Why Hunter Biden had to be Charged
Imagine you are filling out Form 4473, the Federal form required for a gun purchase, and you encounter this “warning” at the signature line:
Under 18 U.S. Code §§ 922(a)(6) and 924(a)(2), providing a knowingly false answer to any question on this form is a felony punishable by a fine and up to ten years in jail; but fear not: the U.S. has never prosecuted anyone under those sections except in conjunction with some other crime, so, if you don’t have a criminal record and don’t expect to commit a crime with this gun, you can lie on this form with impunity.
Once it becomes widely known that a statute is not being enforced, people stop obeying it. Thanks to Hunter Biden, the media have spread the word that the crime of lying on Form 4473 has never been charged as a standalone crime. Hunter’s apologists and supporters, including his lawyers, seem not to have realized that only the obscurity of the DOJ’s policy on Form 4473 has enabled the government not to charge lying on it as a standalone crime. By drawing attention to the DOJ’s policy on the matter, Hunter’s defenders have forced the government to indict him.
The government cannot afford to say about any statutory felony “No, we don’t charge that crime as a standalone case.” The government can quietly never charge the crime absent aggravating facts, but once the quiet part is said out loud, the system must be seen to enforce the law. While the drug-using gun-buying public is watching, any public figure who breaks the law must be charged, especially a guy who, for political reasons, cannot be treated differently from anyone else.
Hunter Biden had to be charged, so charged he was. That’s not to say he will go to jail. As best I can make out, there is no minimum sentence for lying on Form 4473. Under 18 U.S. Code § 924(a)(2), a person who violates § 922(a)(6) “shall be fined as provided in this title, imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both.” Section 924(c) provides minimum sentences for some gun crimes, but none of the charges filed against Hunter Biden is among them. (Legal research is difficult for someone not in active practice. I would welcome correction, with citations, of course.)