term for distance as as measured by the set of orthogonal legs between two points (as the defense was suggesting) is the Manhattan Distance.
11.26.2005 1:15am
DrewSil (mail):
I actually think the manhattan distance would make more sense applied to real life things in general, but the euclidean distance is probably the right choice for the law. The main reason is that it is less ambiguous, which outweighs the countervailing argument.

On a lighter note Zargon's post brings back to mind the old joke of the physics professor caught running a red light. He patiently explains to the officer that it was not his fault as the light was blue shifted due to his velocity, so to him it appeared to be green. The officer, of course, agrees with the physics professor and tears up the ticket. The prof. asks if he is free to go and the officer replies, "Of course just as soon as I can figure out how many million miles per hour over the speed limit you were going for your speeding ticket. Do you happen to remember the relativistic doppler formula?"

Similarly the officer in your case should reply, "Your perfectly right, assmuming I was at a 45 degree angle when I took the measurement I should multiply your speed by sqrt(2), lets just say 1.4 for simplicity."

Oh and finally StandingFan a degree in math counts against you when talking about the real world. I've known too many mathematicians who couldn't make change, let alone navigate around a city.
11.26.2005 1:45am
Oakton High School Football (mail):
It strikes me that the "as-the-crow-flies" metric is pretty standard stuff. I believe that is the same manner of measuring for the FMLA-qualifying criteria (where have two offices with the combined sufficient number of people count if they are on opposite sides of the Grand Canyon, according to at least one appellate opinion, if memory serves).

Does anyone know of any federal scheme that uses a path-measurement rather than a straight-line measurement?
11.26.2005 4:49am
splunge (mail):
If it really were the distance as the crow flies it would be longer than the geodesic. There are almost certainly buildings in the way, eh? The black bird would have to fly up and over them, or around.

Hmmm....if they really want to get all scientific, maybe they should define the distance involved as a time. "You can't sell drugs within 5 minutes of a school," say. Surely the relevant measure of distance is really the time it takes to travel it, right? Six New York City blocks can be a looong way, if you're a cute l'il tyke hoofing it, or right next door, if you're a corpulent drug lord with an eye patch in a stretch Caddy.

See, this way, the faster the drug dealer's getaway car, the further he has to stay from the school. Har har.
11.26.2005 5:30am
Frank Drackmann (mail):
Whoever calculated the distance down to the hundreth of a mile should be prosecuted for failing to use significant figures properly.
11.26.2005 9:06am
lee (mail):
To the gun nut up near the top, if possession of a gun within 1000 ft of a school is illegal(although I think that was struck down by SCOTUS(Morrison))and you are in possession of a gun within 1000 ft of a school then you are not "a law-abiding citizen" you are a CRIMINAL.
11.26.2005 5:19pm
big dirigible (mail) (www):
Was this undercover police officer to whom the drugs were sold a school-age child? Around these parts, when the police do their annual ritual pre-announced sting of establishments selling alcohol to minors, they at least use a genuine minor to do it.

Were children involved at all, or did the seller just make a poor choice of venue when selling his wares? Was school in session at the time? Was the crime committed on the weekend, when there are no school children about?

Barring the involvement of school-age children, the 1000-foot proximity to a school doesn't seem to have any functional purpose.

And why 1000 feet? That's not the distance the perp is expected to be able to throw the drugs. But I digress.

The law doesn't seem to have much practical meaning in this case, even if the goal is an amateurish attempt to protect children. The law does, however, have a moderately clear textual meaning. And that is what the judge is supposed to interpret, not whether the whole thing is wrongheaded or amateurish. If the legislature had meant something like "road distance," the English language has ways of saying so.
11.26.2005 5:51pm
TomAngell (mail) (www):
Thanks for bringing this interesting case to my attention. I've since blogged about it over at the DARE Generation Diary, a blog about the disastrous impact the War on Drugs has on young people. I also added some information about the efficacy (or lack thereof) of drug-free school zone statutes, as well as how most of the land in many major cities actually falls inside such "no go" zones.

This is just a tool of Drug War profiteers to pack prisons and boost budgets.
11.26.2005 5:55pm
Beerslurpy (mail) (www):

How does this ruling violate common sense? In my neighborhood, kids cut across yards, vacant lots, jump fences and take all sorts of weird routes. Why shouldn't the law be based on the actual, real, honest to goodness distance? The alternative is to figure out all the possible paths and short cuts in all possible locations in the state.


Children cant jump over buildings or swim across deep rivers. But this decision assumes just that. This was a law regarding the selling of drugs within a 300m distance of a school, presumably to prevent children from having a short distance to traverse before buying drugs. Shouldnt a conviction be based upon the shortest possible distance a reasonable child could cross?

And two points.
1) Calculating path distances is a very simple process that any computer programmer learns in the first year of high school. All the map websites do this automatically.

2) Even if it was time consuming, it is worth doing, because someone sent to jail for an extra 10 years by virtue of a meaningless number is going to be there for a long time. A lot longer than an accurate measurement would have taken to perform.
11.27.2005 2:47pm
KevinM:
Yeah, and I'm sure that some bright-eyes will also point out that the Pythagorean theorem doesn't work on a spherical surface like that of the Earth. But what the court did here was to interpret the legislative intent as manifested in the words of a statute. What the legislators did, however, was to adopt distance from a school as a convenient, bright-line -- if extremely rough -- proxy for the policy of punishing drug dealing that potentially affects minors. They could have chosen 100 feet, or 2000 feet -- they chose 1000. They could have required a showing that some minor was actually in the area, or exempted weekends and vacations, or exempted drug dealing that took place indoors, or whatever. Starting from the legislative goal, I'm sure we could all design a statute that's a better "fit" than the NY (or similar federal) one. But that wasn't the task before the court.
By the way, if you've ever been in a DEA office, you'll likely see a map of the area with compass-drawn, circular zones around the area schools. You'll also notice that, for any densely-populated urban area, the school zones cover virtually the whole city.
11.27.2005 4:01pm
lucia (mail) (www):
Children cant jump over buildings or swim across deep rivers. But this decision assumes just that.
If you read the decision, it's quite evident the judges do not assume kids can jump over buildings.

1) Calculating path distances is a very simple process that any computer programmer learns in the first year of high school. All the map websites do this automatically.

Untrue. No map web site calculates pedestrian path distances automatically for all possible paths between two arbitrary end points in the US. At most, online maps calculate the driving distance between two street addresses along a specified path. Even those sometimes cannot find the shortest driving path reliably. (They also have disclaimers admitting this.)

I agree the procedure for calculating this is straightforward. I sincerely doubt any freshman in highschool has access to the data to code this for all possible pairs of endpoints in the New York State including every house, building, shed, and intact or breached fence in every neighborhood, yard or park!

Even if it was time consuming, it is worth doing, because someone sent to jail for an extra 10 years by virtue of a meaningless number is going to be there for a long time. A lot longer than an accurate measurement would have taken to perform.
This would be true if the law were based on walking distance. But it's not because the legislature wrote up the law based on the area within a 1000 ft radius.
11.27.2005 7:21pm
Sandy007:
This should have been obvious.

The school is at the center of a circle with a 1000 ft radius. I guess the legislature should've drawn a map.
11.28.2005 12:39am
A Guest (mail):
This decision is truly stupid. When I built a web database of restaurants in Manhattan back in 1994, it had the ability to limit searches to within a given distance of a specified point. The filter used the Manhattan Distance, as that's the obviously useful metric in such a situation: "How far is the restaurant from me?" Or, in the cited decision, "how far is the drug dealer from the school?"
11.28.2005 4:25pm
Aaron:
Someone had a question about other factors of the NY law.

Section 220.44 Criminal sale of a controlled substance in or near school grounds

A person is guilty of criminal sale of a controlled substance in or near school grounds when he knowingly and unlawfully sells:

1. a controlled substance in violation of any one of subdivisions one through six-a of section 220.34 of this article, when such sale takes place upon school grounds; or

2. a controlled substance in violation of any one of subdivisions one through eight of section 220.39 of this article, when such sale takes place upon school grounds, or

3. a controlled substance in violation of any one of subdivisions one through six of section 220.34 of this article, when such sale takes place upon the grounds of a child day care or educational facility under circumstances evincing knowledge by the defendant that such sale is taking place upon such grounds; or

4. a controlled substance in violation of any one of subdivisions one through eight of section 220.39 of this article, when such sale takes place upon the grounds of a child day care or educational facility under circumstances evincing knowledge by the defendant that such sale is taking place upon such grounds.

5. For purposes of subdivisions three and four of this section, "the grounds of a child day care or educational facility" means (a) in or on or within any building, structure, athletic playing field, a playground or land contained within the real property boundary line of a public or private child day care center as such term is defined in paragraph (c) of subdivision one of section three hundred ninety of the social services law, or nursery, pre-kindergarten, or kindergarten, or (b) any area accessible to the public located within one thousand feet of the real property boundary line comprising any such facility or any parked automobile or other parked vehicle located within one thousand feet of the real property boundary line comprising any such facility. For the purposes of this section an "area accessible to the public" shall mean sidewalks, streets, parking lots, parks, playgrounds, stores and restaurants.

6. For the purposes of this section, a rebuttable presumption shall be established that a person has knowledge that they are within the grounds of a child day care or educational facility when notice is conspicuously posted of the presence or proximity of such facility.

Criminal sale of a controlled substance in or near school grounds is a class B felony.

There are no time, date, or requirements that school actually be in session. Once a premises is deemed to be "school grounds", that is all that is required for the sentence enhancement.
11.28.2005 5:59pm