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Ed and Elaine Brown, Who Led Anti-Tax Armed Stand-Off, Could See Lower Sentence

Edward and Elaine Brown, the Plainfield couple who led a months-long armed stand-off with U.S. marshals over their refusal to pay federal income taxes, could be re-sentenced following a separate U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

The Browns were each sentenced to 37 years and 35 years, respectively, following their 9-month siege in 2007, which drew national attention and at times a carnival-like atmosphere to their 100-acre property. Anti-tax crusaders and out-of-state militia groups rallied to the Browns' cause, united by a belief that there is no legal justification for the collection of a federal income tax.

In October 2007, the Browns were arrested by U.S. marshals who discovered an arsenal of weapons, ammunition, explosives and booby traps on the property. 

The Browns were sentenced to prison for a range of crimes related to the standoff. A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in U.S. v. Davis, however, found that a federal sentencing statute that called for enhanced penalties for certain firearms offenses associated with “crimes of violence” is unconstitutionally vague. Earlier this month, the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Browns deserved a “fuller exploration” of their sentence by a lower court. 

On Monday, the United States Attorney for New Hampshire submitted a memo to the court agreeing that the Browns' sentence of 30 years for the charge of carrying a firearm or destructive device in connection with a crime of violence should be vacated, and that the court should “reschedule the case for resentencing.”

This Jan. 7, 2007 file photo shows the home of Ed and Elaine Brown in Plainfield, N.H.

The majority of the Browns' prison sentence was associated with the charges now deemed unconstitutional, meaning the Browns could see a substantial overall reduction in their prison terms. That will be up to prosecutors and, ultimately, a federal judge to decide. 

Federal prosecutors didn’t respond to a request for comment on the case, and no hearing has been scheduled yet in the matter.

Ed Brown, who once worked as an exterminator, is serving his sentence in a federal prison in Maryland. Elaine Brown ran the Half Hollow Dental Center in West Lebanon before her conviction for failing to pay income taxes. She is now in a Texas prison.

Both became heroes in a fringe anti-tax movement that claims there is no legal justification for federal income taxes. The Browns were charged with a range of federal tax crimes in 2006 after failing to pay income taxes for the previous decade. 

Midway through the trial, Ed Brown stopped attending hearings. Both of the Browns were ultimately sentenced to more than five years in prison, and were found liable for more than $625,000 in back taxes, most of it associated with Elaine’s dental practice. 

However, the Browns refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the court process. 

"Live free or die. What else can I say?" Brown told a reporter for the Associated Press at the beginning of their armed standoff.

Their protest inspired other anti-tax advocates to join the standoff in the otherwise quiet town of Plainfield. According to media reports from the time, supporters supplied the Browns with food, water and cell phones after electricity was cut to the home. Concerts were staged on the property, which sat across a dirt road from a summer home owned by Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.

The standoff ultimately ended quietly, with U.S. marshals successfully posing as Brown supporters to gain entry into the home. 

For years, the Browns’ home sat vacant and unsold, in part due to statements from authorities that they couldn’t guarantee the home was clear of booby traps. The property finally sold in 2015. 

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.

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