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How the Supreme Court could help Hunter Biden appeal his conviction

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CNN
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Hunter Biden’s historic conviction on three felony gun charges will add significant weight to a blockbuster Second Amendment appeal to be decided in coming days by the Supreme Court.

Though the case deals with different circumstances and a different provision of a federal gun law, the high court’s decision this month on whether authorities may ban domestic abusers from owning guns could signal a path forward for Biden’s anticipated appeal – or make it harder for him to overturn his conviction.

“I definitely think they’re connected,” Jacob Charles, a law professor at Pepperdine University who focuses on the Second Amendment, said of the pending Supreme Court case and possible Biden appeal. “One possible outcome is that the court limits the gun prohibitions to people who are found to be dangerous in some way.”

Such a decision could give Biden an opening.

Hunter Biden was found guilty of three felony gun charges on Tuesday, the first time in American history that a president’s child has been convicted of a crime during their father’s term in office. The charges stem from a federal law that makes it a crime to own a weapon while being an “unlawful user of or addicted to” illegal drugs.

The president’s son was convicted of lying on a federal form when he swore he was not using – and was not addicted to – drugs as he purchased a revolver at a Delaware gun shop in 2018. He was also convicted of possessing the gun, given that he was struggling with an addiction to crack cocaine at the time.

A related prohibition of the federal disarmament law sits at the center of one of the Supreme Court’s most significant cases this term, US v. Rahimi. That case deals with a part of the law that bars Americans who are the subject of domestic violence restraining orders from owning guns, and it’s being challenged by a criminal defendant in Texas, Zackey Rahimi, and gun rights groups on Second Amendment grounds.

Should the Supreme Court rule in favor of Rahimi, Hunter Biden would have “a lot of ammunition” as he challenges his conviction, said Andrew Willinger, the executive director of the Duke Center for Firearms Law.

Because of that, the litigation has put the Democratic president’s son on the same side as gun rights groups seeking to overturn the laws.

If Biden challenges the constitutionality of the drug-prohibition on appeal, he will have several rulings working in his favor. In a major Second Amendment decision from 2022, a 6-3 conservative majority ruled that gun regulations must be “consistent with this nation’s historical tradition” to survive legal scrutiny. The ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, written by conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, has been used by Second Amendment groups to challenge gun laws across the nation.

One of those challenges, US v. Daniels, is directly on point with Hunter Biden’s case and is already pending at the Supreme Court. In Daniels, the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that the federal prohibition on Americans owning guns while addicted to drugs cannot be squared with the nation’s history in the way Thomas called for in Bruen.

The case centers on Patrick Daniels Jr., who told Drug Enforcement Administration agents he used pot “approximately fourteen days out of a month.” Daniels was charged with the same federal crime as Biden after police found marijuana cigarette butts, a loaded pistol and a semi-automatic rifle in his car after a traffic stop in 2022.

Hunter Biden has already raised the Daniels case in court. Seeking to have his case dismissed last year, Biden noted “the lack of any historical precedent for disarming citizens based on their status of having used a controlled substance.”

District Judge Maryellen Noreika in May denied the request to dismiss the case on those grounds.

Though the cases differ and Biden’s federal case is in a different circuit, his attorneys may still use the 5th Circuit ruling in the Daniels’ matter to argue that the law is unconstitutional.

But before the Supreme Court deals with Daniels, it must first address Rahimi, which also comes from the conservative, New Orleans-based 5th Circuit.

Prosecutors say Rahimi was involved in several shootings in late 2020 to early 2021, including one in which police said he fired into the air at a Whataburger restaurant after a friend’s credit card was declined. When police executed a search warrant at his home, they found a .45-caliber pistol, a .308-caliber rifle, ammunition and a copy of a restraining order filed against him.

During oral arguments in November, a majority of the justices appeared inclined to uphold the federal law, though it’s possible they do so in a way that limits the prohibition to apply to people courts deem dangerous.

The court is expected to rule by the end of the month.

Once it rules, the justices will likely return the Daniels case and other pending Second Amendment appeals to lower courts to reconsider their decisions with the new precedent in hand.

Biden’s attorneys are likely hoping that “Rahimi is going to come down in a way where the majority opinion will be written in very broad terms, in terms that suggest a very expansive Second Amendment right,” said Benjamin Levin, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis and expert on US gun laws.

Such a decision might signal, Levin said, “that some of these restrictions on gun possession for people with other sorts of trouble with the law are just going to be constitutionally suspect.”



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