Hunter Biden gun trial: key takeaways

<span>Hunter Biden faced three felony charges related to a 2018 firearm purchase.</span><span>Photograph: Matt Slocum/AP</span>
Hunter Biden faced three felony charges related to a 2018 firearm purchase.Photograph: Matt Slocum/AP

Hunter Biden was found guilty on Tuesday morning of all three felony charges in his federal gun trial, after days of testimony that revealed deeply personal and grim details about his drug addiction.

The felony charges against Hunter Biden, the only surviving son of Joe Biden, were tied to a 2018 firearm purchase he made while still using narcotics. He was accused and convicted of making false statements on a gun-purchase form when he said he was not illegally using or addicted to drugs, and then unlawfully possessing the gun for 11 days.

Hunter Biden pleaded not guilty. With this conviction, he could face up to 25 years in prison, though such a sentence would be highly unusual given that he is a first-time offender. It is unclear whether the presiding judge, Maryellen Noreika, would give him time behind bars. Hunter Biden also faces a separate federal trial in California on charges of failing to pay $1.4m in taxes.

Related: Joe Biden says he will not pardon son Hunter if convicted in gun trial

Here are some key takeaways from the trial’s proceedings:

Jury selection centered on the toll of the US drug epidemic

A jury of 12 – six men and six women– and four alternates was seated from a pool of more than 60 people last Monday. Potential jurors were quizzed individually by Noreika about their knowledge of the case and views on gun ownership to determine whether they could be fair and impartial.

Among the questions asked of potential jurors was whether they, or anyone close to them, had experienced substance abuse or addiction. Many said they had, as stories of loved ones’ experiences with addiction unfolded over the course of the day. One said they’d had a childhood best friend die from a heroin overdose, one had a daughter who was in recovery from addiction, and another had a brother addicted to PCP and heroin.

Drug addiction played a central role in the case, as prosecutors delved into Hunter Biden’s drug use after the death of his older brother, Beau Biden, as they sought to prove that he knowingly lied on a form to buy a Colt Cobra revolver at a Wilmington gun store in October 2018.

Hunter Biden has been open about his crack cocaine use, and the defense were hoping that the jury would see in him a familiar and sympathetic story reflected in their own lives. A study published this month found that one in three Americans know someone who has died of a drug overdose; nearly 20% said the person they knew who died was a family member or close friend.

Prosecutors used Hunter Biden’s memoir against him

The jury heard long excerpts from the audiobook of Hunter Biden’s 2021 memoir, Beautiful Things, narrated by the president’s son himself, detailing his drug addiction leading up to and after the gun purchase.

Hunter Biden and his family listened for more than an hour on Tuesday as a lead prosecutor for the special counsel, Derek Hines, played extracts from the memoir detailing how crack cocaine had plunged the president’s son into the “darkest recesses of [his] soul”, including a story of how he tried to buy drugs from an unhoused woman in Franklin Park in Washington DC.

Prosecutors pointed to how Hunter Biden detailed his four-year addiction to crack cocaine that would cover the time period when he bought the firearm to argue that he was a high-functioning drug user who lied to friends and family and ultimately broke the law. “Addiction may not be a choice, but lying and buying a gun is a choice,” Hines said. “Nobody is above the law.”

Hunter Biden’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell, argued that his client did not “knowingly” lie when filling out forms to buy a weapon. Pointing to a two-week rehab visit in August 2018, Lowell suggested that Hunter Biden had not been using drugs at the time he bought the gun.

Witnesses called to the stand included Hunter Biden’s exes and daughter

Prosecutors had said part of their case would come from the testimony of several women from Hunter Biden’s past, including his ex-wife, Kathleen Buhle, and two girlfriends, Zoe Kestan and Hallie Biden, who is also the widow of Hunter Biden’s brother Beau.

Buhle was married to Hunter Biden for nearly 25 years and shares three daughters with him. Buhle testified about her ex-husband’s long substance-use addiction, and how his drug use and infidelity fueled the collapse of their marriage.

Kestan, who was involved with Hunter Biden around 2017-2018, told jurors about his near-constant crack cocaine use at lavish hotels. “He would want to smoke as soon as he woke up,” she testified, and described meetings with a “scary” drug dealer and hunting for instructions on the internet to cook powder cocaine into crack.

Hunter Biden’s daughter, Naomi Biden, gave emotional testimony on Friday as the defense’s witness, telling jurors that she was “proud” to see her father in rehab in 2018. As she left the stand, she stopped to give her father an embrace and was seen wiping her eyes.

Widow of Beau Biden testified about finding gun in Hunter Biden’s truck

The prosecution’s most important witness, Hunter Biden’s sister-in-law turned girlfriend, Hallie Biden, took to the stand on Thursday. The pair had a brief romantic relationship after Beau Biden, Hallie Biden’s husband and Hunter Biden’s brother, died of brain cancer in May 2015.

Hallie Biden was a central part of the prosecution’s case because she discovered the gun that Hunter Biden had bought, and threw it out. The purchase of the Colt revolver by Hunter Biden – and Hallie Biden’s disposal of it – are the fulcrum of the case against him.

Hallie Biden told jurors that she had “panicked” when she discovered the gun and ammunition in his truck, and described how she had put it into a leather pouch, stuffed it into a shopping bag and tossed it into a trash can outside a market near her home. “I didn’t want him to hurt himself, and I didn’t want my kids to find it and hurt themselves,” she said.

Early in her testimony, Hallie Biden testified to using drugs, saying that Hunter Biden had introduced her to crack cocaine in 2018. She testified she stopped using drugs in August 2018, but that Hunter Biden continued smoking crack cocaine. “It was a terrible experience that I went through, and I’m embarrassed and ashamed, and I regret that period of my life,” she said.

Biden family turned out for trial

Hunter Biden’s family and close friends attended the trial en masse to show their support, even as Joe Biden’s presidential campaign and the White House strive to distance themselves out of fear of handing political grist to Republicans searching for a distracting issue in the wake of Donald Trump’s 34-count conviction last week.

The first lady, Jill Biden, was seated in the Delaware courtroom behind her stepson for the first three days of the trial until leaving late on Wednesday to attend a D-day commemoration ceremony in France. Joe Biden’s sister, Valerie Biden Owens, flew in from the west coast to take the first lady’s seat in court on Thursday, next to Hunter Biden’s wife, Melissa Cohen-Biden. Hunter Biden’s sister, Ashley Biden, appeared in court as did several of his close friends.

In contrast, several members of the Trump family steered clear of the New York courthouse during the former president’s hush-money trial. Most notably, Trump’s wife, Melania Trump, and daughter, Ivanka Trump, were conspicuously absent.

Joe Biden, who is in France this week for the 80th anniversary of the D-day landings, has indicated he would not pardon his son if he is convicted at his federal gun trial. “Jill and I love our son, and we are so proud of the man he is today. Hunter’s resilience in the face of adversity and the strength he has brought to his recovery are inspiring to us,” Biden said in a statement on Monday.