What federal guidelines suggest for Hunter Biden’s sentencing

In another first, the child of a president was convicted on three felony charges. A jury in Delaware found Hunter Biden guilty on two counts of making false statements regarding his drug use when filling out paperwork to purchase a firearm and guilty of one count of illegal possession of a firearm by a drug user or addict. Amna Nawaz discussed the verdict with Ryan Lucas of NPR.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Another first in our country's history. The child of a president was convicted today on three felony charges. Joined by family and the first lady, Hunter Biden attended federal court in Delaware to hear the jury hand down a guilty verdict in the trial around his illegal gun possession.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    The jury found Hunter Biden guilty on two counts of making false statements regarding his drug use when filling out paperwork to purchase a firearm and guilty on one count of illegal possession of a firearm by a drug user or addict. The jury deliberated for just under three hours.

    Special counsel David Weiss, who prosecuted the case, spoke about the verdict earlier today.

  • David Weiss, Special Counsel:

    Ultimately this case was not just about addiction, a disease that haunts families across the United States, including Hunter Biden's.

    This case was about the illegal choices the defendant made while in the throes of addiction. No one in this country is above the law. Everyone must be accountable for their actions, even this defendant. However, Hunter Biden should be no more accountable than any other citizen convicted of this same conduct.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Hunter Biden released a statement after the verdict, saying — quote — "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. Recovery is possible by the grace of God, and I am blessed to experience that gift one day at a time."

  • Geoff Bennett:

    NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas has been in the courtroom throughout the trial, and he joins us now.

    So, Ryan, help us understand how the jury arrived at convictions on all three counts, because Hunter Biden's lawyers argued that he didn't knowingly violate the law because he wasn't actively abusing drugs at the time he filled out that form and purchased the firearm.

  • Ryan Lucas, Justice Correspondent, NPR:


    Well, remember, this case all revolves around a gun that Hunter Biden bought in October of 2018 that he owned for 11 days, before it was disposed of in a trash can. And so what prosecutors did is, they presented text messages that Hunter sent from 2015 through 2019 in which he talks about his drug use, in which he talks about buying drugs.

    They also presented Hunter's own memoir in which he talks about his drug use, his downward spiral into addiction to crack cocaine, all establishing for the jury that Hunter was indeed addicted to drugs. And then what they did is, they also brought in witnesses. There were a couple of witnesses, in particular, that drew the jury's attention, I think.

    There were three women who Hunter was romantically involved with at one point or another, his ex-wife, Kathleen Buhle, and ex-girlfriend, Zoe Kestan, and then Hallie Biden, who is Hunter's brother's — late brother's widow.

    And Kestan and Hallie Biden, in particular, testified to Hunter Biden's drug use in the period in question. Kestan even talked about being with Hunter when he was cooking his own crack. Jurors also heard from the gun store salesman who sold Hunter the gun. They saw the form that Hunter filled out when he bought the gun, including the question that asked whether you are a user of unlawful substances.

    And so I think all of that evidence together convinced the jury that the government had met its burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Now, Hunter Biden's attorney, Abbe Lowell, certainly tried to poke holes in the government's case, saying that they hadn't produced evidence that Hunter was using drugs at the time that he bought and owned the gun.

    He tried on other grounds as well. But, ultimately, as we see with this verdict today, it wasn't enough to convince the jury.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Two of the gun counts carry a prison term as long as 10 years. Another is punishable by as many as five years. President Biden has already ruled out a pardon in this case.

    Give us a sense of what information the judge will weigh as she considers sentencing.

  • Ryan Lucas:

    Well, this sentencing is totally up to Judge Maryellen Noreika. She was a Trump appointee. She kept this trial moving swiftly, I will say.

    Now, yes, the maximum sentence is a possible 25 years. But Judge Noreika has discretion. She will take into consideration the guidelines, guidelines sentencing. Hunter Biden has no prior criminal history. That will certainly weigh in his favor.

    Judge Noreika can also take into consideration the fact that Hunter Biden is no longer an addict. He's no longer addicted to crack cocaine. She can take into consideration that he's not deemed a danger to the community. So those are things that she can take into consideration when she considers a sentence.

    The sentencing guidelines, from talking to former prosecutors, would appear to be somewhere between six and 21 months. It's going to depend on exactly how it's calculated. But she has a lot of possibilities in how ultimately she will decide to sentence this. And, again, it is in her hands, that decision.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    And, Ryan, in the 30 seconds we have left, Hunter Biden scheduled to face a jury in Los Angeles in September on tax charges. Is that right?

  • Ryan Lucas:

    That's right.

    There are nine counts in that in that tax case. That case was also brought by special counsel David Weiss. It's a case that Hunter originally was supposed to go to trial on just a couple weeks from now, in — June 20. It got pushed back to September.

    So while one trial may be behind Hunter Biden, he's got another one in a couple months.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    That is NPR's Ryan Lucas.

    Ryan, thanks so much.

  • Ryan Lucas:

    Thank you.

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