Is Hunter Biden being treated just like any other criminal defendant? Last week President Biden’s son reached a deal with the Justice Department to plead guilty to misdemeanor charges of failing to pay income taxes in 2017 and 2018. Prosecutors aren’t expected to recommend prison time, though a judge has the final say. Biden is expected to avoid prosecution on a separate felony gun-possession charge as long as he remains drug-free and agrees never to own a firearm again. If he reneges, the charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a hefty fine. The deal is expected to be sanctioned by a federal judge late next month. Republicans have characterized the agreement as a sweetheart deal. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has threatened to start impeachment proceedings against Attorney General Merrick Garland for his department's handling of the case. The Wall Street Journal reviewed more than a hundred federal court dockets and interviewed almost a dozen former federal prosecutors to see whether the deal was different than it would have been for anyone else.
Looking at 100 federal cases involving the same gun charge, few had facts directly analogous to Hunter Biden’s case. Most of the time prosecutors seek to use the charge in situations where they have other concerns about the defendant. “When people are prosecuted for possessing a gun while using drugs it is usually because authorities believed they posed a danger,” said Rod Rosenstein, a former deputy attorney general and U.S. Attorney in Maryland. Some former prosecutors said the high-profile nature of the Biden case combined with his well-documented crack addiction, which he chronicled in his memoir “Beautiful Things,” necessitated pursuing a case against him. Others said the remedy—the ability to avoid prosecution for compliant behavior—sends the wrong message as the Justice Department seeks to combat gun crime in the summer months. In the tax case, former prosecutors said the Biden case likely presented the Justice Department with challenges that cut in favor of negotiating a plea deal rather than taking the case to trial. “Any suggestion that a conviction for federal tax crimes is a slap on the wrist demonstrates an uninformed view of our federal criminal justice system, the U.S. sentencing guidelines, and the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction,” including reputational and professional damages, said Caroline Ciraolo, a former acting head of the Justice Department’s tax division.