Prisoners Trump Should Have Freed

To get out of jail free you either need to draw the right card in a Monopoly game or be a basketball player who gets caught shoplifting in China.

LiAngelo Ball, Jalen Hill, and Cody Riley, who are now on indefinite suspension from the UCLA Bruins basketball team, were in China with their team for a basketball game against Georgia Tech. The trio was arrested after allegedly shoplifting from a Louis Vuitton store in Hangzhou, China. After being detained for over a week and facing up to ten years in prison, they were released after President Donald Trump intervened on their behalf with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

These are not the only prisoners that Trump should have freed. Far more important are the people imprisoned in the United States for victimless crimes.

The United States is indeed an exceptional nation. It has less than 5 percent of the world’s population, but almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners. It has over 2 million people behind bars, more than any other nation. And it has the highest per capita prison rate.

A great many of the Americans who are in prison have been incarcerated for victimless crimes, and especially drug crimes. Only violent criminals should be incarcerated, and no one should ever be locked up for committing a victimless crime.

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Every crime should have a tangible and identifiable victim with real harm and measurable damages. Rape, robbery, assault, child abuse, battery, burglary, theft, arson, looting, kidnapping, shoplifting, embezzlement, manslaughter, and murder are real crimes. Possessing “illegal” drugs, “illegal” gambling, prostitution, discriminating, price gouging, and ticket scalping are victimless crimes.

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Prosecuting Americans for committing victimless crimes turns vices into crimes; unnecessarily makes criminals out of otherwise law-abiding Americans; is an illegitimate function of government; criminalizes voluntary, consensual, peaceful activity; costs far more than any of its supposed benefits; does violence to individual liberty and private property; and is incompatible with a free society.

Committing victimless crimes may be unwise, addictive, unhealthy, risky, immoral, sinful, and/or just plain stupid, but it is not for the government to decide what risks Americans are allowed to take and what kinds of behaviors they are allowed to engage in as long as their actions are peaceful, private, voluntary, and consensual.

According to Article 2, Section 2, Clause 1 of the Constitution, the president “shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States except in cases of impeachment.” According to the case of Ex parte Garland (1867), the scope of the president’s pardon power is quite broad. And according to United States v. Klein (1871), Congress cannot limit the president’s grant of an amnesty or pardon.

This means that Trump could, today, pardon every American in a federal prison for committing a victimless crime. And like he did for the American basketball players in China, Trump could work to free every American held in a state prison for committing a victimless crime.

On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, President Trump followed in the tradition of his predecessors and pardoned a turkey. Better that he ate the turkey and pardoned everyone in a federal prison for a victimless crime and ordered their immediate release. No one should ever be detained by police, arrested, tried, fined, or imprisoned for a victimless crime.