Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Constitutional Crisis in Texarkana?

Consider the following:
  • The federal courthouse in Texarkana straddles the state line. Half is in the Eastern District of Texas and the Fifth Circuit, the other half is in the Western District of Arkansas and the Eighth Circuit. There's one courtroom in the Arkansas side of the building, and two in the Texas side.
  • The U.S. Constitution requires that trials of crimes be held in the State where the crime was committed.
  • Section 103 of the Federal Courts Improvment Act of 2004 provided that trials can be held anywhere in the courthouse, regardless of which state or district the case is from.
Now put all your materials away, take out a pen and a clean sheet of paper, and consider the following questions: Let's say you commit a crime in the Eastern District of Texas, and are brought to trial in Texarkana. May you be tried in the Arkansas courtroom? What if you object to the venue? What if you don't?

Okay, this isn't all that complicated, but it is the subject of an interesting discussion by Michigan State University law professor Brian Kalt over at the Volokh Conspiracy. Professor Kalt is particularly qualified to hold forth on the matter, as he's the author of a cool article entitled The Perfect Crime, which "argues that there is a 50-square-mile swath of Idaho in which one can commit felonies with impunity." And don't miss his follow-up article, Tabloid Constitutionalism: How a Bill Doesn't Become a Law, which discusses the popular attention The Perfect Crime received, as well as Kalt's efforts to get Congress to do something about the loophole. I highly recommend both articles.


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