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The Zone Of Death: Yellowstone, Idaho 📍
Is This The Nation's Most Dangerous Loophole? (📍Bonkers Borders Series)
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The Zone of Death:
Yellowstone National Park, Idaho, USA
In the US, there’s a place called The Zone Of Death.
It’s not like you die when you go in there, it’s just that if you did, it’d be hard to charge your killer.
(That obviously also assumes you didn’t die of natural causes, which I understand is a big leap to make, but it’s necessary for the story)…
The Zone of Death is a 50-square mile area in eastern Idaho that seemingly defies laws like the Bermuda Triangle. But unlike the Bermuda Triangle, the laws this place defies are real deal criminal laws (also, unlike the Bermuda Triangle, it’s a rectangle – but still a basic shape).
Here’s the problem: Yellowstone National Park sits mostly in Wyoming, but its western border extends just a tad into Idaho and Montana. More precisely, its 96% Wyoming, 3% Montana, 1% Idaho.
If you’re a fan of Kevin Costner’s Yellowstone, you may be familiar – they kill some people by exploiting this border weirdness.
There’s a lot of background to why it’s like that, but the biggest reason is that the park boundaries were set to align with preserving natural features, like “10 miles around Yellowstone Lake”, while the state boundaries (which were territories at the time) lined up mostly with longitude/latitude lines. It gets a bit more hazy though because like a lot of the borders created in the 1800s, few of the people who made them had actually been there. (in fact, the law that names the park’s borders includes a mistakenly named lake that officials only found out about a year later).
IT'S THE WORLD’S MOST DANGEROUS LOOPHOLE
Whatever the reason, Yellowstone’s boundaries have always included a small bit of Montana and Idaho.
Here’s where it gets weird: Yellowstone, like all National parks, is federal land ruled by federal laws and the US constitution (its true: if u get a speeding ticket in any national park, it’s a federal offense!).
The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution, part of the Bill of Rights, makes clear that defendants in a criminal prosecution have the right to an impartial jury “of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed.”
That’s usually not a problem because federal judicial districts always line up with state borders. EXCEPT, in this very special case, where all of Yellowstone, including the bits in Idaho and Montana, are part of the Wyoming district. (It is actually the ONLY federal district that comprises more than one state).
So, a crime committed in the Zone of Death needs a jury from the Wyoming district that also lives in Idaho, which means it can only be people who live in that 50 sq mile area. Guess what? According to the 2020 census, No one lives there. Literally, no one.
So, your constitutional right to a jury trial can actually NEVER be granted for crimes committed in this place, regardless if you were caught red-handed.
IS IT REALLY A ZONE OF DEATH?
Now, before you get crazy ideas, this is all theoretically true, but reality can be very different. The Zone of Death was partially put to the test once in 2007 when an illegal poacher was arrested in the Montana part of Yellowstone. Unlike the Idaho part, the Montana part does have a small population, but it’s so small that the poacher argued he was unable to get a fair jury. The judge wasn’t buying it and ruled he could be tried, just like everyone else who commits crimes in the real world.
Recent high-profile murders on federal lands, like Gabby Petito, have caused lawmakers to push for legislation to close the loophole.
I’m no constitutional expert, but I think they just have to move that bit of Yellowstone to the Idaho district – like the move the line a few miles. Unless they’re planning a heinous crime in this section of Idaho, I don’t think anyone will mind.
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