Hunter Biden’s hopeful arrival at the federal courthouse in Wilmington, Del., in July ended in chaos and uncertainty after the judge in his case dismantled an agreement that would have given him broad immunity from future gun and tax charges.
Mr. Biden’s expectations are much lower this time. He is set to be arraigned in court on Tuesday on three counts related to lying about his drug use when he bought a handgun in 2018, a routine legal proceeding with outsize political implications.
Mr. Biden, 53, is accused of falsifying a federal firearms application, lying to a federally licensed gun dealer and possessing an illegally obtained gun for 11 days, from Oct. 12 to Oct. 23, 2018.
He intends to plead not guilty, his lawyer Abbe Lowell said.
If convicted, Mr. Biden could face up to 25 years in prison and $750,000 in fines. But nonviolent, first-time offenders who have not been accused of using the weapon in another crime rarely receive serious prison time.
It is possible that the federal district judge presiding in the case, Maryellen Noreika, could schedule a trial, or ask the parties to renegotiate a stripped-down version of the agreement they reached this year: enrollment in a two-year gun diversion program without prison time.
During a hearing on the original agreement, Judge Noreika stunned Mr. Biden and federal prosecutors with her scouring skepticism as she accused both parties of asking her to “rubber stamp” a deal she considered legally and constitutionally questionable. The agreement fell apart minutes later, after Mr. Biden’s lawyers and prosecutors could not hastily hash out a compromise that satisfied the judge.
The decision to file criminal charges against President Biden’s troubled son in mid-September, while expected, was nonetheless an extraordinary move by the Justice Department and David C. Weiss, whom Attorney General Merrick B. Garland named as a special counsel in August.
Republicans have sought to make the case that Mr. Biden’s business dealings are linked to his father, and have based their preliminary impeachment inquiry of the president on his son’s activities. The first hearing on the matter, held last week, yielded no new information about the president’s conduct — or any support for Republicans’ accusations that he had been directly involved with his son’s business deals.
The original deal between Hunter Biden and the Justice Department would also have resolved an investigation into his late filing of his tax returns for several years — in exchange for his guilty plea on misdemeanor charges.
Mr. Weiss’s team has also signaled that it continues to investigate other elements of Mr. Biden’s business activities. Those most likely include whether his lucrative consulting work with companies based in Ukraine, China and Romania violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires disclosing lobbying activities for other countries.
Mr. Lowell has argued that the indictment should be thrown out. Mr. Weiss is still legally bound by the previous diversion agreement, Mr. Lowell has said, accusing him of caving to pressure from supporters of Donald J. Trump who called the plea agreement a sweetheart deal.
Mr. Biden’s lawyers have also asserted that the gun charges will ultimately be thrown out because Supreme Court and appeals court decisions have cast doubt on the constitutionality of federal limits on firearms purchases.
Mr. Biden had asked to appear at Tuesday’s hearing by videoconference, but a federal magistrate judges rejected that request. That forced him to fly from California, where he lives, back to his home state.