Hunter Biden on trial in gun purchase case: All you need to know

Five months before the United States presidential election, Joe Biden’s son faces trial over charges of illegally buying a gun while using drugs.

Hunter Biden, center, leaves St. Edmond Catholic Church
Hunter Biden's (centre) trial comes days after Trump's conviction, months ahead of the November 2024 election [Susan Walsh/AP]

The son of United States President Joe Biden, Hunter Biden, is headed to court on trial over a federal firearms case. The trial is set to begin with jury selection on Monday at 8:30am in Delaware (12:30 GMT).

This is the first time that a child of a sitting president will be a criminal defendant, coming shortly after another historic first: the trial of a former US president, after Donald Trump went to court over a vase centred on hush money he paid adult film actress Stormy Daniels. Trump was convicted in the case on Thursday.

Here is more about the upcoming Hunter Biden trial:

What are the charges against Hunter Biden?

The younger Biden, 54, faces a three-count indictment over making false statements about his drug use to buy a gun back in 2018.

His indictment was filed on September 14, 2023 and brought by US Special Counsel David Weiss after a plea deal between Hunter Biden and Weiss imploded in July 2023. The deal would have erased gun charges in exchange for Biden pleading guilty to two tax charges. Under the deal, Biden would have avoided prison.

In October 2018, Hunter Biden purchased a Colt Cobra .38 special revolver from a gun shop called StarQuest Shooters & Survival Supply in Wilmington, Delaware — a town that the Bidens call home.

Delaware gun laws allow adults to purchase and own guns, but federal law requires the person seeking to purchase to fill out a Firearm Transaction Record form, or ATF Form 4473. The form requires details such as height, weight, birth date and declarations such as whether the purchaser is in the country unlawfully, has been convicted of a felony or admitted to a mental institution in the past.

Among the questions on the form is: “Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance?” with “Yes” and “No” options as answers. While purchasing the revolver in 2018, Hunter Biden allegedly selected “No” to this question. This was when the younger Biden was addicted to crack cocaine.

Here are the three counts that he was indicted for:

  • Count 1 and 2 are about how, according to the prosecution, Hunter Biden knowingly made a false and fictitious written statement about his use of drugs, lying to a gun dealer. This violates multiple sections of Title 18 of the US Code.
  • Count 3 is about the younger Biden knowingly possessing the gun while being an unlawful drug user. This also violates federal law, particularly Title 18 of the Code.

Could Joe Biden’s son face prison over gun case?

If Hunter Biden is convicted on all charges, he could face a maximum punishment of 25 years in prison, according to the US Department of Justice.

However, since he would be a first-time offender if convicted, he is likely to face a much lower sentence than the maximum stated.

Since this is a federal case, Joe Biden could in theory pardon his son — but the White House has explicitly ruled out this possibility.

Who is Judge Maryellen Noreika, presiding over the case?

District Judge Maryellen Noreika, 57, is overseeing this case.

Noreika obtained her Juris Doctor (JD) from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law before specialising in patent law.

She was appointed by Trump in 2018 and her appointment was confirmed by a unanimous voice vote in the Senate.

Where will the trial be taking place?

The Hunter Biden trial will be in the Biden family’s hometown of Wilmington, Delaware. It will be held in the J Caleb Boggs Federal Building in Noreika’s fourth-floor courtroom. Members of the public and media can access courtroom seats on a first come first served basis.

Who is on the jury?

Approximately 250 Delaware residents form the pool from which 12 seated jurors and four alternates will be shortlisted.

The jury selection process will involve prospective jurors being asked a series of questions including whether the jurors think Hunter Biden is being tried because his father is president; or whether the jurors have donated to political campaigns or run for office.

Is Hunter Biden’s laptop an important piece of evidence?

Federal prosecutors have said they will present photographs and text message screenshots as evidence that Hunter Biden was an illegal drug user when he purchased the gun.

Some of this evidence is believed to be on a laptop that the younger Biden abandoned at a computer repair store in Wilmington in 2019, from where it was seized by government authorities months later. The laptop is believed to have photos of Hunter Biden using drugs as well as messages exchanged with drug dealers.

Potential key witnesses include Hallie Biden, who was the wife of Hunter’s brother Beau, who passed away from cancer in 2015. Hunter and Hallie were in a relationship after Beau’s passing. Hunter’s ex-wife Kathleen Buhle and Delaware gun shop owner Ronald Palimere are also expected to be witnesses in the case.

How long could the Hunter Biden trial last?

Hunter Biden’s trial over the federal gun case could last more than two weeks.

How has Hunter Biden responded?

In July, the younger Biden told Noreika that he had not used illegal drugs or alcohol since mid-2019.

His legal team has said he had completed an 11-day rehabilitation program and he could have believed he was sober when he ticked the box for “No” on the federal gun purchase form.

The younger Biden has pleaded not guilty to the three firearm case charges. Additionally, he will face trial over tax evasion charges, which he has also pleaded not guilty to, in September.

Can the Hunter Biden trial be watched live?

No. The court does not allow the press or public to photograph or record court proceedings and does not allow electronic devices. Hence, real-time updates will not be available.

Source: Al Jazeera