Joe Biden’s son Hunter was arrested on Jersey Shore drug charges in 1988 and had his record expunged at a time when his father was pushing for the incarceration of drug offenders drawn disproportionately from minority groups.
Congressional records reveal that Hunter Biden, now 49, was arrested in Stone Harbor, New Jersey, where the Biden family has often holidayed over the years, in June 1988. Hunter Biden, then 18, had just graduated from the prestigious Archmere Academy prep school, which his father had also attended. The former vice president and his wife Jill have often been spotted on trips to Stone Harbor.
The arrest has not previously been reported. Republicans have recently highlighted Hunter Biden’s drug abuse, questioning why it was not taken into account when the lobbyist was appointed to a $50,000-a-month post on the board of the Ukraine oil company Burisma in 2014, when his father, as vice president, was the Obama administration’s lead official on Ukraine.
A year after the arrest, Joe Biden gave a speech in which he said the federal government needed to “hold every drug user accountable” because, “If there were no drug users, there would be no appetite for drugs, there would be no market for them.” He neglected to mention the drug use in his own family.
At the time, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware was one of the leading advocates of the federal government’s war on drugs. He abandoned his 1988 presidential run, in which he stressed his law-and-order credentials, after a plagiarism scandal. He crafted the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which imposed significantly harsher sentences for possession of crack cocaine versus powder, a law that critics argue increased the racial disparity in prisons. He also wrote bills leading to the appointment of a national drug czar and increasing mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes.
It is not known whether Biden, then an influential senator from a neighboring state and who was widely viewed as a potential future president, intervened in the case or whether the family name was influential.
Five months after his son escaped a sentence and had his possession charge kept secret, Biden voted for the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, which made crack cocaine, often used by poor, black offenders, the only drug with a mandatory minimum penalty for a first offense of simple possession.
But while many minorities were imprisoned for minor drug offenses, the wealthy, white Hunter Biden was allowed to participate in a state diversionary program called pretrial intervention. The program allowed first offenders to “avoid a trial and having the stigma accompanying a guilty verdict,” according to the Rubinstein Law Firm in New Jersey.
The aim of the program was to give offenders the chance to correct their behavior and embark on a successful course in life. Critics, however, argue that it can be treated as a way to be let off and, by removing an offense from a person’s record, fails to make offenders account publicly for a crime. In Hunter Biden’s case, rather than reforming, he continued to be a substance abuser and addict.
Hunter Biden’s arrest is contained in disclosures he made as part of his nomination to the Amtrak Reform Board. “In June 1988, I was cited for possession of a controlled substance in Stone Harbor, New Jersey. There was a pretrial intervention, and the record was expunged,” Hunter Biden acknowledged during a 2006 hearing before the Senate Committee on Science, Commerce, and Transportation on his nomination. He did not identify the controlled substance.
The Stone Harbor Police Department told the Washington Examiner that it was unable to locate the arrest report, though the department has maintained records from that time. The 1988 arrest appears to be the same drug-related incident for which Hunter Biden received a waiver when he joined the U.S. Navy Reserve in 2013.
Offenders in the New Jersey program were often required to complete community service hours and undergo substance abuse evaluation or treatment. They were sometimes placed on probation but after completing the program were allowed to apply to expunge their criminal record.
Joe Biden has frequently come under fire from liberal groups and criminal justice reform advocates for his history on pushing tough drug laws. Between 1984 and 1990, Biden introduced dozens of pieces of legislation related to drug enforcement.
In 1984, he helped usher in the Comprehensive Control Act, which allowed law enforcement officials to seize property suspected of being used to carry out drug-related crimes. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 imposed a 100-to-1 sentencing disparity for possession of crack cocaine as opposed to powder cocaine.
In 1987, he introduced the National Narcotics Leadership Act to establish “a Cabinet-level Office of the Director of National Drug Control Policy to coordinate Federal operations and policy on drug control and abuse.” In 1989, Biden sponsored legislation to ban the sale of firearms to individuals with “serious misdemeanor drug or narcotic offenses.”
In 1990, Biden introduced a bill to make prior drug convictions “grounds for denying employment or for dismissal of an employee engaged in specified child care services” and for federal jobs. The bill also restricted bail for convicted drug offenders awaiting sentencing if their crime carried a maximum of a 10-year prison sentence. It required individuals to pass a mandatory drug test before being sentenced to parole, probation, or supervised release, and it established federal “military-style boot camp-style prisons” for prisoners under 25 years old who were found guilty of possession of controlled substances.
During the early 1990s, Biden spoke out publicly in support of the drug crackdown led by President George H.W. Bush.
Hunter Biden has spoken about his lifelong struggle with substance abuse. He was discharged from the U.S. Navy in 2013 after testing positive for cocaine.
A 2016 police report said that Hunter Biden returned a rental car in Arizona that contained a cocaine pipe. In addition to “a small white and brown pipe approximately 3-4 inches long,” an officer also found “a small ziplock bag with a white powdery substance inside all sitting on the passenger seat.” A man who identified himself as Joseph McGee called Hertz the next morning to tell the company where the keys were left, saying “his friend was feeling sick, so they didn’t know what to do.”
Despite his admitted drug abuse spanning decades, he has never been charged with an offense in the 31 years since the 1988 incident.
Joe Biden’s daughter Ashley, now 38, was arrested for marijuana possession at age 17. Those charges were dropped by the prosecutor.