Hunter Biden Found Guilty on Charges Related to Gun Purchase in 2018

Hunter Biden Found Guilty on Charges Related to Gun Purchase in 2018

A jury in Wilmington, Del., on Tuesday found Hunter Biden, President Biden’s son, guilty of three felony counts for lying on a federal firearms application, a shattering blow for the Biden family in the middle of an unforgiving presidential election campaign.

The verdict brought an end to an extraordinary seven-day trial that made painfully public Mr. Biden’s crack addiction, reckless behavior and ruinous spending — narrated by three former romantic partners, including the widow of his brother, Beau Biden, and by the defendant himself in the pages of his memoir.

The charges that Mr. Biden was convicted of stem from the purchase of a Colt pistol in October 2018, and also included illegal possession of a weapon after falsely claiming to be drug-free on the standard background check required in all firearms transactions.

Mr. Biden, 54, faces up to 25 years in prison, although federal sentencing guidelines call for a fraction of that penalty. First-time offenders who did not use their weapons to commit violent crimes typically see little jail time, and prosecutors suggested they would not seek a sentence more severe than for any other person convicted in such a case.

As the verdict was read aloud, Hunter Biden stood with his arms crossed, grimly surveying the jury. When it was all over, he hugged and kissed his wife, Melissa Cohen Biden.

“I am more grateful today for the love and support I experienced this last week from Melissa, my family, my friends and my community than I am disappointed by the outcome,” he said in a statement shortly after.

Mr. Biden’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell, suggested that he might appeal, vowing to “vigorously pursue all the legal challenges available to Hunter.”

It is unclear what, if any, political implications the verdict will have. Former President Donald J. Trump, facing two federal indictments, pounced on the conviction. But other Republicans have expressed skepticism about the trial, and Representative Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican allied with Mr. Trump, said on social media that the conviction was “kinda dumb.”

But the verdict was nothing short of a personal catastrophe for Mr. Biden.

A year ago, Mr. Biden, who has been sober since mid-2019, reached a plea agreement with the government that would have allowed him to participate in a counseling program for people who commit nonviolent firearms offenses in lieu of prosecution or prison time. But the deal imploded under intense questioning from the judge presiding in the case. He faces another trial in September stemming from his failure to pay his income taxes during a yearslong crack, alcohol and spending binge.

The Delaware case, brought by the special counsel David C. Weiss, is widely regarded as the least serious of the two federal indictments against Mr. Biden brought last year. But Tuesday’s guilty verdict raises the stakes for any future sentencing if he is convicted in the second trial.

Mr. Weiss, flanked by Leo J. Wise and Derek Hines, the two prosecutors who oversaw the trial, reiterated that he brought the case because nobody “is above the law.”

He expressed sympathy with people with addiction, but in a brief appearance at his office in Wilmington he said the purchase of a gun made Mr. Biden’s conduct “dangerous” and worthy of prosecution.

“This case was about the illegal choices he made while in the throes of addiction,” said Mr. Weiss, the Trump-appointed U.S. attorney in Delaware.

Many Republicans have relished in the prosecution of Mr. Biden, equating President Biden’s son’s legal troubles with those of Mr. Trump. But the situations are entirely different: The former has been indicted twice by federal grand juries, and on May 30 was convicted on 34 felony counts in New York State court for falsifying business records. He is also facing criminal charges in Georgia for his attempts to overturn the 2020 election.

President Biden has said he will not pardon his son and kept his distance from the trial. He shifted his schedule after the verdict to visit his son in Wilmington. He is scheduled to leave Wednesday for the Group of 7 summit in Italy.

“I am the president, but I am also a dad,” the president said in a statement. “I will accept the outcome of this case and will continue to respect the judicial process as Hunter considers an appeal. Jill and I will always be there for Hunter and the rest of our family with our love and support. Nothing will ever change that.”

Jurors reached their verdict after just three hours and five minutes of deliberations. Their speed took nearly everyone by surprise — including the first lady, Jill Biden.

Dr. Biden, Hunter Biden’s stepmother, who attended most days of the trial, raced to the courthouse when she learned the jury had reached a decision but got snagged in a slow-moving security line at the door and missed the reading of the verdict. Later, she walked out of the courthouse hand-in-hand with Mr. Biden.

Hunter Biden’s uncle James Biden, one of his closest friends, was determined to get in — squeezing to the front of the security line, insisting he should get priority over the queue of reporters holding their wallets, keys and belts at the metal detector.

He made it.

Hunter Biden had been optimistic at the end of the day on Monday, when the jury began deliberating. His team believed that the composition of the panel, which included several people with a family history of drug problems, would be sympathetic.

But in the end, the government’s case was straightforward and the verdict preordained in the view of prosecutors, who presented dozens of text messages, in addition to summoning three women, including Beau Biden’s widow, Hallie Biden, who offered vivid testimony about his simultaneous, conflicting efforts to get clean and get more crack.

Mr. Lowell, Mr. Biden’s lawyer, countered with a 90-minute closing argument on Monday that attacked the credibility of the government’s main witnesses, seeking to show that Mr. Biden had not been using drugs at the exact moment he applied for a gun. He accused prosecutors of peddling “suspicion” and “conjecture,” and suggested that the trial had less to do with justice than punishing a remorseful and sober man for the crime of drug addiction.

Republicans in Congress have tried to link President Biden, who was out of office for most of the time covered in both of Hunter Biden’s federal cases, to his son’s lucrative business contracts.

But they have failed to find any substantial links after years of digging and dubious claims that the president oversaw all of his son’s dealings as head of the “Biden Crime Family.” Just last week, House Republicans made criminal referrals to the Justice Department, requesting that they charge Hunter and James Biden with making false statements to Congress in the impeachment inquiry against President Biden.

Hunter Biden was paid millions to serve on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company — “and spent this money on drugs, escorts and girlfriends, luxury hotels and rental properties, exotic cars, clothing and other items of a personal nature, in short, everything but his taxes,” prosecutors wrote in his indictment on tax charges in December.

On Tuesday, Mr. Biden was convicted of three felonies: lying to a federally licensed gun dealer, making a false claim on the federal firearms application used to screen applicants and possessing an illegally obtained gun for 11 days, from Oct. 12 to Oct. 23, 2018.

Prosecutions for lying to a dealer are relatively rare, averaging fewer than 300 per year. Some 25 million to 30 million background checks were performed annually around the time of Mr. Biden’s gun purchase, according to statistics obtained by The Washington Post.

When officials with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives reviewed Mr. Biden’s gun application several years ago, they believed the case most likely would have been dropped if the target had been a lesser-known person, according to a former law enforcement official familiar with the situation. They pointed to two factors: The gun had not been used in a crime, and Mr. Biden had taken steps to get and stay sober.

Maryellen Noreika, the judge in the case, said she would sentence Mr. Biden within four months. She will have to weigh a number of unusual factors specific to his case.

According to guidelines by the United States Sentencing Commission, which sets recommended sentencing parameters, someone in Mr. Biden’s position would typically face 15 to 21 months’ imprisonment for offenses related to the unlawful receipt, possession or transportation of firearms.

From 2019 to 2023, only 48 defendants were sentenced in a similar category as Mr. Biden, and 92 percent were sentenced to serve prison time with a median prison term of 15 months, according to the commission’s data.

Around 8 percent of people in that category received probation or a fine.

But judges frequently depart from the suggested guidelines when handing down a sentence and may reduce the time spent in prison in light of the particular circumstances unique to each case, according to legal experts.

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