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Hunter Biden appeared in front of a federal judge in Wilmington on Tuesday, his second criminal court hearing this year as prosecutors pursue firearms and potential tax charges against President Joe Biden's son.
Through his attorney, Hunter Biden, 53, pleaded not guilty to three federal firearms felonies in front of Magistrate Judge Christopher J. Burke inside Wilmington's federal courthouse on King Street downtown.
The not-guilty plea put the case on course for a potential criminal trial as his father runs for a second term as president and federal prosecutors also pursue criminal charges against the frontrunner Republican challenger, former President Donald Trump. It also comes as congressional Republicans seek to tie Hunter Biden's finances and legal troubles to his father.
Hunter Biden entered the courtroom just a few minutes before 10 a.m. with Secret Service agents. He was flanked at the defendants' table by Abbe Lowell, a nationally prominent white-collar defense attorney, as well as Wilmington attorney Richard I. G. Jones. Local attorney Bart Dalton was also a part of the defense team that shook hands with prosecutors.
Delaware's U.S. Attorney David C. Weiss, who has supervised the contentious investigation into Hunter, was not present in the courtroom.
During the appearance − a routine hearing that kicks off federal criminal cases − Burke read in detail the criminal charges, listed off the potential penalties and reminded Hunter Biden of his rights to fight the charges. At each turn, Burke asked the defendant whether he understood and Hunter Biden responded, "Yes, your honor."
Why was Hunter Biden charged?
The charges stem from Hunter Biden's purchase of a .38-caliber revolver at a local gun shop in 2018.
As part of that purchase, he indicated on a federal form that he was not a drug user. Prosecutors contend that during that time, he purchased and used crack cocaine regularly, and Hunter Biden himself has written about his struggles with addiction and stints in rehab around that time.
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In court filings, prosecutors said he possessed the gun for 11 days before it was discarded in a trash can outside a Greenville grocery store near the president's New Castle County residence. At the time, President Biden was no longer vice president and had not yet announced his 2020 campaign.
In all, prosecutors charged Hunter Biden with three felonies for lying to the gun dealer, lying on the federal application to purchase the weapon and possessing the illegally purchased firearm. The charges carry up to 25 years in prison, though it is rare for first-time offenders like Hunter Biden to receive a maximum sentence if convicted.
Motions to dismiss case forthcoming
After Hunter Biden's not-guilty plea, Lowell, his attorney, indicated he intends to file multiple motions to dismiss the case and call for an evidentiary hearing tied to that effort.
One of those motions will focus on an agreement prosecutors previously struck with Hunter Biden that would have seen the government not prosecute the gun charges in exchange for the president's son agreeing to abstain from drug use for two years and never again owning a firearm.
That deal was the subject of a contentious July hearing in federal court when the parties came before a judge to ratify the agreement, which also included Hunter Biden pleading guilty to misdemeanor tax charges.
However, the deal collapsed after questioning from presiding Judge Maryellen Noreika exposed disagreements between the parties about the scope of immunity provided from future prosecutions against Hunter Biden.
Noreika also questioned the attorneys on her role in enforcing the agreement, said she felt the parties were seeking a "rubber stamp" and asked them to file further briefs justifying the legitimacy of the agreement.
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But after that July hearing, the division among the parties grew.
Since then, federal prosecutors filed paperwork dismissing the tax charges and indicating they will pursue similar charges in either California or Washington D.C. where Hunter Biden was residing at the time prosecutors have said he willfully failed to pay his taxes.
Prosecutors also told the court they regard the gun diversion agreement as dead and charged him with the crimes that were the subject of Tuesday's not-guilty plea. Hunter Biden’s attorneys have told the court the diversion agreement is still in place, which will be the basis of one of Hunter Biden's motions to toss the case, Lowell said.
Questions over constitutionality
He added that another basis will center on the constitutionality of the gun charges. The specific law that Hunter Biden is charged with violating is primarily used to prevent felons from possessing a firearm but also contains provisions prohibiting gun possession for other reasons.
The law is being challenged by multiple lawsuits following the 2022 Supreme Court decision called New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, which overturned a New York law that had required people to have a "proper cause" to have a firearm. The ruling set a new standard for lower courts to use when reviewing gun laws.
Since then, federal district courts and appeals courts have issued rulings limiting the government's ability to restrict gun ownership for people who use drugs in multiple cases, according to reporting by USA Today.
In a statement issued after the hearing, Lowell said the "charges are a result of political pressure from President Trump" and his supporters to "force the Justice Department to ignore the law." He added that since prosecutors offered the plea deal and diversion agreement, there have only been court rulings "undermining the constitutionality of the law at issue here" in addition to "partisan attacks" by Republicans.
The judge set a 30-day deadline for pretrial motions. No trial date was set. Hunter Biden was released on conditions that he not use drugs or alcohol or possess a weapon and submit to screenings.
The hearing concluded in 30 minutes.
Contact Xerxes Wilson at (302) 324-2787 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: Hunter Biden pleads not guilty to federal gun charges in Wilmington