Science

Yellowstone 'Zone of Death' is a 50-square-mile region in Idaho where 'you can get away with murder'


Yellowstone National Park stretches more than 3,400 square miles through Wyoming and Montana, but a small portion of the park dips into Idaho that is known as the ‘Zone of Death.’

Within this 50-square-mile area of Idaho is a loophole in the US Constitution that would allow someone to theoretically get away with any crime, including murder.

The technicality stems from the Sixth Amendment that states an individual charged of with a crime has the right to a jury summoned from the state and district where the crime was committed.

However, the ‘Zone of Death’ falls in a district that has a population of zero and any criminal act conducted in the region would technically have to be dismissed by a court of law.

Researchers across the US have petition Congress to end the loophole by adding the lawless land to the District of Wyoming, but have been shot down because officials say the judicial system would ‘prevail’ regardless of the loophole.

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Yellowstone National Park stretches more than 3,400 square miles through Wyoming and Montana, but a small portion of the park dips into Idaho that is known as the 'Zone of Death.' Within this 50-square-mile area of Idaho is a loophole in the US Constitution that would allow someone to theoretically get away with any crime, including murder

Yellowstone National Park stretches more than 3,400 square miles through Wyoming and Montana, but a small portion of the park dips into Idaho that is known as the ‘Zone of Death.’ Within this 50-square-mile area of Idaho is a loophole in the US Constitution that would allow someone to theoretically get away with any crime, including murder

Yellowstone National Park was established in 1872 when only 37 of the 48 states were in existence –Wyoming, Montana and Idaho were not yet established.

Montana was the first to become a state in 1889, the borders only covers nine percent of Yellowstone, Idaho came in July 1890 taking just the 50-square-mile sliver and then Wyoming was established a week after, which has 96 percent of the park within its borders.

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Shortly after, Congress announced the US District Court of Wyoming, which placed the entity of Yellowstone under the District of Wyoming — the only district to be found in multiple states.

With the Sixth Amendment in mind, a crime committed in the District of Wyoming must summon a juror from that district.

The technicality stems from the Sixth Amendment that states an individual charged of with a crime has the right to a jury summoned from the state and district where the crime was committed. However, the 'Zone of Death' falls in a district that has a population of zero and any criminal act conducted in the region would technically have to be dismissed by a court of law

The technicality stems from the Sixth Amendment that states an individual charged of with a crime has the right to a jury summoned from the state and district where the crime was committed. However, the ‘Zone of Death’ falls in a district that has a population of zero and any criminal act conducted in the region would technically have to be dismissed by a court of law

And the same goes with Idaho and Montana.

For example, if a murder occurs within the borders of the ‘Zone of Death’ and the killer admits to the crime and surrenders, during trial they can invoke the Sixth Amendment.

This means a jury will be composed of people from the state where the murder happened, which is Idaho, and from the federal district where it was committed.

However, the District of Wyoming extends over all of Yellowstone, even the parts in Montana or Idaho.

This means the killer has the right to a jury made up of people living in both Idaho and the District of Wyoming, which would be those is living in the part of Idaho in Yellowstone.

A criminal has the right to a jury made up of people living in both Idaho and the District of Wyoming, which would be those is living in the part of Idaho in Yellowstone - but there is no one living in this region

A criminal has the right to a jury made up of people living in both Idaho and the District of Wyoming, which would be those is living in the part of Idaho in Yellowstone – but there is no one living in this region

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The solution sounds simple, but according to Michigan State law professor Brian Kalt, it is not an easy one.

‘The jury would have to be drawn from the Idaho portion of Yellowstone National Park, which, according to the 2000 Census, has a population of precisely zero,’ reads Kalt’s published research paper ‘The Perfect Crime.’

Kalt shares his attempts and failures of lobbying Congress to change the law, with a solution to add the 50 square miles to Wyoming.

Kalt contacted senator Mike Simpson of Idaho, but the senator believed the judicial system would ‘prevail’ in such a situation and there would be no plans for redistricting. 

So, the Yellowstone Death Zone continued to exist.

‘There is no reason to reward Congress’s playing fast and loose with the Sixth Amendment,’ Kalt writes.

‘The best solution to the Yellowstone loophole is to close it, not to pretend it is not there.’



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