Hunter Biden's gun trial starts today, here's what to know

A jury was seated on Monday in the trial of Hunter Biden, who has been charged with three felonies relating to a gun purchase. Opening statements are expected to begin on Tuesday. 

He has pleaded not guilty and has argued he's being unfairly targeted by the Justice Department after a plea deal to avoid trial, which was seen as special treatment by Republicans, fell apart.

He has been accused of lying to a federally licensed gun dealer, making a false claim on the application used to screen firearms applicants when he said he was not a drug user, and illegally having the gun for 11 days.

The charges all stem from a dark time in Biden’s personal life where he has admitted he was addicted to crack. 

Here’s what to know about Biden’s past and how it connects to his gun trial: 

Who is Hunter Biden?

Hunter Biden, 54, is the second son of U.S. President Joe Biden

His mother is Biden’s first wife, Neilia Hunter Biden, who was killed in a car crash along with their 1-year-old baby girl, Hunter’s sister, in 1972. Hunter and his older brother, Beau, were seriously hurt but survived. 

Hunter went on to become an attorney, business and family man, though he admitted in his memoir "Beautiful Things" that he has struggled with alcohol and drug abuse throughout his life. Writings from his memoir will be seen as critical evidence by the prosecution in his gun trial. 

Hunter’s foreign business dealings have also been subject to federal investigation and are separate from this gun trial. 

But, they were part of a larger plea deal, along with alleged tax crimes, that was going to spare him a politically explosive trial in the middle of his father’s reelection campaign and likely prison time. That deal collapsed at the last minute last summer. 

Failed plea deal

In July 2023, the plea deal unraveled after a federal judge raised concerns about the terms of the agreement, which had infuriated Republicans who believed the president’s son was getting preferential treatment. 

Judge Maryellen Noreika, who was nominated to the bench by Trump, questioned some unusual aspects of the deal, which included a proposed guilty plea to misdemeanor offenses to resolve the tax crimes and a diversion agreement on the gun charge, which meant as long as he stayed out of trouble for two years the case would be dismissed. 

The lawyers went back and forth over the agreement, could not come to a resolution, and the deal fell apart. 

Attorney General Merrick Garland then appointed the top investigator as a special counsel in August 2023, and a month later Hunter Biden was indicted.

Hunter Biden gun trial

In September 2023, Hunter Biden was indicted on three felonies related to his purchase of a firearm in 2018. 

Prosecutors are hoping to show Hunter Biden was in the throes of addiction when he bought the gun and therefore lied on the forms when he checked a box indicating he was not an unlawful user of, or addicted to, any stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance.

They have said they're planning to use as evidence his published memoir, and they may also introduce contents from a laptop that he left at a Delaware repair shop and never retrieved. 

The contents made their way to Republicans in 2020 and were publicly leaked, revealing embarrassing and personal photos in which he's often nude and doing drugs and messages in which he asks dealers about scores.

"I don't think this case is a slam dunk, per se," attorney Ken Belkin told LiveNOW from FOX. 

"I mean, certainly some false statements were made on forms, but whether or not Hunter Biden actually knew at the time he was an addict - he was definitely using drugs; there's photographic evidence of that - but some of those people in the midst of their drug addiction, they're not, you know, at a point where they're ready to admit or they actively acknowledge or know that they are an addict."

Belkin said this case revolves around the prosecution proving beyond reasonable doubt that Hunter Biden knew he was a drug addict when he purchased the gun. 

Hunter Biden’s lawyers say he owned the gun for 11 days, never fired it, and that it ended up dumped in a trash can. 

If he were to be convicted, he could face up to 25 years in prison, though first-time offenders do not get anywhere near the maximum and it's unclear whether the judge would give him time behind bars.

Who is Hallie Biden?

One witness who is expected to be called to testify in Hunter Biden’s gun trial is Hallie Biden. 

Hallie was married to Hunter’s brother, Beau, until he passed away in 2015 from brain cancer.

Hallie’s testimony will be relevant because she and Hunter became romantically involved in the time after Beau’s death, when Hunter admitted descending into drug and alcohol abuse.

Hallie has also reportedly spoken about finding the gun and dumping it in a trash can, where it was ultimately discovered and turned over to authorities. 

Three other unknown witnesses are also on the docket, and could include Biden’s first wife, Kathleen Buhle, who filed for a divorce in 2016, which is also around the relevant time period of Hunter’s drug use. 

Who is Melissa Cohen?

Hunter Biden, son of US President Joe Biden, joined by his wife Melissa Cohen Biden, arrives to the J. Caleb Boggs Federal Building on June 3, 2024 in Wilmington, Delaware. (Photo by Ryan Collerd/AFP via Getty Images)

Hunter Biden is currently married to Melissa Cohen, a South African filmmaker, and has been since 2019. 

The two reportedly married in a secret wedding after knowing each other for one month. 

She and Hunter did not know each other in October 2018 when Hunter purchased the gun, so it’s unlikely she could provide relevant testimony and may not be called to testify. 

Hunter Biden has spoken publicly - and under oath - about being sober from alcohol and drugs since June 2019. 

Hunter Biden tax trial

Biden is also facing a separate trial in California in September on charges of failing to pay $1.4 million in taxes. 

That case would also have been resolved through the deal with prosecutors last July that ultimately collapsed. 

Possible cases on his alleged foreign business dealings are also pending. 

This story was reported from Detroit. The Associated Press contributed.