A judge on Wednesday denied a motion by President Joe Biden’s son Hunter to have his initial court appearance and arraignment held over video conference following his indictment on federal gun charges.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Christopher Burke sided with prosecutors, saying that all defendants “regardless of their location or personal circumstance” have been required to appear in person for their first court appearance with the exception of the years when the coronavirus pandemic was at its height.
“Other than during the exigent circumstances of the COVID crisis (when the Court was proceeding under the auspices of the now-expired CARES Act standing order), in 12 years as a judge on this Court, the undersigned cannot recall ever having conducted an initial appearance other than in person,” Burke wrote.
Burke added that Biden shouldn’t receive any special treatment.
“Any other defendant would be required to attend his or her initial appearance in person,” Burke wrote. “So too here.”
The hearing has been scheduled for Oct. 3 in Delaware.
Earlier this week, Hunter Biden’s lawyer Abbe David Lowell argued there was no need for his client to show up in court, citing the strain his travel would put on the government given the short duration of the hearing. The president’s son resides in California.
Biden seeks to “minimize an unnecessary burden on government resources and the disruption to the courthouse and downtown areas when a person protected by the Secret Service flies across the country and then must be transported to and from a downtown location,” Lowell wrote.
Lowell also said Biden would enter a not-guilty plea, adding that “there is no reason why he cannot utter those two words by video conference.”
But prosecutors opposed the request.
“If ‘convenience’ was a legitimate basis to warrant virtual proceedings, every defendant would ask for them in every case,” special counsel David Weiss wrote in a letter to Burke Wednesday.
Weiss added that the collapse of the plea deal at a hearing earlier this summer points to why having an in-person proceeding could be more “conducive” to resolving unforeseen issues.
“The previous arraignment held in connection with this matter was anything but routine because the defendant and his previous attorney were not prepared to answer the Court’s questions,” they said.
In July, U.S. District Court Judge Maryellen Noreika refused to sign off on a deal Biden made with prosecutors after Noreika raised concerns about parts of the agreement. As part of that deal, Biden would have pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges for failure to pay taxes, and would enter a diversion program in place of pleading guilty to felony gun possession as an admitted drug user.
Following the breakdown of the plea deal, Attorney General Merrick Garland elevated Weiss, who is leading the Justice Department’s investigation into Hunter Biden, to special counsel status.
Hunter Biden was indicted on three gun charges last week. Two of them concern Biden allegedly submitting a form falsely saying he was not using illegal narcotics when he purchased a Colt Cobra revolver in 2018, and another involves him allegedly possessing that firearm while using narcotics.
Garland on Wednesday rejected GOP suggestions that the DOJ has gone easy on Biden because he is the president’s son.
He added that any decisions in the case are up to Weiss.
“I have intentionally not involved myself in the facts of the case, not because I’m trying to get out of responsibility, but because I am trying to pursue my responsibility,” Garland said during a House Judiciary Committee hearing.
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