Hunter Biden, first son of a sitting US president to go on trial

The first case against Joe Biden’s son begins on Monday in Delaware with the country still reeling from the guilty verdict against Donald Trump

Hunter Biden
Hunter Biden and his wife, Melissa Cohen Biden, boarding Marine One in Washington on Friday.MICHAEL REYNOLDS / POOL (EFE)
Miguel Jiménez

Hunter Biden, 54, has a date with his past: his descent into a hell of drugs and alcohol left him with unfinished business. On Monday, he will become the first son of a sitting U.S. president to go on trial. This week, Hunter Biden will be tried on three gun-related charges that carry a maximum sentence of 25 years. The prosecutor accuses him of lying on two forms where he stated that he was free of addictions when he bought a .38-caliber revolver in October 2018 and of possessing and illegally obtained firearm for a few days. The defendant has pleaded not guilty. The trial begins on Monday in Wilmington (Delaware) in a country still reeling from former president Donald Trump’s conviction on 34 felonies in New York.

“No one is above the law,” said President Biden on Friday in his first statement about the jury’s verdict against his predecessor. Neither is his own son. In a twist of fate, the building where the trial is being held is named after J. Caleb Boggs, the Republican senator whose seat was taken in the 1972 election by a young and promising 29-year-old Democratic politician. That politician, Joe Biden, is the tenant of the White House more than half a century later.

Republicans have regarded Hunter Biden as the president’s weak point for years. Although their attempts to link the president to kickbacks and influence peddling connected to his son’s businesses have failed miserably (the FBI informant who accused the Bidens of a bribery scheme is now being prosecuted for perjury), Trump’s party has repeatedly politicized the legal problems of Hunter Biden, who is also facing a second trial in a California court involving tax crimes.

Monday’s trial begins with jury selection and is expected to last about two weeks. For the president, it is a political and personal blow. Despite the possible cost at the polls, Joe Biden continues to support his son and makes public appearances with him constantly, including this past weekend.

After years of being investigated by a prosecutor appointed by Donald Trump, David Weiss, Hunter Biden initially admitted to the illegal purchase and possession of the firearm as part of a plea deal with prosecutors that involved lesser penalties for the tax crimes and shelving the firearm case. In exchange, he had to stay away from drugs for two years and give up having a firearm in the future.

It is a common deal in cases in which the accused has undergone rehabilitation and has no prior criminal record. The plea deal, however, was derailed at the last minute. Judge Maryellen Noreika, appointed by Trump, rejected it due to the different interpretation between the prosecution and the defense, as well as pressure from the Republicans. Attorney General Merrick Garland gave special counsel powers to Weiss, who ultimately decided to press charges.

The crimes of which Hunter Biden is accused carry maximum sentences of up to 25 years in prison and fines of up to $750,000, but it is not common for sentences as high as this to be imposed in such a case. At the first hearing of the case, the judge highlighted their nature as “maximum penalties”: a higher one cannot be imposed, but a lower one can.

To achieve a conviction on the two gun-related charges, prosecutors must convince the 12 jurors, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Hunter Biden knowingly made false statements to a federally licensed gun dealer and on his federal firearms application, and that the lie was relevant for the sale to be closed. For the weapon possession charge, they must prove that Biden was aware that he was an unlawful user of a controlled substance and still knowingly possessed a firearm.

On October 12, 2018, Hunter Biden walked into the StarQuest Shooters & Survival Supply, a firearms store off Highway 202, north of Wilmington, Delaware. Their display cases are filled with pistols, rifles and semi-automatic rifles. Joe Biden’s son decided to buy a Colt Cobra 38SPL revolver, caliber 38. To do so, he filled out Form 4473, an application with several pages of small print. Question 11.e asked him to answer whether he was an illegal user or addict of any stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance. Hunter Biden checked the No box. A footnote warned that he was prohibited from purchasing a gun if he marked yes, and that making a false statement in this regard was a crime. Hunter Biden purchased the revolver. The gun ended up 11 days later in a trash can at a Greenville supermarket, about a 10-minute drive from the gun store.

The president’s son acknowledged in his memoirs that he was struggling with a crack addiction at the time, but his lawyers maintain that he did not break the law and that any other non-violent criminal with no prior record would not have been charged. Biden’s defense has claimed that he had completed an 11-day rehabilitation program and may have believed he was clean when he checked the No box on the form.

The prosecution is considering calling Hunter Biden’s ex-wife and the widow of his brother Beau Biden, with whom he later had a relationship, as witnesses to testify about his addiction. The defense will try to discredit the prosecution’s evidence. Interestingly, like Trump, Hunter Biden maintains that he is the target of political persecution. The defendant alleged that he had been selectively accused for political purposes because he is the son of the president, who is also a candidate in the upcoming presidential elections on November 5. The judge rejected that argument and refused to shelve the case.

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