Day 17: Yellowstone Death Zone
A place where you can legally get away with murder sounds like something out of a Purge movie. However, it actually exists inside a tiny part of Yellowstone National Park. How did this happen and why does it still exist today?
Listen Here: https://www.spreaker.com/episode/41504959
Places like Yellowstone are key areas for crime to happen. Due to the uninhabited landscape where there is not another person for miles it is an idea place to commit a murder or hide a body. There are many places in Yellowstone and other national parks that a body would never be found no matter how expertly the area was searched. However, there is a part of Yellowstone where it is even easier to commit a crime without being caught, and that is what we are going to be talking about today.
The US District Court for Wyoming is the only district court to have jurisdiction in multiple states at the moment. Since Wyoming is the main state that Yellowstone National Park is in it has jurisdiction over the entirety of Yellowstone. However, Yellowstone National Park does not end in Wyoming, it also goes into Montana and Idaho.
Although Wyoming has jurisdiction over Yellowstone the Federal Government also does. This means that any crimes committed in the National Park cannot be tried under state laws. It is confusing but hopefully that explained it as simply as possible.
Trials for crimes that happen in Yellowstone are most often tried at a federal courthouse in Cheyenne, Wyoming. However, due to the 6th amendment the juries that participate in these trials have to be from the district and state where the crime was committed. This means that if the crime was committed in the small part of the park that is in Idaho the jury would have to be people from that area and the trial would have to be in that area.
But this area in Idaho has no court house, and no people, so they cannot follow the 6th amendment rule in this case. That means that there would be no opportunity for a fair trial for the individual who committed the crime. Because of this there is no way to actually take legal action against someone who committed a crime in this area.
It is literally an insane loophole that exists in the constitution paired with the jurisdiction within Yellowstone National Park. Due to this insane loophole there is a 50 square mile area that any crime is essentially legal.
So, how did society find out about this. Most people don’t spend the time searching for loopholes in US law but apparently Michigan State University law professor Brian Kalt does. He was researching to write an essay about the 6th amendment. While doing this he actually started to imagine a place that doesn’t have enough people to form a jury and have a fair trial. After thinking about this for some time he happened to come across the area in Idaho where this is actually a reality.
Due to finding this area he decided to write to the US government to hope to persuade them to fix this loophole. This was back in 2005 and the essay is called ‘The Perfect Crime.’ This is something that really concerned many people including Kalt himself. The concern came about because now this info was out to the public and many people believed that criminals would use this to their advantage.
There is actually a campground, called the Buffalo Lake campground that is located within the zone. Part of me really wants to go camp there and then the other part of me knows something could go very wrong. After all, I could be murdered there without any repercussions to my killer.
Anyways, there was a 2008 novel called Free Fire by C.J. Box that focused on the Zone of Death, which is what this are of the park was named. This book was put out to try and raise awareness about it and about the loophole. However, it got the attention of a few people but nothing was done about it. Kalt and others came forward with proposals on how to get rid of this loophole but it still seems nothing has been done.
There is also a 2016 horror film that is called Population Zero that focuses on the ‘Zone of Death.’ I am definitely going to have to go watch this one soon.
Here is the short essay called ‘The Perfect Crime’ by Brian Kalt: