Prosecutors oppose video court appearance

Hunter Biden (R), son of U.S. President Joe Biden, leaves the J. Caleb Boggs Federal Building in Wilmington, Delaware, on July 26, 2023.

Ryan Collerd | AFP | Getty Images

A federal judge on Wednesday denied a request by Hunter Biden to have his first court appearance on felony firearm charges be conducted remotely via video conference.

Judge Christopher Burke ordered the son of President Joe Biden to appear in person at 10 a.m. ET Tuesday for his arraignment in U.S. District Court in Wilmington, Delaware.

“Any other defendant would be required to attend his or her initial appearance in person. So too here,” the judge wrote in a two-page order in favor of prosecutors, who objected to a video conference hearing for Hunter Biden.

Burke wrote that he agreed with both Biden’s lawyer and prosecutors that the 53-year-old California resident “should not receive special treatment in this matter.”

“Although initial appearances in criminal matters are often short in duration, our Court has always considered them to be important,” Burke wrote.

He noted that in 12 years on the federal bench, he “cannot recall ever having conducted an initial appearance other than in person” outside of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Biden last week was indicted on three criminal counts related to his possession of a firearm while being an unlawful drug user.

His lawyer Abbe Lowell in a filing Tuesday argued that a virtual court appearance would avoid an “unnecessary burden on government resources and the disruption to the courthouse and downtown areas” of Wilmington that would result from his client’s Secret Service protection.

Lowell wrote that Biden will plead not guilty to the charges during his appearance, “and there is no reason why he cannot utter those two words by video conference.”

Biden “is not seeking any special treatment in making this request,” the defense lawyer wrote.

Prosecutors on Wednesday urged Burke to hold Biden’s arraignment in person, arguing that he “should be treated no differently” than other defendants.

Department of Justice special counsel David Weiss in that filing noted that the court’s pandemic-related order authorizing virtual proceedings expired in June 2022.

Since then, defendants’ first court appearances are “almost always held in-person,” Weiss wrote.

The court hearing will be Biden’s first since late July when an expected plea deal between him and Weiss’ office on criminal tax charges fell apart under scrutiny from another judge.

Biden ended up pleading not guilty to those tax charges — a move that threw into dispute a separate agreement that would have allowed him to escape prosecution for a gun-related charge if he stayed out of trouble for two years.

Weiss in his filing Wednesday wrote, “Although the government anticipates this proceeding should be straightforward since the parties have not reached an agreement to resolve this matter, we believe an in-person proceeding may be more conducive to addressing any unforeseen issues that arise.

Biden, who has suffered from drug addiction for years, is charged with two counts of lying about his illegal drug use in connection with his purchase of a Colt Cobra revolver. 

The third count accuses him of possession of a firearm by a person who is an unlawful drug user.

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