Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Perfect Crime...

Remember that old joke that goes something like "A plane crashes on a state line. Where do you bury the survivors?"

Well, I recently came across a pair of articles by Brian C. Kalt, a professor of law at MSU, that address a far more interesting question: Is it possible to commit the perfect crime in the non-Wyoming portions of Yellowstone National Park? In other words, could you commit murder and get away scot-free (no matter what) due to one or more constitutional loopholes? Kalt argues the answer is "yes":

Here's the premise: Let's say you're in the western sliver of Yellowstone National Park (the part in Idaho) and you want to kill someone, say, a fellow hiker. You pick up a rock, bash his head in, and are ultimately arrested by the federal authorities (The feds have exclusive jurisdiction over Yellowstone). Ordinarily, you'd be hauled to the federal courthouse in the state in which the crime was committed, in this case, Idaho. However, Yellowstone National Park has been assigned to the District of Wyoming, so you'd be sent to Cheyenne to stand trial.

Now, Article III of the Constitution provides that "[t]he trial of all crimes...shall be by jury; and such trial shall be held in the state where the said crimes shall have been committed." This then is the first problem: Wyoming is not the state in which the crime was committed. You'd think that this would be easily remedied, of course: the feds could just take you to court in Idaho, right?

Sure. But, the Sixth Amendment includes a jury vicinage clause, which states that "[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district where in the crime shall have been committed..."

This is the second problem: In this case, the jury has to be from the Idaho portion of Yellowstone National Park (Because it has to be drawn from the state of Idaho and the District of Wyoming). The difficulty arises because the Idaho portion of Yellowstone National Park has a population of precisely zero. Therefore, no jury is possible and, since no jury is possible, no trial is possible. Don't let the courthouse door hit you on the way out. Fun, huh?

The original article apparently made quite a splash a couple years ago (i.e., it was covered by NPR, the BBC, and the National Enquirer); a follow-up article that describes Kalt's attempts to get Congress to fix this loophole was recently published by the Georgetown Law Journal and is available here.

What does this have to do with fiction writing? Well, the idea was also used as the basis for the best-selling novel Free Fire, by C.J. Box.

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