06 Aug 2016

Commit the Perfect Crime in Yellowstone

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YellowstoneCrime

Vox describes how a law journal paper on an interesting legal loophole provided the plot for a mystery series novel.

C. J. Box’s 2007 thriller Free Fire, the seventh in a book series about a Wyoming game warden. The novel’s plot spins on the premise that in an uninhabited, 50-square-mile portion of Yellowstone National Park, you can legally get away with murder.

The book’s premise originates from a 14-page article called “The Perfect Crime” by Michigan State University law professor Brian Kalt. The article describes a judicial no-man’s land in the Idaho part of Yellowstone, where a person can commit a crime and get off scot-free due to sloppy jurisdictional boundaries.

In 2004, … he wanted to churn out one last article to stay on track for tenure. He was researching obscure jurisdictional gray areas when he found a reference to the unusual jurisdiction of Yellowstone National Park. Like all national parks, Yellowstone is federal land. Portions of it fall in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, but Congress placed the entire park in Wyoming’s federal district. It’s the only federal court district in the country that crosses state lines.

Such trivia would scarcely summon a yawn from a layperson, but to a constitutional lawyer like Kalt, it was a flapping red flag. Kalt knew that Article III of the Constitution requires federal criminal trials to be held in the state in which the crime was committed. And the Sixth Amendment entitles a federal criminal defendant to a trial by jurors living in the state and district where the crime was committed. But if someone committed a crime in the uninhabited Idaho portion of Yellowstone, Kalt surmised, it would be impossible to form a jury. And being federal land, the state would have no jurisdiction. Here was a clear constitutional provision enabling criminal immunity in 50 square miles of America’s oldest national park. …

When the paper was published, the media went nuts. Stories appeared in the Washington Post, the BBC, NPR, and even a Japanese newspaper. Wyoming-based crime writer C. J. Box read about it and thought it would make a great plot for a novel.

“I write about mystery, suspense, and crime, so the idea of a perfect crime anywhere, and especially in my neighborhood, was just really intriguing,” Box told me over the phone.

His novel, Free Fire, made the New York Times extended best-seller list and continues to be popular. “Every time I go on tour, someone asks me about it,” Box said. “The book is sold all over Yellowstone, which I find really interesting. People are still buying it like crazy.”

Read the whole thing.

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One Feedback on "Commit the Perfect Crime in Yellowstone"

Steve Gregg

An Air Force JAG officer told me of a murder that happened at an Air Force base in Spain, probably Torrejon. An Air Force member killed another Air Force member just outside the perimeter fence. Later, he separated from the Air Force. When they questioned him, he freely admitted he had committed the murder, then lawyered up and shut up. The Air Force could not prosecute him because he was now a civilian and not subject to the UCMJ and the murder was committed on Spanish soil, outside the base and military jurisdiction. Spain had no extradition treaty with the US, so he could not be forced to return to face justice. So, he got away with murder.



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