In the last two weeks, Americans have seen prosecutorial abuse in the legal cases against former President Donald Trump and President Biden’s son Hunter. The state is given the power to protect both person and property, but neither Mr. Trump nor the younger Biden did anything to deny others their physical well-being or their property. These cases would have never been brought had the two men been ordinary citizens without serious political enemies. The “alleged crime” that both men committed was to have filled out some government-required paperwork incorrectly — a “crime” for which virtually no one else is prosecuted.

Former President Donald Trump sits in the courtroom for his trial at the Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in New York. As Trump attacked the U.S. criminal justice system following his guilty verdict, analysts say that his allegations could be useful to Russian President Vladimir Putin and other autocrats. (Michael M. Santiago/Pool Photo via AP, File)

The Trump case is particularly troubling. His convictions on 34 felony counts were for 11 cases of making “mistakes” on invoices for legal services, then for 11 cases of paying checks for those same legal services, and finally, making 12 “mistakes” on ledger entries for these same legal expenses. For instance, he was found guilty of the “Entry in the Detail General Ledger for the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust, bearing voucher number 842460” — and like the other 33 counts, it is not a crime. All of the other convictions are written in the same way. These mistakes are normally considered misdemeanors. But to overcome the inconvenient fact that the statute of limitations had passed, these minor bookkeeping issues were morphed into a felony with the claim they violated federal election law, even though the former head of the Federal Election Commission (who was not allowed to testify) wrote there was no violation of the election law, and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg does not have the authority to enforce it.

How Mr. Trump or any other politician spends his or her own money for their own legal profit or pleasure is not a crime. If Mr. Trump had a relationship with Stormy Daniels, it could be of concern to his wife, but it is not a crime. Nor is it a crime to reimburse your lawyer with your own money for “hush payments” (no one has claimed that he was trying to avoid tax payments).

Hunter Biden is accused of checking the wrong box on a federal form required of purchasers of guns from gun stores. He said he was not addicted to cocaine on that date; the prosecution disagrees. We now have an absurd world where you can go to jail for not checking the right box on a government form if you have certain addictions but not if you have “accepted addictions.” Do you fear a gun owner more if he is drunk, high on cocaine, or spaced out on marijuana — or if he is sober but mad at the world?

James Madison, father of the Constitution, warned about politicizing the courts and the political process and having too many laws. Liya Palagashvili, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, and GianCarlo Canaparo, a legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation, published a study two years ago looking at the growth of federal criminal offenses, which they estimated are about 5,200. This number is only those promulgated by Congress, and not all the ones stemming from federal regulatory agencies and state and local governments — with many more being produced each year. Did you know that it is illegal “to sell Swiss cheese without enough holes,” or to dress up as a Postal Service carrier for Halloween?

A great many so-called crimes are victimless — where the only victims are those directly involved — Mr. Trump’s paying off Ms. Daniels and Hunter Biden’s leading a life of debauchery and what it did to his family.

When New York Attorney General Letitia James and Mr. Bragg said while running for office that they were going to “get” Donald Trump, even though they did not have a crime in mind at the time, they knew they were on safe ground since the average person is estimated to commit (unknowingly) three felonies a day — and if they looked long and hard enough, they would find something.

Victimless crimes, which include activities such as prostitution, gun possession, drug use, and failure to keep proper records, are characterized by actions that do not directly harm other people, raising the question of whether they should be prosecuted. The essence of a free society is the ability of its members to make choices about their lives — even bad choices.

The prosecution of victimless crimes leads to the misallocation of limited legal and law enforcement resources. The criminal justice system is overburdened with cases that do not pose a direct threat to public safety, diverting attention from serious crimes such as violent offenses, theft and fraud.

Again, the American framers warned about having too many laws and using the courts for political purposes. The United States has been largely free of such abuse, but the events of recent months with the rise of lawfare, rather than the ballot box to determine political outcomes, is a clear and present danger to American democracy and liberty. Let us hope that the new Congress will take action to roll back the abuse and try to prevent it from happening in the future.

• Richard W. Rahn is chairman of the Institute for Global Economic Growth and MCon LLC.

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