Many Republicans have criticized Hunter Biden’s plea deal. Some of them have focused on how the prosecutor who negotiated the deal, an appointee of President Donald Trump, agreed not only to endorse a sentence of probation on two misdemeanor tax crimes to which Biden pleaded guilty but to also permit the president’s son to avoid a conviction on a felony charge of being a drug user or addict in possession of a firearm.
Some prominent Republicans in Congress have pointed to the gun cases of Virginia mother Deja Taylor, who is likely to go to prison, and the rapper known as Kodak Black, who did serve time in prison, as evidence of a double standard for Hunter Biden. But a review of the facts around the Taylor case and the Kodak Black case shows that both of them have major differences from the Biden case, in which the Trump-appointed prosecutor, David Weiss, agreed to pretrial diversion.
Taylor’s gun was used in a shooting (committed by her young child). Biden’s gun has no known connection to any shooting.
Kodak Black’s case involved three purchased guns and the attempted purchase of another, compared to one gun in Biden’s case. Prosecutors said two of the rapper’s guns were found at crime scenes, including the site of an attempted shooting. There’s no sign that Biden’s gun had a role in other crimes.
And the rapper, unlike Biden, had a substantial conviction record when he committed the federal offense of falsely denying on two gun background check forms that he was under felony indictment, with a history of arrests on charges related to guns, drugs and violence. First-time offenders like Biden generally receive more lenient treatment than repeat offenders in plea negotiations and sentencing.
An expert on the gun offense Biden was charged with, South Texas College of Law Houston professor Dru Stevenson, said in an email on Thursday: “It is NOT accurate to say that in this case they were making a special exception as a favor to a powerful elected official.”
Pretrial diversion, Stevenson said, is regularly used for “minor” gun crimes like a possession charge not connected to a shooting. And the majority of situations in which a drug user owns a gun are never even investigated, let alone charged. The federal charge of being a drug user or addict in possession of a firearm usually comes up only as part of investigations into more serious drug or gun crimes, such as probes into shootings, drug trafficking and gang activity.
“In nearly all the cases involving this charge, the defendant was caught in a drug bust OR an incident of drug-related violence, so they are usually charged with other things as well,” Stevenson said. He said, “I honestly have never seen a single case where law enforcement went looking for someone solely because they thought they were a drug user with a gun.”
Stevenson emphasized that he is not arguing that the justice system produces equal outcomes for all defendants. He said he would not be surprised if “defendants who can afford expensive lawyers” were shown to be more likely to receive pretrial diversion than a low-income defendant who struggles to afford a lawyer at all. But “that is a different problem,” he said, “than if prosecutors were dropping charges as a political favor for a president.”
Here is a more detailed look at the distinctions between the Biden case and both the Taylor case and Kodak Black case.
Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee tweeted Wednesday: “Biden’s DOJ is giving Hunter a sweetheart deal for lying on a firearm background check. Meanwhile, the same DOJ is sending Deja Taylor to prison for 18-24 months for the exact same offense. What happened to equal justice under the law?”
Other Republicans, such as Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, also raised the Taylor case to support his contention that Hunter Biden is benefiting from a double standard. “Two-tier justice,” Biggs tweeted Thursday.
While the Taylor case and the Biden case involve the same crime of being a drug user or addict in possession of a firearm, there is an obvious gulf between the two cases: Taylor’s gun was used to shoot somebody, Biden’s gun was not.
Taylor, a Virginia woman who was a marijuana user, faced the charge after her 6-year-old son took the gun to school and shot a teacher with it in January. Taylor pleaded guilty to the charge last week, along with a charge of making a false statement on federal background check form by denying her drug use. She continues to face state charges of child neglect and endangerment.
Biden’s gun was discovered in fall 2018 after his then-girlfriend, who was fearful about the presence of the weapon he had bought less than two weeks prior, threw it in the trash near a grocery store. There has never been a suggestion that his gun was used in a shooting.
In the Taylor case, Stevenson said, “a teacher was shot by a child and it made national news, so I am not surprised that police looked into it to see what charges they might bring against the child’s mother. From what I’ve read, police had no reason to investigate Hunter Biden about the gun during the short time that he owned it.”
Taylor, like Biden, came to a negotiated agreement with federal prosecutors. Though Biggs tweeted Taylor “is facing 25 years in prison” on the federal charge, he did not mention that, under her plea deal, prosecutors agreed to recommend that a judge impose a sentence of 1.5 to 2 years in prison.
A judge will get the final say on Taylor’s punishment. Her sentencing hearing is scheduled for October.
Other Republicans decrying the Hunter Biden deal have cited the case of rapper Kodak Black, legal name Bill Kapri, who was sentenced in 2019 to nearly 4 years in prison for lying on two background check forms earlier that year by falsely stating he was not under indictment for a felony. (President Donald Trump granted the rapper clemency in his final hours in office in 2021.)
“Unfortunately Kodak’s daddy was not President. And he’s not white,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia tweeted Tuesday.
Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida tweeted Wednesday that “Kodak got 3yrs for similar gun charges” and declared “this 2-tiered justice system in our country is DISGUSTING.”
But there are vast differences between the Kodak Black case and the Biden case. Stevenson said on Thursday: “I don’t think Kodak Black is a comparable case.”
The rapper’s false statements came while attempting to buy four guns – three of which he managed to purchase. Prosecutors said two of those guns were later found at crime scenes, one of them the scene of an attempted shooting of a purported rival artist.
Kodak Black, unlike Biden, had a long list of arrests and convictions. In the months between the time he committed the federal gun offenses in January and March 2019 and his sentencing for that offense in November 2019, the rapper was arrested yet again on different gun and drug charges at the Canadian border and, separately, was accused by prosecutors of assaulting a corrections officer in jail. At the time of his sentencing in 2019, he was also facing a felony sex-crime charge over a 2016 attack on a teenage girl in a hotel room after one of his concerts, for which he received probation in 2021 after pleading guilty to first-degree assault and battery.
At his November 2019 sentencing hearing on the federal gun conviction, the judge told him: “What I normally do with people who are young is I actually give defendants a downward variance,” lowering the sentence, “because I think young people do stupid things, and I give them a break for that. The problem, of course, is you’ve been doing stupid things as a young man since you were 15. So I can’t keep doing it.”
The rapper’s criminal past is an essential factor in any comparison to Biden. A federal report on the use of pretrial diversion in the late 1990s found that only a tiny percentage of people who received diversion had a record. Rather, the report said, “the data confirm that federal divertees are nearly always persons for whom the present charges represent their initial involvement with the criminal justice system.”
And federal authorities tend to take gun possession by people with felonies on their record more seriously than gun possession by non-felon drug users, such as Biden. Federal figures show that, in the 2021 fiscal year, about 15 times as many people were sentenced for being a felon in possession of a firearm than for being a drug user or addict in possession of a firearm. There were fewer than 350 sentences for the drug provision in particular.