Sounds SCARY doesn’t it? Well… it is.
Not to be confused with the Death Zone – a section of Mt. Everest 8,000 feet above sea level where breathing becomes nearly impossible and many climbers succumb to the elements – the Zone of Death is right here in America. Specifically, it’s a fifty square mile section of Yellowstone National Park.
The interesting legal conundrum was explained in 2004 by Michigan State University law professor Brian Kalt’s article titled, “The Perfect Crime.” Kalt explains that in 1872 Congress created Yellowstone National Park – the world’s first national park – as a federal enclave which would not be subject to state law. Technically, there weren’t any states in the area at the time anyhow. In 1889 and 1890 Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho became states but Yellowstone was put exclusively into the State of Wyoming’s federal district. Even today it is the only federal district in the country to cross state lines.
This is a problem.
Why? How well do you know your constitution? Article III of the Constitution says that federal criminal trials need to be held in the state where the crime was committed. On top of that, the Sixth Amendment states that a defendant has a right to a trial by jurors who live in the same state and district as said crime.
Follow all that?
In the Wyoming federal district residing inside the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park there is a population of zero. It’s actually one of the most remote areas of the park, lacking even a road leading to or through that area. With no ability to create a federal jury and no state jurisdiction, there would be no way of actually prosecuting a crime, if one were to occur in this lawless no-man’s land. Minor offenses that do not require the formation of jury could still be prosecuted, but anything big enough to require the judgement of peers is off the table.
And no one seems interested in fixing the problem.
“I’m shocked that Congress won’t act, SHOCKED. Well, not that shocked.”
The attitude seems to be that the area is so remote and inhospitable- bears, wolves, and biting insects, oh my! – that it probably won’t ever be an issue.
Frankly, the ‘we’ll deal with it when we have to’ mentality is pretty prevalent on this issue. I originally debated posting on this topic as I am not too keen on helping people commit serious crimes, but you have to admit, it sounds like a total pain in the butt to pull off and I’m definitely not the first author to bring this to readers attention. You can read a fictionalized account of a murder being committed in the Zone of Death in C.J. Box’s award winning mystery Free Fire. Brian Kalt was even a consultant on the book so it’s as accurate as it can be while also being fiction!