President Biden’s Justice Department is urging a federal appeals court to uphold the conviction of a Black college student who admitted to using marijuana while possessing guns, arguing that smokers “are unlikely to store their guns” properly, in a case that could affect a similar matter. against first son Hunter Biden.
The Philadelphia-based Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which is considering the case, has jurisdiction over Delaware, where President Biden’s surviving son faces federal charges of possessing a gun while using crack cocaine after he rejected a probation agreement which included tax charges.
Lawyers for Erik Harris, now 25, are trying to overturn the ban on drug users owning guns, arguing that the Second Amendment prohibits the restriction and that their client was unfairly prosecuted while more powerful people are not. .
The Justice Department argued in a court filing Wednesday that the ban is necessary for public safety reasons.
“Harris claimed to have lost one of his firearms (potentially in a bar) the same night he was smoking marijuana and was drunk,” wrote Andrew Noll, a lawyer with the DC-based Criminal Division of the Justice Department.
“Users are unlikely to put away their guns before using drugs and get them back only after they regain consciousness,” Noll wrote. “And it’s not clear how the government could reasonably administer a regime that allowed confiscation only during the several-hour period when a person is intoxicated.”
President Biden’s Justice Department is urging a federal appeals court to uphold the conviction of a Black college student who used marijuana while possessing weapons.REUTERS/Brittany Hosea-Small
Alcohol users can own guns, and gun rights activists argue that marijuana users in particular should also be allowed to own guns.
Harris was a junior at the Pittsburgh-area California University of Pennsylvania when she reported to police in April 2019 that one of her three guns was missing, less than a year after Hunter Biden’s girlfriend , Hallie Biden, who had been married to her late brother Beau, threw her newly purchased gun into a dumpster outside a grocery store, prompting a fruitless search.
In Harris’ case, police arrested the alleged thief but then charged him with illegally purchasing three guns because he, like Hunter, said he was not using illegal drugs at the time of the purchase, despite admitting to police who used marijuana regularly.
Biden’s son Hunter faces similar charges for possessing a gun while using crack cocaine.
Harris pleaded guilty on condition that he be allowed to appeal and requested probation.
Instead, he was sentenced to six months in prison, followed by six months of house arrest and two and a half years of probation.
Harris was remanded in custody on March 3, 2022, and was released on July 29 of that year, according to online records, meaning he ultimately spent nearly five months behind bars.
The plea deal the Justice Department offered Hunter Biden in June, by contrast, would have given the 53-year-old first son only two years of probation for his weapons violation and for defrauding Uncle Sam of millions in taxes. foreign income. .
Erik Harris’ appeal could potentially affect Hunter Biden’s case, as the Philadelphia-based Third Circuit Court of Appeals has jurisdiction in Delaware.
Hunter Biden rejected the “sweetheart” deal in a dramatic court hearing on July 26, and his legal team argued that the deal should have included even broader immunity for past criminal conduct.
Special prosecutor David Weiss, who had offered a plea deal to Hunter, charged him in September with three felony weapons offenses and recently set up a grand jury in Los Angeles to consider the tax-related charges.
Harris is represented by the federal defender’s office in Pittsburgh and his attorneys argue he was criticized.
“Police and prosecutors can make subjective decisions about who, among the tens of millions of Americans who admit to being current users of illicit drugs, they consider ‘illegal users’ who need a felony conviction,” the defender wrote in a statement. deputy federal public officer Renee Pietropaolo. court filing last year.
“Public figures like Bill Maher and Joe Rogan, a podcast host who smoked marijuana in public and owns firearms, are not likely to be prosecuted,” he wrote.
“Erik Harris, a young black man who qualifies as a court-appointed attorney, now has a felony conviction on his record and will never again be allowed to exercise his Second Amendment rights.”
The lawyer continued: “Categorically disarming a large (and growing) number of Americans from possessing firearms, even in their homes, because they use marijuana substantially infringes on the fundamental personal Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.”
Pietropaolo had no comment when contacted by The Post.
Oral arguments in Harris’ appeal are scheduled for December 8. Hunter Biden is expected to go on trial in his gun case early next year.
Hunter Biden pleaded not guilty to federal charges after rejecting a plea deal in July.REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, and President Biden is among a dwindling number of elected Democrats who want to keep it that way.
Currently, 24 states, three territories, and Washington, DC allow recreational use of the drug under local laws. Pennsylvania, where Harris was charged, is not among the 24, but does allow medical use.
Cocaine has not been legalized in any state and it is unclear whether a ruling in Harris’ case would affect all illegal drugs or, more specifically, marijuana.
Biden, who has called for stricter gun laws, has been put in an awkward position over his son’s legal troubles. As president, he has the constitutional right to pardon his son, and previous presidents have let their family members go free during their final days in office.