There’s long been a rumor that you can do anything you want in international waters. This is untrue, of course, as you’re still subject to the laws of your own country. Murder a man in international waters and when you get to shore, you will be prosecuted as sure as if you jacked that poor sucker up in downtown Wichita. But what if there were a more lawless place? A more wild and untamed zone of madness? What if it was in Yellowstone? (Pro tip: it’s in Yellowstone).
In 1995, Michigan State law professor Brian Kalt discovered something just this side of insane. There is a 50 square mile zone in Yellowstone Park where, legally, there is no law. It’s like Detroit but with bears. What the hell does that mean? Follow this crazy train of legal BS, it’s stunning. You’re in this zone in Yellowstone, shooting off illegal fireworks, drinking peyote-laced moonshine and you decide the guy across the campsite from you has been giving you the stink-eye for way too long so you beat him to death with a Justin Bieber Never Say Never DVD. The cops arrest you and you drop the 6th Amendment on them – you want a trial by a jury of people from the state in which the crime was committed, which is Idaho, and from the federal district it was committed in. How does this save you?
Turns out, the District of Wyoming has legal purview over all of Yellowstone, including the parts in Idaho and Montana. So by requesting a jury from the state the crime was committed in, you’re requesting a jury only from the part of Idaho Yellowstone is in. And no one lives there. It’s impossible for you to stand trial at this point unless a court violates the Constitution. Is it a BS loophole? Of course! But is it legally and factually solid? Very much so.
How is it possible this could be real? Well, thank oversight and laziness. The problem would have popped up originally simply because no one predicted it. It’s one of those things like planning to build a house and then when it’s done you realize you forgot to put a bathroom in. It exists now entirely due to a lazy Congress who could, easily, just put that part of Yellowstone under the legal authority of Idaho. But they don’t. Because Congress has better things to do, like meeting to discuss UFOs, or pretending they don’t smoke pot and hire hookers on a regular basis until the next guy gets caught.
Kalt has been trying to get the loophole closed for almost a decade out of fear someone will actually use it. Congress is fully aware of it, as are many other legal professionals and there was even a book written that uses it as a major plot point. The US Attorney said he can’t do anything to change a law like this. A Senator from Idaho said he’d look into it. Another Rep. from Idaho said he didn’t think it was an issue at all and if a murder did get committed there’d be checks and balances to take care of it, which literally means nothing since the problem is that there are no checks or balances in place and that’s why it’s a problem if two LARPers take it too far and kill each other Game of Thrones style.
The Department of Justice decided there was no problem here and it was as simple a fix as trying someone in the correct state. Kalt feels that’s not true at all and would fall apart in an actual court of law because changing the place and manner in which someone is tried for a crime would violate the constitution and would absolutely be open for appeal. In so many words, in a very legal way, if the justice system is being just according to its own rules, they cannot prosecute you without violating your rights in this case, as simple as that.
So, who wants to set up a Bloodsport-style kumite fight to the death tournament in Yellowstone Park?