President Joe Biden, and his son Hunter Biden arrive at Fort McNair, Sunday, June 25, 2023, in Washington. The Biden's are returning from Camp David. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
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WILMINGTON, Del.  — President Joe Biden’s son Hunter arrived at court on Monday for jury selection in a federal gun case against him after the collapse of a deal with prosecutors that would have avoided the spectacle of a trial so close to the 2024 election. First lady Jill Biden arrived shortly after, entering the courthouse in support of her son.

Hunter Biden, who spent the weekend with his father, has been charged in Delaware with three felonies stemming from a 2018 firearm purchase when he was, according to his memoir, in the throes of a crack addiction. 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.

He has pleaded not guilty and has argued he’s being unfairly targeted by the Justice Department, after Republicans decried the now-defunct deal as special treatment for the Democratic president’s son.

The trial comes just days after Donald Trump, Republicans’ presumptive 2024 presidential nominee, was convicted of 34 felonies in New York City. A jury found the former president guilty of a scheme to cover up a hush money payment to a porn actor to fend off damage to his 2016 presidential campaign. The two criminal cases are unrelated, but their proximity underscores how the criminal courtroom has taken center stage during the 2024 campaign.

Hunter Biden is also facing a separate trial in California in September on charges of failing to pay $1.4 million in taxes. Both cases were to have been resolved through a deal with prosecutors last July, the culmination of a yearslong investigation into his business dealings.

But Judge Maryellen Noreika 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 squabbled 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, and a month later Hunter Biden was indicted.

This trial isn’t about Hunter Biden’s foreign business affairs — which Republicans have seized on without evidence to try to paint the Biden family as corrupt. But it will excavate some of Hunter Biden’s darkest moments and put them on display.

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The president’s allies are worried about the toll the trial may take on the elder Biden, who’s long been concerned about the well-being and sobriety of his only living son and who must now watch as those painful past mistakes are publicly scrutinized. He’s also protective: Hunter Biden was with his father all weekend before the case began, biking with his dad and attending church together.

President Biden, in a last-minute switch in plans, shifted from his Rehoboth Beach home back to his Wilmington compound on Sunday evening. Boarding a helicopter on Sunday was the only time the president was seen publicly without his son all weekend.

Allies are also worried the trial could become a distraction as the president tries to campaign under anemic poll numbers and as he is preparing for an upcoming presidential debate while the proceedings play out.

Prosecutors are hoping to show Hunter Biden was in the throes of addiction when he bought the gun and therefore lied on the forms. 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.

The judge will ask a group of prospective jurors a series of questions to determine whether they can serve impartially on the jury, including whether they have donated to political campaigns or run for political office. She will ask whether their views about the 2024 presidential campaign prevent them from being impartial.

She’s also going to ask whether prospective jurors believe Hunter Biden is being prosecuted because his father is the president. Also, she’ll ask about firearms purchasing and addiction issues, including: “Do you believe someone who is addicted to drugs should not be charged with a crime?”

The case against Hunter Biden stems from a period when, by his own public admission, he was addicted to crack. His descent into drugs and alcohol followed the 2015 death of his brother, Beau Biden, from cancer. He bought and owned a gun for 11 days in October 2018 and indicated on the gun purchase form that he was not using drugs.

Hunter Biden has pleaded not guilty in both cases, and his attorneys have suggested they may argue he didn’t see himself as an addict when prosecutors say he checked “no” to the question on the form. They’ll also attack the credibility of the gun store owner.

Prosecutors, meanwhile, are also planning to call as witnesses Hunter Biden’s ex-wife and his brother’s widow, Hallie, with whom he became romantically involved.

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.

By RANDALL CHASE, CLAUDIA LAUER, MICHAEL KUNZELMAN and COLLEEN LONG Associated Press

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