The indictment of Hunter Biden for falsifying a gun application became inevitable after the original plea bargain was rejected by the judge. However, this does not necessarily mean a full-blown trial will ensue.
The likely scenario is as follows: Hunter Biden’s legal team will seek to negotiate a new agreement in which he acknowledges the facts presented in the indictment but disputes that these facts constitute a criminal violation of the Second Amendment.
Mr. Biden’s lawyers may also argue that his previous agreement to diversion on this offense constitutes double jeopardy when faced with this indictment. This type of plea, known as a stipulated plea, acknowledges the veracity of the basic facts while contesting the interpretation of the law.
Such a plea would allow Hunter Biden to appeal the expected guilty verdict and raise constitutional issues related to the Second Amendment and double jeopardy, potentially reaching the Supreme Court. Both the prosecutor and the judge must agree to such a stipulated plea, and either party may decline.
In this scenario, Mr. Biden and his legal team would need to decide whether to plead guilty, possibly in exchange for probation, or plead not guilty and proceed with a full trial, which they would likely lose.
In reality, individuals in Hunter Biden’s situation are seldom prosecuted for misstatements, even deliberate ones, on their gun applications. When they are prosecuted and plead guilty, they typically receive probation, especially with no prior relevant offenses.
The initial plea bargain aimed for a diversionary judgment without a guilty plea or conviction on Biden’s record. The new indictment raises the stakes but may not result in a prison sentence, especially without a full trial.
Hunter Biden may also face additional charges related to alleged failures to promptly pay taxes for several years. Such offenses are rarely criminally prosecuted for first-time offenders who eventually settle their tax debts. When prosecuted, plea bargains and probationary sentences are common.
While the statute of limitations has expired for some other potential crimes, investigations into Hunter Biden’s recent business activities are likely ongoing.
There is also a remote possibility, albeit unlikely, that Attorney General Garland could appoint a special counsel to investigate connections between Hunter Biden and his father, based on allegations from several Republican figures and media pundits. The initiation of an impeachment investigation by Speaker McCarthy may produce evidence warranting such an appointment.
However, absent these developments, the most probable outcome is a plea agreement to avoid a full trial in the gun application case and a separate plea deal in any potential tax-related indictment.
If a full trial were to occur in the gun permit case, it could coincide with the presidential campaign season and the potential trial of President Trump. A tax-related indictment and trial, if a not-guilty plea is entered, might also coincide with the lead-up to the 2024 election.
It is certain that the 2024 presidential campaign will be influenced by the trials involving Mr. Trump. Whether it will also be influenced by trials related to President Biden’s son remains to be seen. However, it is likely that the charges against Hunter Biden, as well as uncharged allegations regarding his business dealings, will be leveraged by Republicans to counteract charges against Trump.
It is relatively certain that President Biden will not pardon his son before the election, as such a move would face significant political opposition. Unfortunately, the upcoming presidential campaign may focus as much on our criminal justice system as on other critical issues like the economy, foreign policy, immigration, and more that affect all Americans.