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August 21, 2011 7:53 AM   Subscribe

The perfect location for the perfect crime. Due to a loophole in the US Constitution there is an area of Yellowstone Park where you may be able to get away with a major crime. U Michigan Prof Brian C Kalt looks into this loophole and gauges your chance at success. Someone has tried.

Don't tell scarabic.
posted by stp123 (36 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Did we mention that the world's richest oil reserves to-date have been discovered just underneath?
posted by hal9k at 8:09 AM on August 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


From the "Someone has tried" link, emphasis mine: Yellowstone National Park's 260 square miles in Montana and 50 square miles in Idaho beckon with recreation, rugged terrain and wildlife.


Umm..
posted by desjardins at 8:18 AM on August 21, 2011


This is an interesting situation. What I find even more interesting is that this was brought to light at least four years ago in the elk defense case (later plea bargained) and still, four years later, the federal government has not addressed it.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:18 AM on August 21, 2011


Yellowstone National Park's 260 square miles in Montana and 50 square miles in Idaho beckon with recreation, rugged terrain and wildlife.


Umm..


Those 260 sq miles in Montana are teensy weensy compared to the 3,000+ in Wyoming, which the article fails to mention. I guess this is the source of your umms?
posted by elizardbits at 8:21 AM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


If a major crime were to occur in that area, the courts wouldn't just let it go. They'd find some justification to move it into one of those states.
posted by chasing at 8:23 AM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I do not understand. Although there are some areas of the park in the other state, the Sixth Amendment does not limit the area in which the jury is drawn from to the park itself. A jury could still be drawn from the area around the park.

I really don't see this. He's conflating the "special maritime and territorial jurisdiction" (see 18 USC 7) of the US with the area from which a jury may be drawn under the sixth amendment. There is no reason this would be required to be so.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:30 AM on August 21, 2011


Not to mention it's a Federal park, and there are Federal Park Police. I'm pretty sure most major offenses, including murder and poaching on federal land, are easily prosecutable by the Feds, and that their juries can be easily seated from the available populace.
posted by Blackanvil at 8:37 AM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


"You make some moonshine, you poach some wildlife, you strangle some people and steal their picnic baskets.

It is bad enough to this day I'll sometimes read Yellowstone as Jellystone. But in this article I actually pronounced picnic in this article as "pic-a-nic" baskets. THANKS A LOT HANNA-BARBERA!
posted by birdherder at 8:39 AM on August 21, 2011 [11 favorites]


This probably has more to do with Native American reservations than anything else. States can't even collect taxes there. They can't even stop them from dumping high level nuclear waste.
posted by Brian B. at 8:58 AM on August 21, 2011


Ironmouth - I think his point is that per the 6th Amendment jurors have to be "of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed", and that because the crime was committed in the unpopulated intersection of the state of Idaho and the district of Wisconsin there are no such jurors.
posted by nicwolff at 9:02 AM on August 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is kinda like (getting caught) committing a murder offshore on the high seas. You may think there is no jurisdiction that will prosecute you but you'll still go to jail. Actually it's probably harder to get away with as there is a very strong paper trail from clearing passports with each customs entry and exit.
posted by sammyo at 9:12 AM on August 21, 2011


This probably has more to do with Native American reservations than anything else. States can't even collect taxes there. They can't even stop them from dumping high level nuclear waste.

Luckily the government was able to only give them the shittiest possible land and keep them in relative poverty, though, right?
posted by elizardbits at 9:21 AM on August 21, 2011


Maybe I'm too cynical, but all I think when I read this is: whose interests is it in to redistrict Yellowstone-Idaho to the Idaho district?

My first thought was that Idaho is further along with grey wolf hunting plans. But you can't hunt in the national park regardless.

My second thought is: would the Idaho District Court review park management decisions differently from the Wyoming District Court?
posted by salvia at 9:33 AM on August 21, 2011


From the BBC article: This lawless oasis is said to exist on the edge of Yellowstone National Park because of a poorly drafted statute in the Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution.

There are statutes in the Constitution?

(/snotty teenager voice)
posted by bakerina at 9:35 AM on August 21, 2011


You make some moonshine, you poach some wildlife, you strangle some people and steal their picnic baskets.

It is bad enough to this day I'll sometimes read Yellowstone as Jellystone. But in this article I actually pronounced picnic in this article as "pic-a-nic" baskets. THANKS A LOT HANNA-BARBERA!


birdherder, I'm pretty sure the good professor meant it to be read that way. I like him.
posted by evilcolonel at 9:58 AM on August 21, 2011


I think we now know the "undisclosed location" where purported Wyoming resident Dick Cheney committed his crimes.
posted by dhartung at 10:03 AM on August 21, 2011


Luckily the government was able to only give them the shittiest possible land and keep them in relative poverty, though, right?

Not the states, apparently, which was my only point. But you're saying the federal government is keeping them in poverty, right? How so?
posted by Brian B. at 10:03 AM on August 21, 2011


Invoke Breach. They'll sort it out.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 10:25 AM on August 21, 2011 [9 favorites]


Kalt is a professor at Michigan State. University of Michigan is located several miles away.
posted by basicchannel at 10:35 AM on August 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm fairly certain te legal theory presented ignores the fact that the park would be under federal jurisdiction. You would end up before a federal district
Court, not a state judge.
posted by humanfont at 10:43 AM on August 21, 2011


To add onto this. The judge in Casper dismissed the objection of venue. If he appeals to the 10th circuit and on to the supreme court and the court rules in his favor then, you would have an area of lawlessness. However that is about as likely as te income tax / free men of the land lawsuits suceeding.
posted by humanfont at 10:47 AM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here is an interview delineating the jurisdictions of the federal government in cases where they own the building or land.

Excerpt:

Perry: Concurrent legislative jurisdiction is the third type. It is considered partial jurisdiction because the federal government shares law enforcement responsibilities with the state and the local officers. In other words, should a crime occur on area owned concurrently with the state, either a federal law enforcement agency or a state or local law enforcement agency can respond, they can investigate, arrest and charge the suspect. If the federal officer or agent handles the case, that suspect will be tried in federal court. If arrested and charged by a state or local officer, the case will instead go to state or local court.

Solari: Well it seems like this category, concurrent jurisdiction, gives the federal law enforcement officer or agent the most options.

Perry: That's true. Many federal law enforcement agencies prefer to have concurrent jurisdiction on their lands, because they can share the workload, so to speak, with the state and local officers. However, concurrent jurisdiction brings other non-law enforcement responsibilities to that agency as well, and some agencies prefer to keep their properties held as proprietary jurisdiction.

Solari: That makes sense. Now Steve, I've heard the term “Special Maritime & Territorial Jurisdiction”, or sometimes called SMTJ. I hear that used. Is that the same as what we're talking about here?

Perry: Not exactly the same thing. Exclusive jurisdiction and concurrent jurisdiction are included within the term Special Maritime & Territorial Jurisdiction, or SMTJ. That is a statute, 18 United States Code Section 7, that lists areas of federal jurisdiction for which certain crimes may be prosecuted.

Solari: So let's assume that a crime has occurred in an area of exclusive jurisdiction. So only federal law applies, and only a federal officer or agent can handle the case. But let's say the behavior, the offense that's occurring at the scene, doesn't have a federal statute to cover it. You’re telling me we can't call in the state or local officers to handle it. So what do we do now?

Perry: Well that's a good question. Congress, long ago solved that problem, partially, and created a statute: Title 18 United States Code Section 13, that allows the officer or agent to assimilate an applicable state law under those circumstances. We know it as the Assimilative Crimes Act, it allows a federal officer who lacks an appropriate federal charge to use an appropriate state law in federal court. The charge is brought in the federal court, it's tried in the federal court, and if convicted the defendant does time in federal prison. The limitation on assimilative crimes is that if there is a federal statute covering the offense, that federal statute must be used. The officer can not shop between the jurisdictions to get the best charge in this case.

Solari: Alright. Well does the Assimilative Crimes Act work for concurrent and for proprietary jurisdiction also?

Perry: By definition, it does work, but only in the areas of exclusive or concurrent jurisdiction. It can not be used in areas of proprietary jurisdiction.

posted by Brian B. at 10:55 AM on August 21, 2011


IANAL, but my reading of the 6th Amendment and what the professor describes is pretty clear. All the comments about jurisdiction don't seem to matter. The crucial part of the 6th Amendment appears to be this statement:

the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law

The laws creating Yellowstone ascertained the district to be the Wyoming Federal Court. Yet the creation of Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana came after the creation of Yellowstone, which is why Yellowstone overlaps the boundaries of these States. This causes two problems for prosecutions:

1) The jury pool must be drawn from the State and district where the crime was committed. The State where you commit the crime is physically Idaho, but the district is Wyoming. This is something that can't physically happen.
2) Even if you were to surmount that problem, in the portion of Idaho that contains Yellowstone, there is a population size of zero for the area in question. So if you're brought to trial there is no jury pool that will meet the criteria created by the 6th Ammendment.

I know that prosecutions of NYC polices officers sometimes get moved to Albany due to biases in the jury pool in NYC. Maybe the same change of venue tactic can be employed in these cases?

the Sixth Amendment does not limit the area in which the jury is drawn from to the park itself

Really? To me the fragment bolded above seems to do exactly that. It limits it to the State (Idaho) and district (Federal Court jurisdiction of Wyoming, ie. Yellowstone National Park).
posted by herda05 at 11:22 AM on August 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's mentioned briefly in the links - and I can recommend the novel inspired by the loophole as a great end-of-summer-read (if you like these sort of yarns!). By the Wyoming best-selling author, C. J. Box.

Booklist blurb for Free Fire (2008)

In Free Fire...Pickett, having been fired as a game warden, is working as foreman of his father-in-law's ranch when Wyoming's loose-cannon governor, Spencer Rulon, reinstates him--not to work his old district but to investigate, without official support, a crime in Yellowstone National Park. A lawyer has found a legal loophole that allows him to kill four campers and walk away scot-free, enraging Rulon. (A remote, uninhabited part of the park, soon dubbed the "Zone of Death," has murky jurisdiction and no residents to form a jury.)

posted by Jody Tresidder at 11:52 AM on August 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Surely the solution is to base 12 specially-selected men and women in that intersection of the land at all times so that they can be the jury pool. I smell an idea for a new reality show/ crime drama...
posted by ZsigE at 12:13 PM on August 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yellowstone National Park's 260 square miles in Montana and 50 square miles in Idaho beckon with recreation, rugged terrain and wildlife.

Umm..

Those 260 sq miles in Montana are teensy weensy compared to the 3,000+ in Wyoming, which the article fails to mention. I guess this is the source of your umms?


For those having a difficult time envisioning why this is so, here's a simple map which kind of shows how the borders lie.
posted by hippybear at 12:14 PM on August 21, 2011


Yeah, I know the borders fairly well, having lived in Gallatin County, Montana for years, but I was perplexed that they didn't mention Wyoming in that sentence.
posted by desjardins at 1:41 PM on August 21, 2011


It's stuff like this which makes me wonder whether our legal system isn't just a massive game of Nomic, and someone just triggered a very, very long troll.
posted by BungaDunga at 1:44 PM on August 21, 2011


Hey mefites, anyone want to join me on a trip to the yellowstone?
posted by hal_c_on at 1:46 PM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was perplexed that they didn't mention Wyoming in that sentence

Because it is the areas which lie outside of Wyoming which are pertinent to the premise of the subject in the FPP? The areas of Yellowstone inside WY don't have the jurisdictional conundrum which the other bits have.
posted by hippybear at 2:08 PM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


In context: "Yellowstone National Park's 260 square miles in Montana and 50 square miles in Idaho beckon with recreation, rugged terrain and wildlife.
But as the only place where a federal court district extends beyond state lines, it offers visitors and criminals a potential legal no man's land."

The part of Yellowstone within Wyoming isn't part of "the only place where a federal court district extends beyond state lines", so why should it be mentioned?
posted by hippybear at 2:11 PM on August 21, 2011


I have committed a crime in a National Park! (Speeding, Zion National Park, Utah).

The ranger was perfectly happy to write me a ticket which could only be contested in federal court.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:21 PM on August 21, 2011


The Simpsons already explained how to get away with murder. You do it at 5 Points, the place where five states come together.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:11 PM on August 21, 2011


The law professor's legal argument seems rock-solid. However, unfortunately, I agree with chasing's comment that the courts wouldn't just "let a crime go" on the basis of that argument. My experience with courts is that they look askance on arguments based on "technicalities." Many courts seem to go to great lengths to uphold convictions against "technical" arguments. I would have immense respect for a court that dismissed a criminal prosecution based on the professor's argument, if such argument is in fact correct.
posted by jayder at 7:16 PM on August 21, 2011


The ranger was perfectly happy to write me a ticket which could only be contested in federal court.

The subject of federal misdemeanors and infractions is interesting. I would enjoy watching someone challenge a speeding ticket or, say, minor wildlife-regulations ticket in federal court.
posted by jayder at 7:18 PM on August 21, 2011


Not the states, apparently, which was my only point. But you're saying the federal government is keeping them* in poverty, right? How so?

* Native Americans

Brian B., last I heard, they did that by absconding with millions of dollars from the BIA, and destroying the paper trail before they were mandated to provide it to the courts.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:20 PM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


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