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Geometry: No One Likes It, Except When It Gets You Acquitted

In State v. Wisowaty, 2015 VT 97 (July 24, 2015), the Vermont Supreme Court overturned a Judge’s calculation of Defendant’s driving speed because it was based on unfounded assumptions.

Issue: After a trial for negligent operation of a vehicle and excessive speed, the Judge rejected the testimony of the experts for both the State and the defendant because of inaccuracies in the data used in their calculations of speed. The Judge then performed his own calculations, using the Pythagorean Theorem, and concluded that the Defendant was guilty. Defendant appealed.

Holding: The Vermont Supreme Court agreed that both experts failed to properly calculate Defendant’s speed and that their opinions cannot support a conviction. While the Court recognized that other states allow judges to perform their own calculations using the Pythagorean Theorem, it held that the Judge in this case relied on unfounded assumptions about the length and orientations of the sides of the triangle, resulting in a clearly erroneous conclusion. Since there was insufficient evidence, the Court ordered an acquittal on both charges.

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