Photo: jack-sooksan/Shutterstock

There's a Tiny Portion of Yellowstone National Park Where You Can Literally Get Away With Murder

Idaho National Parks
by Olivia Harden Jul 20, 2022

It might sound a little like The Purge, but a slight discrepancy in the law might make you think differently about Yellowstone National Park. In 2005, Michigan State law professor Brian Kalt discovered a loophole in the United States Constitution that made it impossible to prosecute any crimes in a small section of the park. He named it the Zone of Death.

The Zone of Death is a 50-mile area of Yellowstone National Park, where the park spills over from Wyoming into Idaho. In Kalt’s 2005 Georgetown Law Journal article, The Perfect Crime, he explains that the sixth amendment says that federal crimes must be prosecuted under the state and district that the crime was committed in. However, in the case of Yellowstone, the federal district of Wyoming has full jurisdiction over the entirety of the park. So, if you committed a crime in the Zone of Death, you’d only be able to prosecute that person using the population of people who live in that 50 miles. The number of people who live there is zero.

Since Kalt discovered the loophole, he’s set out to get Congress to fix it by creating legal framework that either makes Idaho’s portions of Yellowstone inside the District of Idaho or for residents of Wyoming who live in the federal district to be able to prosecute. But Kalt was told this was not high on Congress’ priority list, according to Vox.

In 2007, the courts had the opportunity to address this issue head on, but they left the loophole unfilled. There’s a similar portion of land that’s in Montana, but the difference is people do live in the area, making it difficult but not impossible to host a trial with a jury of your peers. Michael Belderrain illegally killed an elk inside the Park’s jurisdiction and used Kalt’s article as his defense. Prosecutors decided to offer a plea deal that gave Kalt a lesser sentence under the condition that he wouldn’t be able to appeal.

The hypothetical situation seems pretty unlikely since no one has been arrested for crimes committed in the Zone of Death at this time. However, even if you thought you could get away with the perfect crime, it’s likely you’d be charged with crimes they could prosecute you on somewhere else like conspiracy or gun related charges. I wouldn’t recommend finding out anytime soon.

Discover Matador