Criminal Justice

Hunter Biden's Prison-Free Plea Should Be Available to Everybody

If it's not a sweetheart deal, everyone else deserves the same leniency.


If, as expected, Hunter Biden's plea deal on tax and firearms charges keeps him out of prison, it would be a remarkable display of leniency. While nobody should go to prison for failing to give the government a cut of the take or for nonviolently owning a weapon in defiance of some rule, many people do go to jail when they're not politically connected. It's enough to make a suspicious person wonder if the deal was meant to give the appearance that justice was done to divert attention from more serious matters. It's also a hint of the restraint prosecutors exercise for the powerful, and which the rest of us would appreciate.

"The United States Attorney for the District of Delaware filed charges today against Robert Hunter Biden ('Hunter Biden') of Los Angeles," the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Delaware announced Tuesday. "Hunter Biden has been charged with two misdemeanor tax offenses and a felony firearm offense and has agreed to enter a plea of guilty to the tax offenses and enter into a pre-trial diversion agreement with regard to the firearm charge at a proceeding to be scheduled by the assigned United States District Court judge."

Strictly speaking, the plea still has to be approved by a judge and sentencing has yet to be finalized. The announcement mentions that the two tax charges on which Hunter Biden pled guilty carry up to 12 months in prison, and the gun charge on which he entered into a pretrial diversion agreement carries up to 10 years in prison. But he's expected to escape time behind bars.

No Prison Time

"A U.S. attorney appointed by President Donald Trump, David Weiss, negotiated the proposed plea deal, announced Tuesday, that should keep President Biden's son Hunter out of prison," The Washington Post's editorial board noted on its way to praising the arrangement.

"Though President Biden had earlier insisted that his son had 'done nothing wrong,' members of Biden's inner circle took great comfort in knowing that, with a guilty plea, Hunter likely would not serve prison time," Politico reported of White House reaction.

I agree with the president that his son did "nothing wrong" in this case. His actions were stupid and self-destructive with regard to the heavy crack use he lied about on his way to the gun charge, yes, but he did nothing wrong. I'd be happy to live in a world where nobody faced prison time for failing to give the government a piece of their income, or for owning weapons while also using intoxicants of their choice. However, that's not the world that Joe Biden is working to create.

Would Tough-On-Crime Joe Biden Approve?

"I just signed a law to reduce the deficit by $114 billion by cracking down on wealthy tax cheats," President Biden boasted during the 2023 State of the Union address. "Wealthy tax cheat" might be a fair characterization of Hunter, who admitted to failing to pay taxes on "taxable income in excess of $1,500,000 annually in calendar years 2017 and 2018" according to the U.S. Attorney's office. The younger Biden benefited from the sort of deal his father frowns upon for everybody else.

Likewise, as vice president in the Obama administration, Joe Biden was tasked with developing gun control policies. His team's proposals were published in January 2013 and included increased "prosecutions of people who have been convicted of a felony and illegally seek to obtain a firearm, or people who attempt to evade the background check system by providing false information." That also runs up against the reality that the younger Biden lied on his federal 4473 form about his drug use, and as a result "possessed a firearm despite knowing he was an unlawful user of and addicted to a controlled substance" in the words of the U.S. Attorney's office.

Tough On Crime, Until…

In keeping with all things tax-related, there's little consistency by which to assess Biden's tax deal. "Two former IRS lawyers said Biden's deal is not an outlier," according to Politico. "Two other former tax officials told POLITICO that Biden could have faced stiffer charges." Prosecutors are "typically heavy-handed when it comes to any form of taxes," former prosecutor Arthur Aidala told Business Insider. "This whole thing is not being handled the way a case would typically be handled."

Strictly speaking, while lying on background check forms is rarely prosecuted, the federal government is merciless on prohibited categories of people possessing firearms. In 2020, the United States Sentencing Commission reported that "96.7% of felon in possession of a firearm offenders were sentenced to prison" with an average sentence of 62 months. While Hunter wasn't a convicted felon (though his taste for crack might have gained him that status under his drug-warrior father's preferred policies) he was a prohibited person; he and the White House are undoubtedly pleased to escape serious time behind bars.

In truth, Joe Biden wouldn't be the only tough-on-crime blowhard to flinch from the personal impact of draconian policies. His predecessor as addled White House dweller, Donald Trump, boasted just days ago to Fox News anchor Bret Baier about commuting the sentence of nonviolent drug offender Alice Johnson, only to be reminded by Baier that "she'd be killed under your plan" to execute drug dealers. Politicians love harsh sentencing, until it affects their families, friends, or approval ratings.

Bigger Issues

Republicans consider the plea arrangement a "sweetheart deal" and there's reason to believe that Hunter Biden's name and connections resulted in a lot more slack than the average American could expect for evading taxes and breaking gun laws. There's also reason to suspect some sleight of hand.

"He will plead to a couple of misdemeanors on tax violations without addressing how he actually made this money," George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley wrote of Hunter Biden's deal, which he sees as crafted to distract from other crimes. "The gun charge looks like a serious threat for incarceration, but it is little more than a phantom felony count under which Hunter will be allowed to go into a diversion program and ultimately negate the violation."

Even the Biden-friendly Washington Post editorial board concedes that Hunter Biden is fortunate to face the charges at hand instead of answering for a larger can of worms, including where his money came from and why. "His laptop that became public in 2020 showcased questionable behavior, including dealings with a Chinese energy company."

Republicans are investigating those dealings, looking for potential connections to the White House. Good luck to them. I'd like to see the evidence around Joe Biden, who has been dogged by rumors of corruption for years.

But instead of just awaiting the outcome of their efforts, the rest of us should demand the same mercy prosecutors showed the president's son. If we miss a tax filing or neglect to declare income, a "whoops" and a payment plan should be the most expected of us. As for the unknowable spiderweb of gun laws, their enforcement ought to be diverted right around us, as they were for Hunter Biden. Nobody should be imprisoned for these activities anyway, and clearly, leniency is on the table for the right people.

After all, if it's not a "sweetheart deal," it should be available to everybody.