Even before Hunter Biden’s first court appearance Oct. 3 on a new indictment charging him with gun-related crimes, a fight had broken out. Hunter Biden wanted to appear by video for his arraignment. Prosecutors objected to that.
(Bloomberg) — Even before Hunter Biden’s first court appearance Oct. 3 on a new indictment charging him with gun-related crimes, a fight had broken out. Hunter Biden wanted to appear by video for his arraignment. Prosecutors objected to that.
It was a relatively minor spat compared to the substantive challenges that lawyers for President Joe Biden’s son have vowed to raise in his defense. But the exchange highlighted the acrimony between the two sides in the weeks since a plea deal among them fell apart.
US District Magistrate Judge Christopher Burke in Delaware ultimately ruled on Wednesday that Biden must show up in-person on Sept. 26. Later on Wednesday, at the request of Hunter Biden’s lawyers, the judge rescheduled the arraignment to Oct. 3.
Burke wrote that he understood his order would cause “some amount of logistical inconvenience” for both Biden and the US Secret Service, but that in-person appearances were important to emphasize the “solemnity” of a criminal case and in case any last-minute issues came up.
“Any other defendant would be required to attend his or her initial appearance in person. So too here,” Burke wrote.
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Tensions between the two sides have risen since the collapse of their plea agreement in July. Hunter Biden had agreed to plead guilty to two misdemeanor tax crimes and to acknowledge a firearms violation without a conviction. But the agreement, which involved no jail time, imploded when a federal judge refused to sign off. Hunter Biden was indicted last week on charges that he owned a gun while addicted to drugs and purchased it without disclosing his drug use.
Hunter Biden’s lawyers had argued that a video appearance was reasonable given his status as a US Secret Service protectee and the security and logistical “burden” of having him travel from his home in California to the federal courthouse in Wilmington. They said the arraignment would require little from him — he planned to plead not guilty, they said — and that he was prepared to appear in-person as needed at future hearings.
Biden’s team called the government’s opposition “puzzling” and disputed he was asking for “special treatment.” They pointed to examples of other criminal cases in the Delaware court where defendants recently appeared by video for initial appearances.
Special Counsel David Weiss’s office countered that although federal courts shifted to remote appearances during the pandemic, the blanket authority to do that had expired and in-person hearings had been the norm in Delaware for more than a year. They argued Hunter Biden’s situation didn’t present the type of circumstances justifying an exception — the cases cited by Biden’s lawyers involved a defendant recovering from being shot and a defendant who couldn’t afford to travel, they said.
“An in-person hearing is important to promote the public’s confidence that the defendant is being treated consistently with other defendants in this district and in other districts,” prosecutors wrote.
They also alluded to the unexpected drama of Biden’s last court appearance, when a judge’s scrutiny of the plea deal terms scuttled it. They wrote that they expected the next arraignment to be “straightforward” but that an in-person hearing “may be more conducive to addressing any unforeseen issues that arise.”
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–With assistance from Patricia Hurtado.
(Updates with arraignment rescheduled to Oct. 3 in first paragraph)
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