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Hunter Biden to plead not guilty to gun charges

Hunter Biden
Hunter and Joe Biden at an event in 2016

By Sam Cabral

US President Joe Biden's son, Hunter, will plead not guilty to three criminal charges relating to a gun purchase he made in 2018, his lawyer has said.

In a letter to the judge, attorney Abbe Lowell confirmed the intended plea while asking that the initial court appearance be held remotely.

Mr Biden was indicted last week for possessing a gun while he was an illegal drug user and lying to buy it.

If convicted, he could face up to 25 years in prison.

The 53-year-old "will waive reading of the indictment, which is merely a few pages and could easily be read at a video conference", Mr Lowell wrote in the two-page court filing on Tuesday.

"Mr Biden also will enter a plea of not guilty, and there is no reason why he cannot utter those two words by video conference," he said.

The attorney added that seeking a video hearing was not a case of the president's son "seeking any special treatment".

Instead, he said, it would "minimize an unnecessary burden on government resources and the disruption to the courthouse and downtown areas" from the Secret Service detail accompanying Mr Biden.

Mr Biden's legal team initially asked last week for their client to be allowed to appear remotely. Prosecutors opposed the request.

Magistrate Judge Christopher Burke, in a court order late on Monday, asked that the request be made in writing by Tuesday, with a response from prosecutors due by Wednesday.

The charges against Mr Biden stem from October 2018, when he was struggling with a crack cocaine addiction after the loss of his brother Beau to brain cancer.

He bought a Colt Cobra revolver, reportedly on a whim, in October 2018, about two months after completing another stint in rehab.

But Mr Biden allegedly lied on the federal firearm application form that he was not using illegal drugs at the time, for which he now faces two felony counts punishable by up to 10 years each.

A third count relates to his possession of the firearm while being a drug user and carries a maximum prison sentence of up to five years.

The weapon was found in Mr Biden's vehicle by his late brother's widow, Hallie, who tossed it into a rubbish bin behind a shop, reportedly out of fear he might use the gun to hurt himself.

Delaware police and Secret Service agents would go on to investigate, after the pistol was discovered by a man rummaging through the bin for recyclable items.

In June, a plea deal reached between prosecutors and Mr Biden's legal team on gun and tax charges collapsed after another judge raised objections, noting the agreement was "unusual".

Under the terms of that deal, Mr Biden would have been forced to admit to illegal possession of a firearm and agree to drug treatment and monitoring to avoid a felony charge and potential imprisonment.

He would also have pleaded guilty to two misdemeanour counts for failing to pay his taxes on time in 2017 and 2018.

Legal analysts have said, however, that the basis of the gun charges against Mr Biden may be subject to a constitutional challenge.

Mr Biden has no prior criminal record. He had the weapon for fewer than two weeks and never used it. Few people matching that profile face such charges, let alone prison time, say legal analysts.

Despite not holding a position in the White House or on his father's re-election campaign, the younger Mr Biden has become a political lightning rod.

The House of Representatives Oversight Committee will next week hold its first impeachment inquiry hearing into the president over his son's business dealings.

The White House says the Republican-led inquiry is politically motivated and predicated on baseless claims.

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