Federal judge makes key rulings ahead of Hunter Biden’s trial on gun charges in June

Wilmington, Delaware CNN  —  The judge in Hunter Biden’s gun case issued a series of pretrial rulings Friday, handing wins to both sides and setting the contours of the upcoming trial. Federal Judge Maryellen Noreika sided with prosecutors on a key question about what they need to prove about Biden’s drug use when he bought a gun



Wilmington, Delaware
CNN
 — 

The judge in Hunter Biden’s gun case issued a series of pretrial rulings Friday, handing wins to both sides and setting the contours of the upcoming trial.

Federal Judge Maryellen Noreika sided with prosecutors on a key question about what they need to prove about Biden’s drug use when he bought a gun in 2018.

To win a conviction, she said they’ll need to show that he was generally using drugs at the time, and not that he specifically used drugs on the day he bought the gun. Biden has advocated for the narrower scope of the law to be applied.

But she also decided to allow Biden’s lawyers to challenge the authenticity of specific texts from his infamous laptop that will be presented to the jury by special counsel David Weiss’ team.

Biden’s lawyers maintain that there are serious questions about the legitimacy of the material. Prosecutors said in court that they only want to introduce a small slice of the laptop material at trial.

“What we’re using from the laptop are messages that will be corroborated by a witness who will testify that she sent those messages,” prosecutor Derek Hines said. “This isn’t some vast array of messages.”

The issues were among the more than a dozen questions before the judge at Friday’s hearing about what evidence could come in during the trial, which will begin June 3. Biden was present at the hearing, as was Weiss.

The president’s son faces three charges in the case brought by the special counsel in Delaware. Prosecutors accuse Biden of buying and possessing a firearm while addicted to illegal drugs, which is a violation of federal law, and of lying on a form he submitted during the purchase about his drug use. Biden has pleaded not guilty.

Lawyers said the trial could last up to two weeks, including jury selection, with the potential to go longer.

Biden recently secured a delay in a separate, tax-evasion trial he is facing from the special counsel’s investigation in California, which was originally slated for late June but is now expected to kick off in September.

Dispute over ATF forms

The parties also tussled over the forms from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that were filled out when Biden bought the revolver in a Wilmington gun shop in October 2018.

The forms are a key piece of evidence because Biden is charged with making a false statement by checking a box that said he wasn’t using illegal drugs. That’s one of the boilerplate questions on the form that every gun buyer is required to fill out.

But some credibility issues have emerged about the forms and the staff at the gun store, who are expected to be called as witnesses by Weiss.

There are apparently two versions of the form involving Biden: The initial version that was emailed to the ATF not long after the purchase, and a paper copy that contains additional written information that the gun store staff added a couple years later.

“They tampered with it,” Biden’s attorney Abbe Lowell said Friday, noting that the employees added details about how they verified Biden’s identity in order to comply with federal law.

At the time of the purchase, the store verified Biden’s identity by using his passport. They later added information about his car registration.

“They accepted an ID that they shouldn’t have accepted,” Lowell said, and now “the government is giving them a break” by offering them some immunity so they can testify against Biden.

The judge didn’t issue any decisions Friday on the matter. Prosecutors have asked her to exclude the second, altered form from the trial altogether.

Questions looming if Biden takes the stand

There was minimal disagreement between prosecutors and the defense team on many of the 13 motions Noreika was considering Friday about what arguments a jury could hear.

They generally agreed that Biden could not bring up claims that the prosecution violated the Second Amendment and that information from his failed plea deal – and the July 2023 hearing where that agreement fell apart – should, in most circumstances, not come into the trial. The judge also granted Biden’s request that the paternity case he faced in Arkansas be excluded, as should his 2014 discharge from the Navy over a drug incident. She also limited what references prosecutors could make at trial to his lavish spending habits at the time of the gun purchase, narrowing such evidence to spending connected to drug use.

She sided with Biden on whether prosecutors could refer to the tax charges.

“There shall be no reference to the tax case,” the judge said.

However, the judge granted those requests with the caveat that she may need to revisit the questions about what a jury can hear if Biden decides to take the stand. His attorneys have not said whether the defendant will testify, and such a decision is usually not announced until the trial is well underway.

“A number of issues may become more contested” if Biden testifies, Noreika said.

This story has been updated with additional details.