A judge in Delaware on Wednesday rejected a request by the president’s son, Hunter Biden, to make his first court appearance remotely, scheduling his arraignment on three gun charges for next week at the federal courthouse in Wilmington.
The decision came a day after Mr. Biden’s lawyer announced he would plead not guilty, and just hours after House Republicans grilled Attorney General Merrick B. Garland on the Justice Department’s handling of the case.
Mr. Biden, 53, was indicted last week by David C. Weiss, the U.S. attorney in the case who was elevated to the status of special counsel in August. He faces two charges that he lied about his drug use to purchase a handgun in 2018 and one charge of illegally possessing the weapon, which he had for less than two weeks.
In a two-page ruling, Christopher J. Burke, a federal magistrate judge, wrote that Mr. Biden’s physical presence was required next Tuesday because the charges he faced were new and had not been addressed during an ill-fated hearing in July in which his plea agreement with Mr. Weiss collapsed.
But he also argued that Mr. Biden “be treated just as would any other defendant in our court” and cited the “integrity and solemnity” of a criminal hearing, even one not likely to last more than a few minutes.
In forcing Mr. Biden, who lives in California, to travel cross-country to his hometown, the judge sided with Mr. Weiss, who accused Mr. Biden of providing “contradictory testimony” during the hearing in July. In a two-page reply to Mr. Biden’s request, Mr. Weiss argued that the judge needed “to assess the defendant in a live setting” before determining conditions for his bond and release.
“Mr. Biden also will enter a plea of not guilty, and there is no reason why he cannot utter those two words by videoconference,” Abbe Lowell, Mr. Biden’s lawyer, wrote in arguing for a remote hearing.
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 for the charges.
A substantial percentage of those accused of lying on a federal firearms application, as Mr. Biden has been, are never indicted on that charge unless they are also accused of a more serious underlying crime, current and former law enforcement officials said. Most negotiate deals that involve probation and enrollment in programs that include counseling, monitoring and regular drug testing.