Turns Out You Can Literally Get Away With Murder At Yellowstone
Sounds like a perfect plot for the next ‘Making a Murderer’ series.
In 2005, a Michigan State University Law Professor, Brian Kalt, wrote a 14-page paper entitled The Perfect Crime after researching jurisdictional grey areas within the American legal system. He stumbled across a veritable perfect storm of jurisdictional confusion in Yellowstone National Park that would hypothetically allow someone to commit a crime in one 50-square-mile portion of Yellowstone without any legal repercussions.
Here are the facts:
- Yellowstone National Park is on federal land.
- The park falls within three states (Idaho, Montana and Wyoming), but it was all placed in Wyoming’s federal district.
- Article III of the Constitution states that criminal trials must be held in the state where the crime was committed.
- The 6th Amendment entitles a federal criminal defendant a trial by a jury living in the state and district where the crime was committed.
And here’s how you’d get away with it:
- Kill someone within the 50-square-mile portion of Yellowstone in the state of Idaho.
- The state of Idaho has no jurisdiction to try you because the park is on federal land in Wyoming’s district.
- Wyoming can’t try you either because the jury must be made up of peers living in the state and district the crime was committed. But you killed someone in the state of Idaho, in Wyoming’s district, an area where literally no one lives. No citizens = no jury = no trial.
Kalt was fascinated by this loophole—especially considering every crime drama’s fascination with the enigmatic ‘perfect crime.’ “There are a lot of different approaches to [the perfect crime],” Kalt explained. “But in terms of geography, there’s just this one spot.”
He recognized that his findings could spur a lot of criminal intent, so before the paper was published, he sent a copy to the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Attorney in Wyoming and both the House and Senate judiciary committees. He even included a draft of the legislation language that would close the loophole by dividing the park into three federal districts within each state’s borders. Okay, so I know what you’re thinking, ‘Wow that’s bonkers! But this was all in 2005, so in the last 11 years the government must have taken care of that, right?’
Okay so I know what you’re thinking, ‘Wow that’s bonkers! But this was all in 2005, so in the last 11 years the government must have taken care of that, right?’
Wrong. Kalt hardly got a response from legislators, and those who did respond seemed to think the loophole was all of the CSI TV drama realm and not real life. Kalt said he wasn’t exactly surprised by the lack of action, “They don’t deal with hypothetical threats,” he said. “They deal with concerns that are currently affecting influential constituents.”
It is worth noting that just because you wouldn’t be tried for murdering someone, you could still be tried for lesser criminal charges that don’t entitle a defendant to a trial by jury. For example, conspiracy to commit a crime. To this day, Yellowstone remains only in Wyoming’s federal district and legally, nothing has changed.
To this day, Yellowstone remains only in Wyoming’s federal district and legally, nothing has changed.
Kalt says he’s not exactly worried about a “perfect crime” actually happening in real life (though the 2007 thriller novel Free Fire explores this scenario), but he does think Congress would look extremely incompetent if anything were to happen.
In the meantime, plan your Yellowstone vacation carefully—and maybe, uninvite your frenemy.