United States v. Brown, Nos. 09–2402

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
Writing for the CourtTHOMPSON
Citation109 A.F.T.R.2d 2012,669 F.3d 10
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Appellee, v. Elaine BROWN, Defendant, Appellant,United States of America, Appellee, v. Edward Brown, Defendant, Appellant.
Decision Date19 January 2012
Docket NumberNos. 09–2402,10–1081.

109 A.F.T.R.2d 2012-573
669 F.3d 10

UNITED STATES of America, Appellee,
v.
Elaine BROWN, Defendant, Appellant,United States of America, Appellee,
v.
Edward Brown, Defendant, Appellant.

Nos. 09–2402

10–1081.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit.

Heard June 6, 2011.Decided Jan. 19, 2012.


[669 F.3d 14]

Leslie Feldman–Rumpler for appellant Elaine Brown.

Dean Stowers, with whom Stowers Law Firm was on brief, for appellant Edward Brown.

Seth R. Aframe, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom John P. Kacavas, United States Attorney was on brief, for appellee.

Before LYNCH, Chief Judge, LIPEZ and THOMPSON, Circuit Judges.

THOMPSON, Circuit Judge.

A nine-month long stand-off between United States Marshals (the “Marshals”) and husband and wife team, Edward and Elaine Brown, resulted in the Browns' criminal convictions. Edward and Elaine 1 each appealed and we consolidated. Both claim that the district court committed a myriad of errors justifying reversal. After careful consideration, we reject each argument and affirm.

BACKGROUND2
A. The Tax Evasion Trial

To put this appeal in context, we begin with another criminal matter involving the Browns. In April 2006, Edward and Elaine were indicted by a federal grand jury on charges relating to their failure to pay federal income tax—an omission that stemmed from the Browns' belief that they were not legally obligated to do so. The Browns were tried and in January 2007, the jury returned a verdict convicting Edward and Elaine of conspiracy, federal tax crimes, and other financial crimes. Edward, who had stopped attending trial after only a few days, was convicted in absentia. Both Edward and Elaine were sentenced to just over five years in prison. Neither Brown attended the sentencing.

[669 F.3d 15]

Nor did they surrender to federal authorities.

Therefore, Stephen Monier, United States Marshal for the District of New Hampshire, sent the Browns a letter urging them to surrender. The Browns had not only been sentenced to prison but both had warrants out for their arrest—Edward for failing to appear at trial and Elaine for violating the terms of her release. The Browns did not comply with Monier's request and remained holed up in their secluded Plainfield, New Hampshire home, situated on an approximately one-hundred-acre tract of land. And so the Marshals hatched a plan for their arrest.

B. The Arrest

Because the Marshals had information that the Browns were armed and making threats, they elected not to simply enter the property and arrest them. Instead the Marshals conducted surveillance, which revealed a pattern of Edward traveling daily to the top of his driveway on an all-terrain vehicle and picking up his mail. The Marshals decided to attempt an arrest during this jaunt to the mailbox. The plan failed.

On June 7, 2007, Marshals were in place to make the arrest when Daniel Riley, a friend of the Browns came strolling up the driveway. Riley was alerted to the Marshals hiding in the woods, apparently by the Browns' dog whom he was walking. Riley fled despite being ordered to stop. Marshals fired non-lethal ammunition at Riley but missed, though he was eventually subdued with a taser. Edward heard the commotion and appeared at the tower on top of his house with a .50 caliber rifle, but he did not fire.

After the botched attempt to arrest Edward, the Marshals revised their approach. By that time, the Browns' case had gained national notoriety and supporters of the couple were flocking to their home. The Browns themselves were hosting festival-type gatherings at their home publicizing their resistance. The Marshals planned to take advantage of this by posing undercover as supporters and accomplishing the arrests in this capacity.

In October 2007, undercover Marshals made contact with the Browns through a confidential informant and learned that the couple wanted to retrieve some possessions from Elaine's dental office in Lebanon, New Hampshire. 3 On October 4th, undercover Marshals retrieved the property and brought it to the Browns' Plainfield home. The Marshals unloaded the property into the garage as Edward leveled an assault rifle at them, all the while expressing a reticence to trust people he did not know. Edward however eventually warmed up to the undercover officers and replaced the assault rifle with a handgun in his waistband and invited them to join him for beers and pizza. The group hung out on the Browns' front porch and at some point Elaine joined them, also carrying a handgun. They chatted about the couple's legal woes including their thus far successful evasion of arrest. When asked by one of the deputies how they had managed this feat, Edward responded that authorities were afraid to arrest him because if they did people would die, including the “Marshal,” “Chief of Police,” and “Sheriff.”

The gathering continued in this fashion until one officer was able to maneuver himself between Edward and Elaine, at which time he gave a predetermined signal and the Marshals pounced. Neither Edward nor Elaine went quietly but eventually both were subdued and cuffed. Following their arrests, agents searched the Brown property and found a vast supply of

[669 F.3d 16]

explosives, firearms, and ammunition, including rifles, armor piercing bullets, pipe bombs, and bombs nailed to trees.

C. The Conspiracy Trial

The nine-month long stand-off resulted in the Browns' indictment. Both Edward and Elaine were charged with: (1) conspiring to prevent federal officers from discharging their duties under 18 U.S.C. § 372; (2) conspiring to assault, resist or impede federal officers under 18 U.S.C. §§ 111(a) and (b) and 371; (3) using or carrying a firearm or destructive device during and in relation to a crime of violence; and possessing a firearm or destructive device in furtherance of a crime of violence under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A) and (B); (4) being a felon in possession of a firearm under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1); (5) obstruction of justice under 18 U.S.C. § 1503; and (6) failing to appear at sentencing under 18 U.S.C. § 3146. Edward was also charged with failing to appear at trial in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 3146. After an eight day jury trial, Edward and Elaine were convicted on all counts. 4 Edward was sentenced to 37 years in prison and Elaine to 35.

This appeal followed. In it, Edward and Elaine each challenge their convictions on multiple but distinct grounds.5 We address each party's arguments separately.

ANALYSIS
A. Edward Brown
1. Competency to Stand Trial

Although Edward's counsel did not raise his client's competency as an issue pre-trial,6 the trial judge addressed it sua sponte.7 The court did so by questioning Edward at a pre-trial status conference. It did not hold a formal competency hearing or order a competency evaluation. After the status conference, the court issued a written decision declaring Edward competent to stand trial. The court held that although Edward embraced an unconventional belief system, he demonstrated an understanding of the nature and consequences of the proceedings and an ability to consult with counsel. In making this finding, the trial judge considered in-person

[669 F.3d 17]

interactions with Edward, the record in this case, and the record in Edward's previous tax evasion case. On appeal, Edward argues that the district court erred by finding him competent without the benefit of a formal competency hearing or competency evaluation and was wrong in its conclusion. We disagree.

To begin with, it is well settled that the conviction of a person legally incompetent to stand trial violates due process. See Johnson v. Norton, 249 F.3d 20, 26 (1st Cir.2001) (citing Pate v. Robinson, 383 U.S. 375, 378, 86 S.Ct. 836, 15 L.Ed.2d 815 (1966)). To challenge the district court's finding of competency, Edward “must present facts sufficient to positively, unequivocally and clearly generate a real, substantial and legitimate doubt as to [his] mental competence.” United States v. Collins, 949 F.2d 921, 927 (7th Cir.1991) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted) (alteration in original). “When there has been no hearing, and no examination of the defendant whatsoever, the appellate court reviews the district court's findings comprehensively.” United States v. Lebron, 76 F.3d 29, 32 (1st Cir.1996).

The test for competency is whether the defendant first has sufficient present ability to consult with counsel with a reasonable degree of rational understanding, and second has a rational and factual understanding of the proceedings against him. See United States v. Ahrendt, 560 F.3d 69, 74 (1st Cir.2009) (citing Dusky v. United States, 362 U.S. 402, 402, 80 S.Ct. 788, 4 L.Ed.2d 824 (1960) (per curiam)). “The ‘understanding’ required is of the essentials—for example, the charges, basic procedure, possible defenses—but not of legal sophistication.” Robidoux v. O'Brien, 643 F.3d 334, 339 (1st Cir.2011). A district court must sua sponte order a competency hearing if there is reasonable cause to believe that a defendant is mentally incompetent. See Ahrendt, 560 F.3d at 74 (citing 18 U.S.C. § 4241(a)). Thus we query whether there was reasonable cause to believe Edward incompetent. After scouring the record, we answer this question in the negative. Based on the same reasoning, we find no fault in the court's determination of competency.

We start with Edward's ability to consult with counsel. While it appears that in the beginning Edward had some misgivings (based upon his unique legal philosophies) about whether his attorney could adequately represent him, 8 a review of the record reveals no indication that Edward was unable to consult with his attorney during this representation. In particular, when Edward's attorney sought to withdraw just moments prior to the start of trial based on a communication breakdown, the court denied the motion, finding that neither counsel nor Edward could articulate any specifics regarding the alleged breakdown. It is also...

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112 practice notes
  • State v. Sublett, No. 84856-4
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • November 21, 2012
    ...appellate court] could determine the propriety of the [trial] court's relevancy ruling" (footnote omitted); United States v. Brown, 669 F.3d 10 (1st Cir.), cert. denied, 132 S. Ct. 2448 (2012), where the First Circuit concluded that none of the considerations underlying the right to a ......
  • United States v. Delgado-Marrero, Nos. 11–1660
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • February 11, 2014
    ...occur in a vacuum and the arguments must actually be transferable” from Delgado's case to Rivera's appeal. See United States v. Brown, 669 F.3d 10, 16 n. 5 (1st Cir.2012). “In this context, issues that are averted to in a perfunctory manner absent developed argumentation are waived.” Id. He......
  • United States v. Valdivia, No. 08–1547.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • May 16, 2012
    ...of Carpio and Meulenberg, we review the court's decision to admit that testimony only for plain error. See United States v. Brown, 669 F.3d 10, 21–22 (1st Cir.2012). If any of the identified testimony was improperly admitted, we may still “affirm [the] judgment of conviction where the gover......
  • United States v. Cadden, Nos. 17-1694
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • July 9, 2020
    ...patient-related evidence was "highly probative" of Cadden's "extremely reckless behavior." See United States v. Brown, 669 F.3d 10, 21 (1st Cir. 2012) ("[W]e may affirm a district court's evidentiary ruling on any ground apparent in the record ...."). Testimony......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
112 cases
  • State v. Sublett, No. 84856-4
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • November 21, 2012
    ...appellate court] could determine the propriety of the [trial] court's relevancy ruling" (footnote omitted); United States v. Brown, 669 F.3d 10 (1st Cir.), cert. denied, 132 S. Ct. 2448 (2012), where the First Circuit concluded that none of the considerations underlying the right to a ......
  • United States v. Delgado-Marrero, Nos. 11–1660
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • February 11, 2014
    ...occur in a vacuum and the arguments must actually be transferable” from Delgado's case to Rivera's appeal. See United States v. Brown, 669 F.3d 10, 16 n. 5 (1st Cir.2012). “In this context, issues that are averted to in a perfunctory manner absent developed argumentation are waived.” Id. He......
  • United States v. Valdivia, No. 08–1547.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • May 16, 2012
    ...of Carpio and Meulenberg, we review the court's decision to admit that testimony only for plain error. See United States v. Brown, 669 F.3d 10, 21–22 (1st Cir.2012). If any of the identified testimony was improperly admitted, we may still “affirm [the] judgment of conviction where the gover......
  • United States v. Cadden, Nos. 17-1694
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • July 9, 2020
    ...patient-related evidence was "highly probative" of Cadden's "extremely reckless behavior." See United States v. Brown, 669 F.3d 10, 21 (1st Cir. 2012) ("[W]e may affirm a district court's evidentiary ruling on any ground apparent in the record ...."). Testimony......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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