What a breathtaking and damaging act of misdirection. After five years of investigation into a host of criminal acts by Hunter Biden, the Department of Justice (DOJ) finally brought charges against the president’s wayward son. But while the DOJ hopes the public focuses on words like “charges” and “guilty” to form an image of accountability for all, it’s letting Hunter walk away with the kind of slap on the wrist most defendants can only dream about from inside a prison cell.
In the same breath in which DOJ announced it was filing charges against Hunter Biden, it also stated that the case had already been resolved. Hunter will plead guilty to and serve probation for two tax fraud misdemeanors while a felony firearm possession charge will disappear after he completes pretrial diversion. It’s a resolution that if the defendant’s last name weren’t Biden would sound almost too good to be true.
The feds are notoriously tough on firearms. Nationally, for example, 94.2 percent of federal firearms convictions in 2022 involved some prison time, and the median sentence was 39 months.
Of course, Hunter won’t even have to end up with a conviction. This is an even rarer event. In 2021, fewer than 1 percent of cases filed by U.S. attorneys in federal court resulted in the kind of pretrial diversion offered to Hunter.
It’s that disparity between Hunter’s case and everybody else’s that’s the true problem, not necessarily the sentence itself. After all, the law in question, which prohibits individuals suffering from an illegal drug addiction from possessing a firearm, likely violates the Second Amendment. Plus, diversion programs across the country have improved public safety at lower cost to taxpayers than prison alternatives.
But that’s clearly not how things are shaking out in practice at DOJ, and President Biden has expressed an ongoing willingness to harshly punish firearms offenses. His DOJ is defending this law in court, and he signed a law in 2021 to increase maximum penalties from 10 years to 15 years in prison. Apparently, President Biden does not believe offenders should be treated with kid gloves — at least when it’s not his kid.
Indeed, if Hunter’s were a typical case, we could have expected a much more aggressive DOJ response. Mixing illegal drugs and firearms is usually a quick trip to the land of five- or seven-year mandatory minimum sentences. Whole initiatives, such as Project Safe Neighborhoods, have been built around getting offenders combining drugs and weapons off the streets.
That Hunter will walk away with few consequences where thousands have instead been left to languish in federal prisons in terrible conditions paints a picture of a two-tiered justice system where an accident of birth can matter more than the facts of a case. We can debate which tier is better for our country or how we ought to respond to these kinds of transgressions. But the legitimacy of the criminal justice system demands that there be only one track that applies fairly to all.
So, no, this is not a day of accountability. It is one of power and privilege securing special benefits while hoping the rest of us are too distracted by the headlines to notice. We shouldn’t let this pass without calling it out for what it is and then working to improve it.