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Yellowstone Has a 50 Square Mile "Zone Of Death" Which Could Serve as a Paradise for Murderers
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Yellowstone Has a 50 Square Mile "Zone Of Death" Which Could Serve as a Paradise for Murderers

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flickr.com/George (Digisnapper)

IDAHO — July 25, 2018

Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming is a staple of American recreation... but there is a small area of the park which crosses the border into Idaho which has come to be known as the Zone of Death. It stretches for 50-square-miles.

According to the US code: "The Yellowstone National Park, as its boundaries now are defined, or as they may be hereafter defined or extended, shall be under the sole and exclusive jurisdiction of the United States."

Due to legal ambiguities regarding the definition this part of Yellowstone Park and limitation in the scope of the surrounding jurisdictions, perpetrators of certain serious crimes might be able to use it as a safe haven against the law.

For example, if you go to this 50 square mile area of the park which are technically in Idaho and accidentally kill someone there, you can go admit to it and surrender to the authorities.

Then, during court, you can invoke your right under the Sixth Amendment, which states that the accused has the right to a jury composed of people from the state where the murder was committed (Idaho) and from the federal district where it was committed (Wyoming). But this doesn't refer to anyone from Idaho and Wyoming specifically, but rather people living in the area where the crime was committed.

And as it so happens, no one lives in the Idaho part of Yellowstone. That's all. Your court case is over.

Michigan State law professor Brian Kalt first wrote about this loophole in his article "The Perfect Crime" which was published in his 2005 Georgetown Law Journal. Later the scenario got featured in a best-selling mystery novel, Free Fire by CJ Box, who consulted Kalt when writing the book, and later the 2016 horror film Population Zero.

As Kalt says, "[T]he loophole looms, waiting for a murderer to exploit it. I feel like I've done what I can to prevent this; the blood will be on the government's hands."

Local authorities have so far been slow to decide what to do about, despite that Kalt set about trying to get Congress to take action.

Kalt appealed to the Department of Justice, the US Attorney for Wyoming, and the House and Senate Judiciary Committees to take note of the loophole. And yet, he only received a reply from the US Attorney, who said it wasn't in his power to change the law.

Then Kalt published his second article "Tabloid Constitutionalism: How a Bill Doesn't Become Law" with the main questions inside "What does it take to get Congress to pass a law? To get a judge to declare a statute unconstitutional? To get your law-review article featured in the National Enquirer?"

The article's release and subsequent press blitz didn't accomplish anything either. Then-Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho) promised to look into the issue, but did not do anything beyond that.

In spring 2007, CJ Box's novel "Free Fire" was released. One of the novel's fans happened to be Senator Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming), who later asked the Department of Justice to look into the issue.

After a prolonged reflection on Enzi's report, they concluded that no fix was needed. According to the Department of Justice spokesman, this book is a dramatization of events and in fact, was clearly wrong, as the "error" in question is a clear violation of one's Sixth Amendment right to a trial in the state and district where the crime allegedly occurred, and so could hardly be judged "harmless."

As a second argument against action was that it is impossible to separate the Yellowstone into the district courts for Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana which would also require splitting it between the Ninth and Tenth Circuits.

"Senator Enzi and others were wary of this because it would create a new and unwelcome burden if environmentalists could use this foothold to challenge the Park Service’s management decisions in the liberal and quirky Ninth Circuit," Kalt said as an answer. "There is nothing to preclude Congress from designating the Tenth Circuit as the proper venue for all administrative appeals concerning Yellowstone National Park."

"Officials have lots of more important things to worry about," Kalt added. "Of course, they aren’t fixing those things either, but I need to be realistic here."

So what would happen if someone were to be murdered in the Idaho “zone of death”? What would become of them? Kalt argues that there is a solid chance they could get away with it using their Constitutional rights, but things could take a rather vengeful turn.

"That bothers me more than the inaction from Congress because they had a golden opportunity to let this be resolved," Kalt says. "Maybe the Tenth Circuit would have said I was wrong. That would have ended things. Maybe they would have said I was right. That would have spurred Congress to fix this, something that would have only taken them a few simple lines of legislation to do. Either way, it would have been fixed in a relatively low-stakes case. Instead, the loophole looms, waiting for a murderer to exploit it. I feel like I’ve done what I can to prevent this; the blood will be on the government’s hands."

In his last correspondence with Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho) he emphasized his readiness to meet Kalt in the nearest future.

Suzanne Wrasse, press secretary for Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho), said the Senator was not previously aware of the loophole, but was not overly concerned as "that area is incredibly small and has an extremely low crime rate" and the existence of the Zone "shouldn’t stop state prosecution – they have dual jurisdiction in that area."

Earlier this week USA. Really also noted the danger of a potential supervolcano eruption at Yellowstone.

Author: USA Really