Let's say that I go out on a fun hiking expedition with this nice Donner family and we get lost in the woods that reside on the state line between states A and B. After a few days of wondering in circles without food were all pretty hungry and so we decide to kill Bob and eat him (no one liked Bob anyways!). Because we have been lost for so long we don't know where we are, or on which side of the state line we reside.

Eventually the few well fed folks that were faster with an Axe than their lunch finally figure out how to read a map and make their way out of the woods. They decide they're sick of woods and so fly over to Hawaii for some nice surfing instead. While in Hawaii the police start asking about Bob and realize he was murdered (and that he goes well with ketchup).

A crime has been committed, but at this point no one can tell which state the crime was committed in. The people in question are arrested in a third state that definitely doesn't have jurisdiction, so they would have to extradite us to one of the two states for trial, how does one decide which state can try us? Do they just ship us to whichever state they feel like? What if one state has harsher punishment for the crime then the other, can we demand to be shipped off to the one with the more lenient laws?

In fact let's go a step further. After some digging it's discovered that state B has for some reason left some bizzare loophole in their murder statue which says that it's totally okay to murder someone for dinner so long as their name is Bob and their eaten with extra ketchup. Now whether or not we are guilty of a crime at all depends on which side of the border we happened to be on during dinner time, which can't be proven. All three states decide they want to proscute us, do they have any option so long as there is a chance that we were in B at the time?

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    If sentence depends on the state, I would expect your lawyer and several prosecutors to try to show that the crime took place in the state that fits better their intentions.
    – Pere
    Commented Aug 18, 2017 at 22:22
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    I added a link to the Donner party. The question is hypothetical but the Donner tragedy really did happen, in the 19th century.
    – Libra
    Commented Sep 24, 2017 at 15:55
  • It would get even more complicated if this happened in a national park like Yosemite.
    – mark b
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 18:02
  • Surely the fact you crossed state lines several times means it gets dealt with at the Federal level so it no longer makes a difference which state it occurred in? Commented May 30, 2023 at 18:35

1 Answer 1


They could be prosecuted in any state where there was evidence that part of the crime was committed. Realistically, either State A or State B could prosecute for conspiracy to murder as an additional charge, because the conspiracy clearly spanned more than one state, even if they can't prove where the crime was committed, although physical evidence (e.g. traces of camp sites, footprints, testimony about landmarks, evidence of poop with human DNA from the victim in it), would usually make it possible to show that some part of the crime was committed in the state.

There is probably also a federal crime that could be implicated such as "murder involving flight across a state line" (hypothetical, but I'm sure that there is something similar on the books).

I'm not going to address the further hypothetical as it is too bizzare and law is ultimately very context specific. Find a more plausible fact pattern, perhaps with a different crime, and ask a separate question if you want to really address the issue.

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    Would the defendants' domicile(s) play into it in the absence of evidence of where the crime took place? I know under Fed Rules of Civil Procedure, you may always be haled into court in the jurisdiction within which you are domiciled.
    – A.fm.
    Commented Aug 18, 2017 at 23:01
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    @A.fm. No. Domicile is not relevant in a criminal case.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Aug 19, 2017 at 5:22
  • Pursuant to this question, law.stackexchange.com/questions/22044/… might the above not be prosecuted by the United States, assuming it's clear that the crime took place in the U.S.?
    – Libra
    Commented Sep 24, 2017 at 16:00
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    @TomAu Quite possibly, crossing state lines in the course of events which lead to a murder would usually provide a hook for a federal crime. One could charge either crossing state lines to commit a murder, or crossing state lines in flight from a murder.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Sep 24, 2017 at 20:06
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    Prosecuting them for the federal crime of "flight to avoid prosecution" is rather tricky in this case, since "Violations of this section may be prosecuted only in the Federal judicial district in which the original crime was alleged to have been committed" - we still have to decide where that is. (Plus wandering lost is not intent to flee even if you cross a state line.) If there's a federal law saying you can't cross state lines to murder, I can't find it (and even if there was, you'd have a problem proving they crossed a state line with that intent.)
    – D M
    Commented May 4, 2018 at 3:24

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