In 2005, Michigan State University professor Brian Kalt discovered an interesting legal loophole in Eastern Idaho, where because the congressional district spans the state, and there’s no population in the 50-mile Idaho portion of the district. Due to the lack of population, there is also no potential jurors from which to pull and give a trial by jury. The sixth amendment of the US Constitution says:
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence
The bold part is what’s important here, as the argument that Kalt made was that because a person could theoretically commit a crime in this overlay district, they could not be tried in another state (which makes up the voting electorate as well as potential jury pool) even though it was the same district. This opens the door for potential felonies to be committed without allowing them to go to trial or for justice to be served on those who have broken the law.
This is reinforced by the last part of Article III Section II of the US Constitution:
Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury; and such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed; but when not committed within any State, the Trial shall be at such Place or Places as the Congress may by Law have directed.
But what if there was a land with no congressional district?
Fast forward to 2011. Legislators and citizens get hard to work with new census data every 10 years to pitch their ideas for new legislative districts, from congress down to the state legislature and county level officials. You add up the census tracts, make sure your population numbers work, and if you’re part of the party in charge there’s a chance you’ll get your way and your map will be adopted.
On August 8, 2011 however, Target Insyght’s redistricting guru Ed Sarpolus noticed that the Macomb County portion of Lake St. Clair doesn’t have representation in congress, the state of Michigan. This was noted in Gongwer News Service as well as by the Macomb Daily. While the on the surface, concerns are about making sure all people are represented and making sure the interests of the lake will be handled appropriately, there is a greater issue at hand here, brought about six years ago by Brian Kalt.
If there is no district where a crime is committed, there is no district to give the constitutional trial by jury a person who has committed a felony, as there are no potential jurors. Meaning if you commit a felony in the Macomb County portion of Lake St. Clair, it may never even reach trial.
The issues with this are brought up by Kalt, and although a person may have committed a crime in a place where you cannot be tried for such crime, there are potential conspiracy charges that may be faced inside another jurisdiction (perhaps where said person lived). Additionally he points out that not all charges, such as misdemeanors, would fall under a bench trial and not a jury trial, in which case there is no loophole to be exploited. Macomb county is unique because two different congressional districts split the county, so there is no default jurisdiction as is the case with the fast majority of America’s third coast.
Hopefully legislators can take this to heart and make sure that all areas are assigned in the future. This isn’t just about population numbers and funds distribution. It’s about making sure that we don’t turn on the TV one day and see a media circus of an accused murderer walking free because there is no way to send him to trial.