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Hunter Biden, son of US President Joe Biden, arrives at the federal court with his wife Melissa Cohen Biden, on the opening day of his trial on criminal gun charges in Wilmington, Delaware, the US, June 3 2024. Picture: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Hunter Biden, son of US President Joe Biden, arrives at the federal court with his wife Melissa Cohen Biden, on the opening day of his trial on criminal gun charges in Wilmington, Delaware, the US, June 3 2024. Picture: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Wilmington — Jury selection kicked off in a criminal case against Hunter Biden, a historic prosecution that could further influence the 2024 presidential election four days after Joe Biden’s rival Donald Trump became the first former US president to be convicted.

Hunter Biden, 54, arrived at the courthouse for the first trial of the child of a sitting president, in which he will face three felony charges stemming from his purchase and possession of a revolver in 2018.

Hunter Biden is charged with lying about his use of illegal drugs when he bought a Colt Cobra .38-calibre revolver and with illegally possessing the weapon for 11 days in October 2018.

He has pleaded not guilty. The case, brought by US special counsel David Weiss, a Trump appointee, is one of two criminal cases he faces, with federal tax charges brought separately in California.

The judge in the gun case, Maryellen Noreika, began screening potential jurors on Monday, many of whom disclosed they had family members or acquaintances with drug problems, including one juror who became emotional when discussing a brother-in-law with an addiction.

Most jurors said they were at least vaguely familiar with this case. “I live in Delaware. You can’t swing a cat with out hearing something,” one potential juror told the judge.

Few jurors expressed strong political views.

One said he had worked with First Lady Jill Biden and said he had met “Jill’s husband” multiple times. He also said he supported the campaign of Ferris Wharton, who ran unsuccessfully for Delaware attorney-general against Beau Biden, Hunter’s brother, who died of cancer in 2015.

All 12 jurors must agree he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt to convict.

Jill Biden, Hunter Biden’s wife Melissa Cohen Biden and his half-sister Ashley Biden were in attendance at the trial in Wilmington, before US district judge Maryellen Noreika.

“Jill and I love our son and we are so proud of the man he is today,” Joe Biden said in a statement, adding that a lot of families have loved ones who have overcome addiction.

The trial comes days after Trump was convicted by a jury in state court in New York of 34 felony counts of falsifying documents to cover up hush money paid to a porn star to avoid a sex scandal shortly before the 2016 US election that put him in the White House. Trump is the Republican candidate challenging Joe Biden, a Democrat, in the November 5 US election.

Hunter Biden’s trial gives Republicans a chance to shift attention away from Trump’s legal troubles. Trump is due to be sentenced on July 11. He has pleaded not guilty in three other pending criminal cases.

If convicted on all charges in the Delaware case, Hunter Biden faces up to 25 years in prison, though defendants generally receive shorter sentences, according to the US justice department.

Hunter Biden spent the weekend with his father in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, with the pair biking and attending church together on Saturday. The president, who had been expected to depart Rehoboth Beach on Monday, travelled on Sunday evening to his home in Wilmington.

Gun purchase

The case is expected to centre on Hunter Biden’s years-long crack cocaine use and addiction, which he has discussed publicly and which was a prominent part of his 2021 autobiography, Beautiful Things. He told Noreika at a hearing last year that he has been sober since the middle of 2019.

Prosecutors will seek to prove that Hunter Biden knew he was lying when he ticked the box for “no” next to a question on a federal gun purchase form asking if he was an unlawful user of a controlled substance.

Prosecution lawyers revealed in court filings that they may use details gleaned from Hunter Biden’s phone and iCloud account, including photos of him smoking crack and messages with drug dealers. They said they may call as a witness his former wife Kathleen Buhle, who accused Hunter Biden in their 2017 divorce proceedings of squandering money on drugs, alcohol and prostitutes.

Hunter Biden’s lawyers have indicated they may try to show he had completed a drug rehabilitation programme before purchasing the gun and may have considered his answer on the gun purchase form to be truthful.

A plea agreement that would have resolved the gun and tax charges without prison time collapsed last year after Noreika questioned the extent of the immunity it extended to Biden. Hunter Biden’s lawyers blamed Republican pressure for the failure of the plea agreement.

Noreika entered multiple orders over the weekend that were requested by prosecutors and that appeared to undercut Biden’s legal strategy.

The judge said Biden’s legal team could not introduce expert testimony that people suffering from substance abuse disorder might not consider themselves an addict.

That testimony could have helped Biden show that he did not know he was lying on the background check form. The government is required to prove that Biden knowingly lied.

Congressional Republicans spent years in vain trying to find evidence of a corrupt link between Hunter Biden’s foreign business dealings, including work for Ukrainian energy company Burisma, and his father’s political power.

Reuters

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