Hunter Biden found guilty on charges related to gun purchase in 2018

President Joe Biden embraces his son Hunter Biden on the tarmac Tuesday after arriving in Wilmington, Del. Hunter Biden’s wife, Melissa Cohen Biden, is at left. (Haiyun Jiang/The New York Times)

WILMINGTON, Del. — A jury in Wilmington, Delaware, on Tuesday found Hunter Biden, President Joe 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 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 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.

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.

Hunter 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 Trump, facing two federal indictments, pounced on the conviction. But other Republicans have expressed skepticism about the trial, and Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who is allied with Trump, said on social media that the conviction was “kinda dumb.”

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

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

Joe 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.

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.

Lowell countered with a 90-minute closing argument on Monday that attacked the credibility of the government’s main witnesses, seeking to show that 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.

On Tuesday, 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 Biden’s gun purchase, according to statistics obtained by The Washington Post.

When officials with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives reviewed 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 Biden had taken steps to get and stay sober.

Maryellen Noreika, the judge in the case, said she would sentence 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 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 Biden, and 92% were sentenced to serve prison time with a median prison term of 15 months, according to the commission’s data.

Around 8% 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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