A lesson from the Hunter verdict: Beware memoirs

Should you be so lucky as to have a publisher for your memoir, you’ll likely be pushed to make it as revealing as possible. Personal confessions — of, say, past drug use — can help a book become a bestseller, especially if your narrative is a redemptive one of healing and recovery.

But beware of being hung on your own petard.

That’s one lesson from the speedy conviction last Tuesday of Hunter Biden, the 54-year-old son of President Joe Biden, on all three felony charges related to his purchase of a revolver in 2018 after he had said on a mandatory gun-purchase form that he was neither using nor addicted to illegal drugs. Despite the political furor surrounding the case, coming hard upon the felony conviction of Donald Trump, the former president of the United States and presumptive Republican nominee for a second term, this really was an open-and-shut case.

(So, for that matter, was Trump’s, which explains all the focus on whether the novel charges should have been brought as distinct from, say, whether or not Trump actually did that which he was accused of doing. The jury did not have a difficult job when it came to the actual evidence).

Biden admitted to an addiction to crack cocaine in his 2021 memoir, “Beautiful Things,” contemporaneous to the era when he filled out the form and bought the gun. Thus, the jury in this case had Biden’s own words to use in its process toward finding him guilty, especially since he had also helpfully recorded his own audiobook, adding to the vividness of those declarations. All the prosecution had to do was play the tape and hear the defendant’s voice.

This same issue may yet come back to bite Prince Harry, who also confessed to copious amounts of drug use in his own memoir, “Spare,” a lucrative bestseller. The problem there is that most U.S. immigration forms ask applicants about their drug use, which can make them ineligible for entry or residency in some circumstances. The Heritage Foundation sued to find out whether Harry lied on any form, and a federal judge got involved some weeks ago. In the unlikely event that any of this would go to trial, the British prince might well be put in the unenviable position of having to deny something he wrote himself. That’s a heavy lift in front of a jury, as Hunter Biden discovered.

Prosecutorial discretion is a fact of legal life, past mistakes should not always be determinative of a person’s future, and a case can be made that both Biden and Harry are being subject to the kind of politicized pursuit that would not befall a regular Joe or Jane. No question. On the other hand, an argument could be made that such scrutiny comes with privilege, even if that privilege is only of birth. And let’s not forget, both of these men have sought an ongoing place in the public discourse. Nobody forced them to open up their past lives for scrutiny.

The moral of these cautionary tales for the rest of us? Either use personal discretion or tell the truth across all platforms and be prepared to face the consequences.

This editorial first appeared in the Chicago Tribune. This commentary should be considered another point of view and not necessarily the opinion or editorial policy of The Dominion Post.