Explained | What are the criminal charges and likely defense in Hunter Biden's gun trial?

Hunter Biden was charged in September by US Special Counsel David Weiss with three felonies stemming from his purchase and possession of a Colt Cobra .38 revolver in October 2018.
Last Updated : 03 June 2024, 12:32 IST
Last Updated : 03 June 2024, 12:32 IST

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Wilmington: Hunter Biden, the son of US President Joe Biden, is scheduled to go on trial on June 3 in Delaware on charges he violated federal gun laws in 2018 when he purchased a firearm.

Below is a look at the charges, evidence and potential sentence if he is found guilty. Hunter Biden has pleaded not guilty.

What are the charges?

Hunter Biden was charged in September by US Special Counsel David Weiss with three felonies stemming from his purchase and possession of a Colt Cobra .38 revolver in October 2018.

The first two charges overlap. He is accused of making a false statement material to a firearms sale and making a false statement in a firearms transaction record.

Prosecutors contend he committed a crime when he ticked a box indicating "no" next to a question asking if he was an unlawful user of a controlled substance or addicted to a controlled substance.

The third charge is that Hunter Biden violated a law that bars users of illegal drugs or drug addicts from possessing a firearm.

He was separately charged with tax crimes in California in December, also brought by Weiss. Hunter Biden has pleaded not guilty in that case which is scheduled to go to trial in September.

What does the government have to prove?

For the first two charges, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Hunter Biden knowingly made a false statement. For one of the first two charges the government must also show the false statement was material to the sale of the gun.

For the possession charge, the government must prove the following elements: that Biden was either an unlawful user of a controlled substance or was a drug addict; that he knowingly possessed a firearm; and that when he knowingly possessed the firearm he also knew he was an unlawful user of a controlled substance or a drug addict.

What is the government's evidence?

The government said it has videos and photographs of Hunter Biden smoking crack or with drug paraphernalia as well as messages sent to purported street dealers arranging drug purchases. The evidence was collected from Biden's iCloud account, laptop and phone messages, prosecutors have said.

The government said it may call Hunter Biden's ex-wife, Kathleen Buhle, and other romantic partners to describe his addiction around the time of the gun purchase and possession.

Prosecutors said they plan to introduce excerpts from Biden's 2021 book, Beautiful Things, in which he described himself as a "crack addict" with no plans beyond "the moment-to-moment demands of the crack pipe."

What has Biden's legal team said?

Some details of Hunter Biden's potential defense can be gleaned from court filings.

Biden's legal team has ridiculed some of the evidence that has surfaced in court filings, comparing some of the work by Weiss's office to that of the slapstick Police Academy films of the 1980s. In one instance, Biden's legal team said what prosecutors claimed was a photo of cocaine was actually sawdust.

Hunter Biden's legal team did not respond to a request for comment.

What is the potential sentence?

If the jury finds Hunter Biden guilty, he faces up to 25 years in prison, although sentences are typically shorter than the maximum, according to the Department of Justice. As in all US federal criminal cases, the jury of 12 must unanimously agree on a conviction.

Are the charges against Hunter Biden unusual?

Yes. The government rarely charges someone for false statements on gun purchase forms unless the accused is also charged with a violent crime, according to a Government Accountability Office report cited by Hunter Biden's legal team. More than 80 million American adults own a firearm, but only about 1,000 a year are investigated for false statements on a gun purchase form, and even fewer are charged, according to the GAO.

Who is the judge?

Maryellen Noreika, who was nominated by President Donald Trump and joined the court in 2018. Previously she was a lawyer at the prominent Delaware firm Morris, Nichols, Arsht & Tunnell, where she specialized in intellectual property litigation in federal court. She obtained her law degree from the University of Pittsburgh School of law in 1993.

Published 03 June 2024, 12:32 IST

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