Prosecutors open their case against Hunter Biden by playing his own voice for the jury

WILMINGTON, Delaware — Prosecutors at Hunter Biden’s trial on gun-related charges urged jurors Tuesday not to show sympathy or favoritism for him because he happens to be the son of President Joe Biden, while the defense suggested the case was belatedly charged and overblown.

“No one is above the law,” prosecutor Derek Hines declared at the outset of his opening statement. “It doesn’t matter who you are or what your name is, because in this country the law applies to everyone equally. … That law makes no distinction between Hunter Biden and anybody else.”

Hines, who is part of the team working under special counsel David Weiss, said prosecutors would produce “overwhelming evidence” that Hunter Biden was addicted to drugs at the time he bought a handgun from a Delaware gun shop in October 2018 and, therefore, lied on a form when he checked a box denying that he was a drug user or addict. And the prosecution quickly gave jurors some of the strongest evidence against the president’s son: his own description of the depth of his drug addiction — not simply in his own words, but in his own voice.

With Biden sitting calmly at the defense table alongside his lawyers, his voice rang out from speakers in the courtroom as the prosecution played audio of him narrating passages from his memoir in which he described how he grappled with an intense crack cocaine habit that often led to him smoking crack as often as every 15 minutes.

“Addiction may not be a choice, but lying and buying a gun is a choice,” Hines told the jury of six men and six women.

Biden’s lead defense attorney, Abbe Lowell, denied that his client lied on the federal background-check form. He noted that the form contains no detailed definition of who should be considered a drug user or addict. The way those terms are used in common parlance can’t be what is meant on the form, he suggested; otherwise, anyone with an addiction, even if they have been sober for many years, wouldn’t be able to purchase a weapon.

“As you know, a person who recovers from alcohol or drug abuse always considers themselves an addict,” Lowell told the jury. “At an AA meeting, I’m Abbe Lowell and I’m an addict.”

At times, Lowell echoed a famous semantic argument made by a different client of the high-profile defense lawyer: former President Bill Clinton. In the lead-up to Clinton’s impeachment — in which Lowell represented him — Clinton famously asked “what the definition of the word ‘is’ is.”

On Tuesday, Lowell said of the gun purchasing form at the heart of Biden’s case: “It most clearly uses the word ‘are.’ … It does not say, ‘Have you ever been?’ It does not say, ‘Have you ever used?’”

Lowell has argued in court filings that Weiss — a U.S. attorney appointed by Donald Trump — filed the gun charges against Biden due to political pressure from Republicans. Prosecutors rarely bring the three felony counts at issue as standalone charges.

However, Judge Maryellen Noreika barred the defense from raising such arguments in front of the jury. So, Lowell inched in that direction: He suggested that the charges were too harsh, and he repeatedly noted there was little evidence of prosecutors’ interest in the matter from the time the gun was purchased and disposed of in a grocery store trash can in 2018 until last year.

“For these events, the prosecutors have filed three felony charges,” Lowell said somewhat skeptically.

Lowell also previewed other arguments to the jury, including that the gun was an impulse buy while Biden was getting a new cell phone nearby, that therefore he might have not been paying much attention to the form and that the store’s employees were rushing him. The defense attorney also said Biden wasn’t using drugs when he purchased the gun and kept it for 11 days before his brother’s ex-wife, Hallie Biden, whom Hunter was in a relationship with at the time, found it and threw it away.

“Giving up drugs was not easy. Giving up alcohol was even harder,” Lowell said, noting that the federal forms do not ask about alcohol use.

Lowell noted Biden’s stays with various family members and business activities during the brief period when he is accused of possessing the gun. Those activities, Lowell said, were inconsistent with crack cocaine use by a man who has said his addiction was so powerful that he smoked every 15 or 20 minutes.

“There may be high-functioning alcoholics, but there is no such thing as a high-functioning crack addict,” Lowell said.

Several members of the Biden family were in the courtroom to offer support as the trial opened, including First Lady Jill Biden, Hunter Biden’s wife Melissa Biden and Hunter Biden’s half-sister Ashley Biden.

Hunter Biden gave Lowell a mini-hug as he prepared to deliver his opening, giving a broad grin to his attorney, briefly gripping the back of the lawyer’s neck and later shaking his hand. The president’s son appeared to be trying to make eye contact with the jurors as Lowell plowed through his 50-minute statement, occasionally tapping or slapping the lectern for emphasis.

The second day of the trial began with a minor hitch. Shortly before the scheduled 9 a.m. start, Noreika took the bench and informed the parties that one of the jurors selected Monday had dropped out, citing transportation problems. Four other jurors were running late, she said.

The juror who bowed out was replaced by one of four alternates who were also picked Monday.

As the parties waited for the tardy jurors, Noreika ruled on a series of defense objections to evidence prosecutors planned to use at the trial, including photos of Biden during the period when prosecutors say he was regularly using drugs.

The judge, a Trump appointee, sided with prosecutors on almost all the disputed issues. Among the exhibits she green-lighted to be shown to the jury are shirtless photos of Hunter Biden and a text message he sent after Hallie Biden dumped the gun. In that text, Hunter Biden allegedly suggested that she could have endangered others by throwing the gun in the trash.

Noreika also largely rejected Lowell’s attempt to introduce additional passages from Biden’s book beyond the ones prosecutors said they plan to show the jury. She said if he wishes to give the jury more information to aid his case he is free to testify, but will be subject to cross-examination.

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