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Hunter Biden and his wife, Melissa Cohen Biden, arrive June 11, 2024, at federal court in Wilmington, Del. (AP) Hunter Biden and his wife, Melissa Cohen Biden, arrive June 11, 2024, at federal court in Wilmington, Del. (AP)

Hunter Biden and his wife, Melissa Cohen Biden, arrive June 11, 2024, at federal court in Wilmington, Del. (AP)

Jeff Cercone
By Jeff Cercone June 11, 2024
Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson June 11, 2024

In a closely watched case involving the U.S. president’s son, a jury in Delaware on June 11 returned guilty verdicts in all three counts against Hunter Biden.

The jury found that the younger Biden had violated federal laws designed to keep people with drug addictions from owning firearms.

President Joe Biden released a statement after the verdict saying he loves his son and is proud of him. He added: "So many families who have had loved ones battle addiction understand the feeling of pride seeing someone you love come out the other side and be so strong and resilient in recovery."

A separate trial on tax-related charges is scheduled for September in California.

Here are some answers to questions about Hunter Biden’s criminal cases and what could come next.

What was the Delaware case about?

Hunter Biden had been under investigation since 2018 over his business dealings and tax issues in a case overseen by David Weiss, the U.S. attorney in Delaware. 

Biden had tentatively agreed to plead guilty to two misdemeanor tax charges of failing to pay $100,000 in 2017 and 2018, for which prosecutors would have recommended a sentence of probation. He also agreed to a "diversion" program on a gun-related charge, which is available to nonviolent offenders with substance abuse problems.

But at the hearing to address the plea deal, U.S. District Judge Maryellen Noreika expressed concerns about the deal’s parameters, and both sides backed off. In August 2023, Attorney General Merrick Garland tapped Weiss as a special counsel to prosecute the case.

In September 2023, a grand jury indicted Biden on three gun-related charges: making a false statement on a federal form used to apply for a gun purchase from a licensed dealer about his drug use when purchasing a firearm, making a false statement to the gun dealer and knowingly possessing a firearm while addicted to drugs.

Was this prosecution unusual?

Before the verdict, several Republicans said that prosecuting Hunter Biden was atypical. 

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said, "I don’t think the average American would have been charged with the gun thing." And former South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy who was once a federal prosecutor, said on Fox News, "I bet you there weren’t 10 cases prosecuted nationwide of addicts or unlawful drug users who possessed firearms or lied on applications."

The prosecutors’ first instinct — to work out a plea deal — speaks to the rarity of a case with these charges and this set of facts going to trial, legal experts said.

A trial in a case like this "is uncommon," said Neama Rahmani, a former prosecutor who later co-founded the firm West Coast Trial Lawyers. 

Joan Meyer, a former local and federal prosecutor who is now with the firm Thompson Hine LLP, agreed, saying, "In my experience, the particular provision Hunter Biden was charged with is not often used by federal prosecutors. Most garden-variety gun possession cases involve drug traffickers or felons possessing guns with a history of violent crime."

Although such a trial may be rare, the evidence was clear, Meyer added. "Biden’s verdict is sound," she said.

And prosecuting Biden — particularly once the plea deal fell through — was justified, said Bill Otis, former head of the Appellate Division of the U.S. attorney’s office for Virginia’s Eastern District and special counsel to George H.W. Bush.

"It's uniformly, and correctly, believed in law enforcement that guns and drugs are a bad, bad mix," he said. "Not to prosecute Hunter, given the amount of evidence and the fact that cocaine is a hard drug, would create the smell of favoritism."

Justice Department Special Counsel David Weiss, center, speaks June 11, 2024, after guilty verdicts for Hunter Biden in Wilmington, Del. (AP)

When is the sentencing?

Noreika, who presided over the trial, did not immediately set a sentencing date. The New York Times reported that sentencing usually takes place within 120 days of a verdict.

What might Biden’s sentence be?

The charges Biden was convicted of carry a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison and a fine of up to $750,000. However, legal experts don’t expect him to receive a sentence that severe, or even a prison sentence at all, because Biden is a first-time offender.

Under federal sentencing calculations, Biden would still qualify for more than a year in prison, Meyer said. But that, too, seems unlikely, she said.

"The judge has the discretion to depart downwards and sentence him to probation," Meyer said. Biden "has no criminal history and has been compliant with pre-trial obligations, so I expect that he would be looking at little to no jail time."

Rahmani said he expects a sentence of home confinement or probation. "Imprisonment for a relatively minor crime where diversion was offered would be surprising, and also a logistical nightmare because Hunter Biden has secret service protection," Rahmani said.

Cheryl Bader, a Fordham University law professor, said the traditional purposes of incarceration — incapacitation, deterrence, rehabilitation, and retribution — do not really apply in Biden’s case. He is not a danger to the community, she said, and he appears to have been rehabilitated and achieved sobriety.

What’s next with Biden’s California tax trial, and how does the Delaware verdict affect it?

Hunter Biden next faces a trial in California over federal tax charges. 

Prosecutors say he avoided at least $1.4 million in income taxes from 2016 to 2019. The indictment, which includes six misdemeanor counts and three felony counts, alleges that Biden spent 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."

The trial is scheduled to start Sept. 5. 

Meyer said the verdict in Delaware will have a limited impact on how the California trial plays out. "Federal rules allow use of prior criminal convictions to question a defendant’s credibility, but not for the purpose of showing a propensity to commit a crime," Meyer said.

Biden’s Delaware conviction means he may get a stricter sentence if he’s convicted in the California case, Meyer and Rahmani said.

"Biden may want to consider, now that he has been convicted, whether he would want to reconsider negotiating an acceptable plea in the second case rather than taking it to trial," Meyer said.

Can Joe Biden pardon his son?

Because this is a federal prosecution, the president would have that power to pardon. However, he said during a June 6 interview with ABC News anchor David Muir that he wouldn’t use it.

Joe Biden told Muir that he would accept the outcome of the Delaware trial, and he said "yes" when Muir asked him whether he would rule out a pardon for Hunter. Biden reiterated in his statement after the verdict that he "will accept the outcome of this case and will continue to respect the judicial process as Hunter considers an appeal."

Neither of the president’s remarks explicitly addressed a less sweeping option: a presidential commutation of his son’s sentence, which would reduce a sentence while maintaining the original conviction. For instance, if Hunter Biden were to receive a prison sentence, Biden could cut the incarceration time or eliminate it entirely.

The president "has the full power to commute the sentence," said Brian Kalt, a Michigan State University law professor. "He could do whatever he sees fit to reduce the sentence."

Daniel Kobil, a Capital University law professor, agreed that "modern practice is to treat the two as distinct forms of clemency, and I interpret Biden’s statement as only ruling out a full pardon."

If Biden were to commute his son’s sentence, Kobil said, "Hunter would still be a convicted felon and subject to all of the collateral consequences that would attend his federal conviction."

Jeffrey Crouch, an American University political scientist who studies pardons, said presidents Bill Clinton and Donald Trump used their powers to pardon relatives (Clinton pardoned his brother Roger Clinton and Trump pardoned Charles Kushner, his son-in-law Jared Kushner’s father). Crouch said Clinton’s and Trump’s pardons for their relatives amounted to an abuse of power and that even a commutation for Hunter Biden would be, too.

Will Hunter Biden lose his gun rights?

Federal law generally prohibits anyone convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for more than one year from owning a firearm. The prohibition would apply to Biden even if he isn’t sentenced to prison.

Biden, a Malibu, California, resident, is also barred from owning a firearm in California. There, state law has a lifetime ban for anyone "convicted of a felony or any violent offense." Delaware, where Biden has lived, has a similar ban.

UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh said people with felony convictions could apply in some states for restoration of their civil rights. There technically is a way to apply for restoration of federal civil rights under U.S. code, "but this route has been practically unavailable because Congress ordered federal funds not be spent on it," Volokh said.

"A presidential pardon would nullify the conviction and thus restore firearms rights as well as other rights. It appears to be the only mechanism," Volokh said. 

The Justice Department website said, "At present, a presidential pardon is the only means by which a person convicted of a federal felony offense may obtain relief from federal firearms disabilities." It added that even if a person with a felony conviction has the right to buy a gun restored under state law, that would not apply to federal law.

The federal ban on people with felony convictions owning guns has been challenged in court, and appeals courts have been divided on whether it violates the Second Amendment.

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Our Sources

U.S. Justice Department, Hunter Biden case letter from Weiss 1:23-cr-00061-UNA, June 20, 2023

U.S. Justice Department, Grand Jury Returns Indictment Charging Robert Hunter Biden with Three Felonies Related to His Purchase of a Firearm, Sept. 14, 2023

U.S. Justice Department, Office of the Pardon Attorney, Frequently Asked Questions, accessed June 11, 2024

The Associated Press, Hunter Biden’s plea deal on hold after federal judge raises concerns over the terms of the agreement, July 26, 2023

CBS News, Biden Indictment Redacted Gov - Uscourts.ded.82797.40.0, Sept. 14, 2023

The New York Times, Live updates: Hunter Biden convicted of 3 Felonies, June 11, 2024

Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute, 18 U.S. Code § 922 - Unlawful acts (G) (1), accessed June 11, 2024

Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute, 18 U.S. Code § 925 - Exceptions: Relief from disabilities, accessed June 11, 2024

State of California Department of Justice, Overview of Key California Firearms Laws, accessed June 11, 2024

Giffords Law Center, Firearm Prohibitions in Delaware, accessed June 11, 2024

Congressional Research Service, Courts Disagree as to Whether the Federal Felon-in-Possession Firearm Prohibition Violates the Second Amendment, May 28, 2024

The Hill, "Graham: ‘Average American’ wouldn’t face Hunter Biden’s gun charges," June 4, 2024

New York, "Some Republicans say a seldom-pursued charge is veering into public humiliation for Hunter Biden," June 5, 2024

Email interview with Daniel Kobil, Capital University law professor, June 11, 2024

Email interview with Jeffrey Crouch, American University political scientist, June 11, 2024

Email interview with Brian Kalt, Michigan State University law professor, June 11, 2024

Email interview with Neama Rahmani, former prosecutor who later co-founded the firm West Coast Trial Lawyers, June 11, 2024

Email interview with Joan Meyer, former local and federal prosecutor who is now with the firm Thompson Hine LLP, June 11, 2024

Email interview with Bill Otis, former head of the Appellate Division of the United States attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Virginia and Special Counsel to George H.W. Bush, June 11, 2024

Email interview with Cheryl Bader, Fordham University law professor, June 11, 2024

Email interview with Eugene Volokh, University of California, Los Angeles law professor, June 11, 2024

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