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The Yellowstone Zone of Death: Legality In No Man's Land

While it may seem like there are laws for everything, there are places on earth and in the United States that represent a kind of "no man's land' legally. A piece of Yellowstone National Park in Idaho is one such place, and some are concerned about what lawlessness means for the gem state.

The Death Zone

In a Georgetown Law Journal Article, the 50 square mile section of Yellowstone in Idaho is the go-to location to commit the perfect crime. Poorly worded laws and constitutional gray areas make this portion of the state a sort of "zone of death" where anything could happen.

The primary issue is the lack of residents. No people live within the 50 square mile section, and few live close to the location. This is a problem because legal theory dictates that there cannot be a jury where there are no people, so if a crime were to be committed in the death zone, it falls outside of local jurisdiction and state oversight.

Additionally, National Parks have special rules for conservation, and Yellowstone spans multiple states, which makes determining the jurisdiction challenge. Representative Colin Nash, D-Boise, is leading the charge to change things for this lonely part of Idaho.

The Importance of Law

While it may seem obvious to most of us why lawlessness is a bad thing, it's important to recognize why things like jurisdictions and due process make life better and safer for us. At the height of the serial killer era where men and monsters like Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy ruled the headlines, jurisdictions were one of the reasons why investigations were slow-moving and inefficient.

Police refused to share information between precincts, forces from other states, and the FBI. These information silos not only crippled critical investigations but they impacted the due process of law. On the other hand, too much information between precincts can cause confusion and waste time, like in the case of the Yorkshire Ripper.

In general, police can enforce the law in a specific area. Whether they serve a particular county or city, these officers are the primary overseers of their jurisdiction. Police are encouraged to collaborate on cases that cross state lines, and the federal government also deploys its own investigators to ensure that due process is followed.

Due process not only protects the integrity of an investigation but it allows the accused and accuser to have their day in court. Constitutional laws like the Fifth Amendment are guidelines for how criminal cases are prosecuted fairly.

Jurisdictions and due process play significant roles in any criminal investigation, but what if there are no police to investigate and no courts to ensure due process? This is the issue with Yellowstone.

In Recent Memory

One case in recent history that raised the question once again of how the government and justice system should handle "death zones" and legal gray areas was the Gabby Petito case. Gabby's body was discovered near Grand Teton National Park. Her disappearance and suspected murder leave lawmakers and investigators wondering how the system can be improved.

While no murders have been recorded in Idaho's death zone, there is a question of whether they have occurred but haven't been investigated because of the location. It's a question that plagues Representative Nash.

Nash is leading a committee to promote a bill that would define the law regarding this area and how it should be maintained to prevent illegal activities. Nash and other supporters of the bill are passionate about finding a solution to the death zone but worried that other members of Congress will brush off the proposal as a conspiracy theory.

Ultimately, defining the law as it applies to Yellowstone and enabling Idaho law enforcement to have jurisdiction might be overkill but necessary to prevent future Gabby Petito cases.

If you have been accused of a crime, you have the right to an attorney. Schedule a consultation with one of our experienced attorneys at May, Rammell & Wells, today.


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