Yellowstone National Park’s Zone of Death: Murder is Legal?

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It is possible that a legal loophole makes it legal to commit crimes without punishment and even “get away with murder” in a 50-square-mile stretch of Yellowstone National Park known as the “Zone of Death.”

This could be proven by a theory posited by the law professor, Brian Kalt, who argued that there is a “loophole” to judicial boundaries within Yellowstone National Park — a region that overlaps parts of Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana — that would make it difficult or impossible to prosecute crimes that require a jury in a court of law. Since there is no legal precedent for criminal prosecutions in this area, it is unknown exactly how a court proceeding might go. However, a crime committed in this region has not been brought forth in a court of law, and it is unlikely that prosecutors would forgo pursuing a case because of the disputed boundaries. But hey, still pretty interesting, right?

The loophole has to do with the Sixth Amendment, which dictates that a jury must be comprised of people from the state and federal district where the crime was committed. Because this portion of Yellowstone is in Idaho and the park itself lies within the jurisdiction of Wyoming, it means a jury for a crime committed there would have to come from people who both live in Idaho and fall under Wyoming’s federal jurisdiction.

The Zone of Death was first introduced by Brian Kalt in a research paper titled “The Perfect Crime,” and published in the November 2005 issue of the Georgetown Law Journal. While it is true that a potential legal loophole does exist, Kalt suggests that such a statement is overly generalized and largely inaccurate. Kalt stated that his intention in writing the paper was to highlight the legislative discrepancy and ultimately get it fixed, and he is confident that it’s not too late. And, according to the law professor, a legal remedy would be a simple and easy remedy.

News of the loophole made national headlines, but federal legislators have yet to take any action. The Zone of Death garnered additional attention after it inspired the 2008 novel Free Fire by C.J. Box, and later the 2016 horror film Population Zero. I don’t know about you, but I know what I’m watching tonight!

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