Self

Why All Crime (Even Murder) Is Legal In One 50-Mile Area Of The U.S.

Photo: Pontus Edenberg / Mega Pixel / Shutterstock
yellowstone national park zone of death

With the advances in technology, forensic science, and DNA testing, it’s almost impossible to get away with a crime these days.

Unless, of course, you happen to commit that crime in the Zone of Death. Because, hypothetically, crimes committed in this 50-square mile section of Yellowstone National Park can go uncharged.

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What is the Zone of Death?

Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana all have portions of Yellowstone within their boundaries. But the Idaho portion of the park has a small section known as Yellowstone’s Zone of Death.

It got its name in 2005 when Michigan State law professor Brian Kalt found a loophole in the United States Constitution that rendered crimes committed in that area impossible to prosecute. He wrote about this in a Georgetown Law Journal article, "The Perfect Crime."

The Sixth Amendment dictates that all federal crimes have to be prosecuted in the state and district in which the crime occurred.

But while Yellowstone falls under the Federal District of Wyoming, the Zone of Death is located across state lines in Idaho.

So, in this case, if a crime is committed there, it must be prosecuted using the population of people who live within 50 miles. The catch? There are no residents in this small sliver of land.

   

   

Since uncovering the loophole, Kalt has set out unsuccessfully to close it by proposing that crimes committed in the Zone of Death fall under District of Idaho jurisdiction.

Early in 2022, Rep. Colin Nash, a Democrat from Boise, sponsored House Joint Memorial 3, a call to close that loophole.

He asserted that if a defendant killed or kidnapped someone in the Zone of Death, then invoked their Sixth Amendment right to be tried in front of a jury from their state and district, problems could arise.

That bill passed in February 2022, changing state laws and making it possible to hold anyone engaged in criminal activity in the Zone of Death accountable.

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Has anyone committed crimes in the Zone of Death?

The theory that someone could literally get away with murder in Yellowstone park was always just that: a theory. To date, no one has been arrested for a crime there.

During the investigation into the disappearance of Gabby Petito, because she had called her family from neighboring Grand Teton National Park, it was speculated that she was taken to the Zone of Death to be murdered. Those claims were unfounded.

The sudden renewed attention to the obscure area was the catalyst for getting the laws changed and closing the gap in jurisdictions.

Debunking the Hypothetical Loophole

Though Kalt’s hypothetical perfect crime theory makes for good entertainment, he himself admitted that the loophole did not make murder legal in the so-called Zone of Death.

According to Kalt, “It just presents a reason why it might be harder to prosecute someone for it successfully. But breaking the law is breaking the law, whatever happens to the person who does it.”

Realistically, if someone were to commit a murder in the Zone of Death, there would likely be a murder trial that would establish legal precedence for future crimes that take place there.

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NyRee Ausler is a writer from Seattle, Washington, and author of seven books. She covers lifestyle and entertainment and news, as well as navigating the workplace and social issues.

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