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In Hunter Biden’s trial, jury selection highlights U.S. drug epidemic

WILMINGTON, Del. — Jury selection for the trial of President Biden’s son Hunter on Monday turned into an impromptu but painful indictment of the nation’s drug epidemic, with person after person telling the court of their loved ones’ battles with addiction.

Judge Maryellen Noreika swore in a dozen jurors — plus four alternates — to determine the legal fate of Hunter Biden, who is on trial for three felony gun charges just months before his father seeks a second term in the White House in November.

A substitute teacher, a former Secret Service employee and multiple gun owners were among those chosen to report back to court Tuesday morning, when opening arguments are expected to begin. Six jurors chosen were men. Six were women. Most were people of color, and their ages appeared to range from mid-20s to 70s.

During the hours of screening and selection, Hunter Biden sat with his lawyer at the defense table, while his wife Melissa Cohen Biden, first lady Jill Biden and several other relatives and family friends sat nearby in the gallery.

The responses of dozens of prospective jurors to questions in open court reflected some of the most pervasive and divisive issues in American society, with jurors discussing their views on gun ownership and mistrust of the judicial process.

And in a trial where the criminal defendant has been public about his struggles with drug addition, the jurors told the court about similar battles fought by their parents, children and friends.

Many offered their own versions of a written statement from President Biden, who was in Wilmington on Monday but did not come to the courthouse. He said he found his son’s recovery from addiction inspiring and knew that many families of addicts could relate to Hunter Biden’s journey.

“My daughter’s been given a second chance,” said one prospective juror who was not chosen for the panel, but like many others said his experience watching a family member struggle with drugs would not prevent him from judging Hunter Biden fairly. “Everyone deserves a second chance.”

Biden faces three felony charges related to a gun he purchased in 2018. A four-page indictment accuses him of making two false statements in filling out the required paperwork to purchase the weapon. He allegedly claimed to not be addicted to or using illegal drugs, the indictment says, “when in fact, as he knew, that statement was false and fictitious.” He then allegedly affirmed his statement was true, and illegally owned the gun for 11 days as a drug user.

He has pleaded not guilty to the charges. If convicted, the maximum sentence for the most serious crime in the indictment is 10 years in prison, though as a first-time offender he would probably face far less.

The gun trial has brought Hunter Biden back to his hometown of Wilmington — the city where he grew up, where his older brother died in 2015 of brain cancer and where prosecutors allege he was addicted to drugs when he purchased a Colt revolver. At the time, he was in a romantic relationship with his brother’s widow, Hallie Biden, who found the gun in his truck and dumped it in an upscale grocery store’s trash can. According to text messages that prosecutors plan to present as evidence, she did so because she feared for his safety.

Many of the jurors said they have read or seen headlines about Hunter Biden’s gun case over the years in local and national news outlets, but few said they delved deeply into the details. One woman, who was selected as an alternate juror, said she first learned Hunter Biden was going to trial on Monday when her dad informed her on her drive over to the courthouse.

She told the court that many of her relatives are gun owners and that she has lost multiple friends to drug addiction. “I feel it’s an everyday part of the world nowadays,” she said.

A few prospective jurors said they personally knew the Biden family from living in Delaware. One retired police officer who has donated to the Republican National Committee said he worked at the same school as Jill Biden and has bumped into Joe Biden at events over the years. A bartender had served drinks to Hunter Biden’s uncle — who was in the courtroom Monday — a few times at a Delaware bar. Another prospective juror had coached the children of Hunter Biden’s brother in youth sports. And one woman said she was social acquaintances with Hunter and Hallie Biden.

All four of the people who said they had personal relationships with the family were struck from the jury.

“Delaware’s a small place,” one prospective juror said.

A number of people questioned said their political views colored their opinion of the case, and were excused after acknowledging they disliked what they had heard about Hunter Biden. A female prospective juror said she laughed when she realized what case it was, because she remembered coverage of the Biden family when Joe Biden ran for president in 2020. Asked her opinion of Hunter, she said, “not a good one.”

Hunter Biden was also charged in Los Angeles last year with failing to file and pay at least $1.4 million in federal taxes from 2016 through 2019, tax evasion and filing false tax returns. Three of the charges are felonies; six are misdemeanors. That case is set for trial in September.

While the two indictments are separate, they stem from the same troubled period in his life, share some of the same evidence and were once more closely linked together. Delaware U.S. Attorney David Weiss began investigating Hunter Biden’s business dealings during the Trump administration, but has not brought any charges related to those activities.

Last summer, Biden reached a tentative agreement with prosecutors to plead guilty in Delaware to two misdemeanor tax-related charges and admit to the facts of a gun charge. That deal fell apart after Noreika questioned some of its terms.

Soon after, Attorney General Merrick Garland named Weiss as special counsel — a move that gave the prosecutor clear authority to file charges outside of Delaware and paved the way for the tax indictment in California.

The trial in Delaware is expected to last up two weeks, with prosecutors saying they may call a dozen witnesses. The testimony could get deeply personal and reopen some of the most painful moments in the Biden family’s past.

In his statement Monday, President Biden said: “I don’t and won’t comment on pending federal cases, but as a Dad, I have boundless love for my son, confidence in him, and respect for his strength.”

At each trial break, Hunter Biden would kiss both his wife and mother on the cheek.

As he waited for jury selection to begin in the morning, he greeted the first lady with a wry joke. “Happy birthday,” he told her.

“I got you a special event.”

The two laughed.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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