Historic criminal trial of Hunter Biden to probe drug addiction

By Thomson Reuters May 29, 2024 | 5:07 AM

By Tom Hals

WILMINGTON, Delaware (Reuters) – The criminal trial of Hunter Biden on gun charges kicks off next week, with federal prosecutors likely to dissect lurid details of his crack cocaine addiction that could provide fuel for opponents of his father’s presidential reelection bid.

Hunter Biden will be the first child of a sitting president to be a criminal defendant when jury selection begins on Monday, coming just days after another historic first: the criminal trial of a former U.S. president.

The son of President Joe Biden has pleaded not guilty to three federal criminal charges related to his 2018 purchase of a .38-caliber Colt revolver.

He was charged in September by U.S. Special Counsel David Weiss, a Trump appointee, with lying about his use of illegal drugs when he bought the handgun and with illegally possessing the weapon for 11 days in October 2018.

If convicted on all charges, Hunter Biden faces a maximum punishment of 25 years in prison, according to the Department of Justice.

The trial comes as Joe Biden, a Democrat, is campaigning for a second four-year term but is struggling to generate voter enthusiasm due to inflation, wars in the Middle East and Ukraine and concerns about his age. Biden, 81, is the oldest U.S. president.

On Tuesday, closing arguments were presented to a New York jury over charges that Donald Trump, 77, Biden’s Republican opponent in the Nov. 5 election, falsified business records to cover up hush-money payments to influence the 2016 race. Trump faces three other criminal trials that have yet to be scheduled.

As prosecutors have investigated and charged Trump, who was defeated in the 2020 election by Biden, Republicans have stepped up allegations of financial misconduct against the president’s family, particularly his son.

Republicans have spent years in vain trying to prove that Hunter Biden illegally profited off his father’s power. In September, he faces a separate federal criminal tax trial in Los Angeles, a case that was also brought by Weiss.

He has pleaded not guilty to those charges as well.


Hunter Biden’s gun trial in the family’s hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, could last more than two weeks. Federal prosecutors have said in court filings they will present photos, testimony and messages to show that Hunter Biden was an illegal drug user around the time he bought the gun and failed to disclose that as required on a federal gun purchase form.

The government said it might call his ex-wife and solicit her testimony about incidents such as removing drugs from Hunter Biden’s car to protect their daughter.

Prosecutors also said they may use details gleaned from his phone, iCloud account and a laptop that he allegedly abandoned at a repair store, including photos of Hunter Biden smoking crack and texts arranging meetings with illegal drug dealers.

And they may use his own words against him.

“I was a crack addict,” he wrote in his 2021 autobiography “Beautiful Things,” which prosecutors said they may show the jury. “I had no plan beyond the moment-to-moment demands of the crack pipe.”

To convict on the two charges related to the gun purchase, prosecutors must convince 12 jurors beyond a reasonable doubt that Hunter Biden knowingly made a false statement on his gun purchase form and that the lie was material to the sale.

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


Hunter Biden’s legal team in court filings has attempted to question the quality of the evidence.

The storage pouch containing Hunter Biden’s Colt handgun was found to have traces of cocaine.

The weapon was found in 2018 in a trash bin by what the defense team said was a “garbage scavenger” but it wasn’t until five years later that prosecutors tested it, according to Biden’s legal team.

The defense team contends that the laptop that Hunter Biden allegedly abandoned at a Wilmington computer repair shop in 2019 showed signs of tampering before it was obtained by government authorities.

Defense lawyers have also pointed to the prosecution’s acknowledgement that the gun purchase form at the center of the case was altered after Hunter Biden submitted it to a staff member at StarQuest Shooters & Survival Supply in Wilmington.

His lawyers have also questioned what it means to be a knowing addict.

Hunter Biden’s legal team has said he had completed an 11-day rehabilitation stint and he could have believed he was sober when he ticked the box for “no” on the federal gun purchase form asking if he was an unlawful user of controlled substances.

Hunter Biden told U.S. District Judge Maryellen Noreika in July that he had been free of illegal drugs and alcohol since the middle of 2019. At that same hearing, Noreika, who was nominated by Trump, declined to approve a plea agreement for Hunter Biden that would have averted the gun charges, setting the stage for next week’s trial.

Hunter Biden and Ashley Biden are the two surviving children of Joe Biden. His daughter Naomi was killed as an infant in a car accident that also killed Joe Biden’s first wife, Neilia. His son Beau Biden died of cancer in 2015 at age 46.

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; editing by Amy Stevens and Jonathan Oatis)