There is a 50-square mile strip of Idaho in the Yellowstone National Park where, at least in theory, no one can be prosecuted. This is not made up.
The reason starts with geography, goes to the Constitution, and ends with Congress failing to fix the problem.
The geography is the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park, which is mostly in Wyoming but includes a strip of Montana and Idaho. The Idaho strip, which is called Island Park, is extremely remote with no roads. Or inhabitants. And that’s the reason why no one can be prosecuted.
The United States Constitution, the Sixth Amendment to be specific, requires a jury trial for federal crimes in which the jury is made up of people residing in the federal judicial district and state in which the alleged crime occurred. Federal judicial districts do not contain more than one state – with one exception: Yellowstone National Park, so the Idaho strip is technically in the Wyoming court district. Congress provided that all crimes in the park take place in the federal district court of Wyoming. If a crime is committed in the Idaho portion of Yellowstone, the jury would have to be from the state (Idaho) and judicial district (District of Wyoming, which includes the Idaho strip) in which the crime was committed. The only place that meets both these criteria (Idaho and the District of Wyoming) is the Idaho portion of the park. But no one lives there. So there can be no jurors.
This theoretical possibility was brought up to Congress, which could have easily changed the statute about the Idaho portion of the park being in the Wyoming court district. But Congress failed to pass the legislation. This means an attorney for someone who committed a crime in the Idaho strip could say Congress had a chance to change the law but meant to keep it by not acting.
Well, you say, an Idaho state court could decide the case. Nope. The federal statute provides that the federal courts – the one in Wyoming in particular – have exclusive jurisdiction over crimes in the park.
It is important to note that no one has tested this legal theory so it is not exactly settled law. It is a merely theoretical possibility. But a darned interesting one.
What about the Montana portion of the park? This isn’t a problem because people do live in the Montana portion, so it is possible to have jurors in the state in which the crime occurred and federal district of the park.
Viewers of the TV show Yellowstone are familiar with the “Train Station,” which is a place supposedly on the Montana/Wyoming border in a county with no inhabitants. This is where characters in the show murder people because, they claim, there is no possible jury. This is fiction because every county has inhabitants. But the idea of a place where no one can be prosecuted makes a great story line. And an interesting Ask an Attorney column.
The bottom line is if someone asks you to go on a picnic in Island Park, Idaho you should politely decline. Especially if they are a beneficiary of your life insurance.
(This information is of a general nature; exceptions to these general statements might exist. This information is for general educational purposes only; no attorney-client relationship with Overstreet Law Group, LLC is formed unless a person enters into a written representation agreement with the firm.)