Is Yellowstone Ripe for a Crime Spree?

There is the potential for lawlessness in a remote western Idaho corner of the Yellowstone National Park, according Brian C. Kalt, an associate professor at the Michigan State University College of Law. Kalt talks with Robert Siegel about his article "The Perfect Crime," to be published in the Georgetown Law Journal.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

Brian Kalt says there is a hole in the Sixth Amendment big enough to run a crime spree through. Kalt is an associate professor at Michigan State Law School, and he has written an article for the Georgetown Law Journal called The Perfect Crime. It's an article that springs both from his study of constitutional law and, he says, his daydreaming.

Professor Kalt, the perfect crime, I gather, could be committed in a specific place.

Professor BRIAN KALT (Michigan State Law School): Yes. There's a small portion of Yellowstone National Park that spills over the Wyoming border into Idaho and another small part that's in Montana that would create an almost perfect crime.

SIEGEL: Now what is so special about, we'll say, the non-Wyoming portions of Yellowstone Park?

Prof. KALT: Well, the problem is that the federal District Court for the District of Wyoming is defined as including all of Yellowstone Park, including that 50-square-mile swath of Idaho. And the Sixth Amendment requires that when a crime is committed, that the jury be drawn from the state and district where the crime was committed. And the trial is supposed to be in the state where the crime was committed. So if you commit a crime in the Idaho portion of Yellowstone National Park, the jury should be drawn from among the ranks of Idahoans but also from the District of Wyoming. And unfortunately the population of that area is zero.

SIEGEL: (Laughs) Of humans, at least. You would not be able to assemble a jury of people who come from where you committed the crime because there are no people there.

Prof. KALT: Right. And in the Montana portion, there are about 40-plus people of jury age, and it might be hard to get a jury of 12 out of that.

SIEGEL: So after committing a crime in the Idaho portion of Yellowstone National Park, one could claim, `There is no way I could possibly have the kind of trial guaranteed me by the Constitution of the United States, and therefore you can't try me.'

Prof. KALT: That would be the argument.

SIEGEL: Well, there's one suggestion I like that you offer, which is colonizing the Idaho portion of Yellowstone Park with people so they could become a juror pool or at least breed jurors, I guess, in the future.

Prof. KALT: It's one possibility, and it's one that springs to mind. Many of the people who I've gotten feedback from have suggested that as a possibility. It seems to me that it would be easier just to redraw the lines, though, put the Idaho portion of Yellowstone in the District of Idaho so that it's in the state and District of Idaho.

SIEGEL: Now before we provoke all of the e-mailing scolds in the audience to say that you're encouraging the perfect crime, we should acknowledge that you actually passed this information along to the authorities before you published.

Prof. KALT: I did. I got some interest, but nothing really came of it. I'm hoping that attention that's been paid to it more recently might help fix this before it's too late.

SIEGEL: Do you expect or have you already been contacted by, you know, the screenwriter of "Ocean's 27" or "Law & Order" about to craft some plot that's based in the Idaho portion of Yellowstone Park?

Prof. KALT: I suppose the plots of legal thrillers have turned on odder oddities than that. I haven't been contacted by anyone, and I hope I'm not.

SIEGEL: Now there is a catch here, you acknowledge, for the person intending to commit the perfect crime in the Idaho portion of Yellowstone Park. And this actually could be the wonderful ironic end to the legal thriller movie that's made out of your law review article, which is that if the criminal received some assistance or plotted the crime, say, in the Wyoming portion of Yellowstone Park and then crossed state lines...

Prof. KALT: Right. You just gave away the thrilling twist ending...

SIEGEL: There it is. There it is.

Prof. KALT: ...to the movie. This is in the section of the article called Don't Go Killing Anyone Just Yet. There are a few different things. One, it's pretty hard to commit a crime entirely in one small unpopulated area. They might be able to say that you committed one of the elements of the crime somewhere else or get you for conspiracy somewhere else or even for a lesser offense. But that would be still letting you get away with the big crime. I told my students anyone who's intent on going out there and committing a crime should beware of the fact that there might be other people there with similar ideas and bigger weapons.

SIEGEL: Brian Kalt, associate professor at Michigan State Law School and author of the Georgetown Law Journal article The Perfect Crime.

Professor Kalt, thanks a lot for talking with us.

Prof. KALT: Thank you.

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