The Yellowstone Zone of Death is the name given to a roughly 50 square mile area of Yellowstone National Park in which, as a result of a loophole in the Constitution of the United States, a criminal could theoretically get away with any crime, including rape and murder. It is specifically the section of the park in Idaho.
The court district governing Wyoming is currently the only court district in the US to have jurisdiction over land in other states. This is due to the fact that all of Yellowstone National Park, which includes parts of Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana, is part of the Wyoming judicial district. Any criminal discovered to have committed a crime in that district would usually be brought to Cheyenne, Wyoming, where the court for the Wyoming district is. However, the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution decrees that a trial must happen both within the district and state of where the crime was committed. Because of this, a crime committed in the “Zone of Death” would be constitutionally required to be tried in and include only jury members from Zone.
However, because the area of Yellowstone in Idaho is uninhabited, a jury cannot be assembled and the criminal would be unable to have a fair trial, meaning that they could not receive any legal punishment for major crimes.
The constitutional loophole in this area was discovered by Michigan State University law professor Brian C. Kalt while he was planning to write an essay about technicalities of the Sixth Amendment, which entitles citizens to a fair and quick trial. Kalt wondered about a hypothetical place where there were not enough eligible citizens to form a jury and theorized that there could be no trial and therefore no punishment for major crimes in that area. He later realized that there was such a place: the Idaho section of Yellowstone National Park. Horrified by his realization, Kalt shifted his focus to writing an essay about the area to persuade the government to fix the loophole. The essay, which is called “The Perfect Crime”, was published in 2005 in the Georgetown Law Journal. Kalt feared that criminals might read the essay and commit a crime in the Zone before the loophole was fixed.
After Brian Kalt discovered the loophole, he worked to have the government close it. He suggested to lawmakers in Wyoming that the Zone of Death be included as part of the nearest Idaho judicial district instead of the Wyoming district to fix the issue. However, the lawmakers ignored Kalt’s suggestion. In 2007, author C.J. Box wrote a novel called Free Fire that featured the Zone, which Box hoped would increase governmental awareness. The novel did succeed in alerting Wyoming Senator Mike Enzi to the issue. However, Enzi was unable to convince Congress to discuss it.
No known felonies have been committed in the Zone of Death since Kalt’s discovery. However, a hunter named Michael Belderrain illegally shot an elk in the Montana section of Yellowstone. While that section of the park does have enough residents to form a jury, it might be difficult to put together a standing and fair one due to travel or the unwillingness of members of the small population there to serve. A judge ruled that Belderrain should be tried in the nearest Montana district rather than the sparsely populated Wyoming district. Belderrain cited Kalt’s paper “The Perfect Crime” to explain why he believed it was illegal to have his trial conducted in a different district than where the crime was committed. The judge disagreed, and Belderrain plead guilty before a trial in either district could be conducted.
To this day, no accomplishments have been made by the government to solve the Zone of Death loophole.