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Date: 09-05-2021

Case Style:

United States of America v. MINOR MICHAEL STILL also known as Michael Still

Case Number: 05-1317

Judge: Terrence L. O’Brien


Plaintiff's Attorney: Not Listed

Defendant's Attorney:

Denver, CO – Criminal Defense Lawyer Directory


Denver, CO – Criminal Defense lawyer represented defendant with four counts of falsely impersonating a federal employee charge.

In June 2004, Still met Michael Pouland at Bricks, a bar located in Denver,
Colorado. Still told Pouland he was employed by the Internal Revenue Service
(IRS) in the Offer in Compromise Unit. Still offered to prepare Pouland’s federal
income tax returns for the years 2000, 2001 and 2002. When the returns were
completed, the two met again at Bricks. Still told Pouland he owed $1,240.00
before interest and penalties but the IRS would accept $124.00 in satisfaction of
his tax obligations. Pouland obtained a cashiers check, leaving the “pay to the
order” section blank, as Still instructed. The two met again at the bar and
Pouland gave Still the $124.00 check as well as a “processing fee” of $25.00
cash. Ever the consummate professional, Still gave Pouland a receipt from the
“Internal Revenue Service, Denver Regional Office” and signed an IRS Form 656,
“Offer in Compromise,” as an “Authorized Internal Revenue Service Official.”
At the same time, Still was running the same scam on another of Bricks’
patrons, Isaac Lovato. Again conducting all his business at the bar, Still told
Lovato he was an IRS employee and offered to help Lovato with his federal
income tax liability. After reviewing Lovato’s information, Still advised him he
owed $3,890.00 in back taxes, interest and penalties, but the IRS would accept
$389.00 as an “offer in compromise.” Lovato paid Still $120.00 in cash in June
2004 and $269.00 in cash in July 2004. Once again, Still completed Lovato’s
transaction with an official IRS Form 656.
Appellate Case: 05-1317 Document: 010132482 Date Filed: 09/14/2007 Page: 2
Satisfied with his success at Bricks, Still moved his tax consulting services
to another bar, the Longhorn Tavern, also located in Denver. There, he repeated
his lines, garnering a $50.00 “processing fee” from Robert Kay in December
2004. Another Longhorn customer, Luke McFarland, gave Still a $60.00
“processing fee” along with a $212.00 compromise payment in late 2004. Not
surprisingly, the IRS has no record of any of Still’s promised tax filings.
On January 4, 2005, the government indicted Still with four counts of a
violation of 18 U.S.C. § 912, “falsely assum[ing] and pretend[ing] to be an officer
and employee of the United States, namely, an employee of the Internal Revenue
Service.” On February 25, 2005, Still entered into a plea agreement with the
government in which he agreed to plead guilty to Count One and provide
restitution to all four of the victims in exchange for the government’s dismissal of
the remaining charges and a two point reduction for acceptance of responsibility.
The United States Probation Department prepared a presentence
investigation report (PSR) based on the 2004 edition of the Advisory Guidelines
Manual. The PSR computed Still’s base offense level at six with a two-point
reduction for acceptance of responsibility. See USSG §2J1.5; USSG §3E1.1(a).
His criminal history computation included fifteen points for convictions over the
past fifteen years. A three point enhancement was also added – two points
because he was on parole supervision at the time he committed the offense and
one point because the current offense occurred within two years of his release
Appellate Case: 05-1317 Document: 010132482 Date Filed: 09/14/2007 Page: 3
from custody. See USSG §4A1.1(d), (e). With a total offense level of four and a
criminal history category of VI, the recommended guideline range for Still’s
offense was six to twelve months imprisonment. However, the PSR also revealed
Shaw’s forty-year history of fraudulent activity. His convictions between 1965
and 1985, uncounted in his criminal history computation due to their age,
revealed at least fourteen incidents of crimes such as felony theft, forged papers,
stolen credit cards, impersonation and stolen motor vehicles. See USSG
§4A1.2(e) (prior sentences will be counted if within fifteen year time frame and
sentence imposed was imprisonment exceeding one year and one month; all other
prior sentences within ten years will be counted).
On May 16, 2005, the government filed a Motion for Upward Departure
pursuant to §4A1.3 of the sentencing guidelines. The government maintained
Still’s category VI criminal history did not reflect his life-long pattern of
“defrauding, cheating, and impersonating others.” (Vol. I, Tab 21 at 3). It
The only gaps in this behavior are periods when he has been in
prison. That fact allows the Court to draw two conclusions: First,
that the defendant is not only likely to recidivate upon release; it is
certain that he will. Second, that society is safe from the defendant’s
predations only when he is behind bars.
(Id.) The government requested the district court impose the statutory maximum
of three years imprisonment due to Still’s uncounted criminal history and his
Appellate Case: 05-1317 Document: 010132482 Date Filed: 09/14/2007 Page: 4
Still’s brief in response to the government’s motion for an upward 1
departure is not included in the record on appeal.
repeated failures to obey court orders regarding the terms and conditions of
probation and parole.
Still responded by arguing his case was not “outside the heartland” of the
sentencing guidelines. Moreover, he maintained the requested level of departure
was unreasonable given “that it would result in a sentence equivalent to that of
someone convicted of a fraud resulting in over $120,000 in losses, as compared to
his $860.00.” (Appellant’s Br. at 4.) Still claimed the sentence should not be
based on a mere tallying of his uncounted prior convictions. Rather, the court
should take into account that his offenses were relatively minor and the guidelines
considered them time-barred.
At the sentencing hearing on June 24, 2005, the parties relied on the
arguments in their briefs to the district court. In addition, Still argued a 1
reasonable sentence would be a sentence within – though perhaps at the upper end
of - the guideline range. The district court granted the government’s motion for
an upward departure and sentenced Still to thirty-six months in prison. The court
concluded such sentence was reasonable considering the factors laid out in
§ 3553(a), as informed by the guidelines and the departure criteria. This timely
appeal followed.
II. Discussion
Appellate Case: 05-1317 Document: 010132482 Date Filed: 09/14/2007 Page: 5
After United States v. Booker, we review a sentence to determine if it is
reasonable. 543 U.S. 220, 261 (2005). In United States v. Kristl, we fashioned “a
two-step approach” for post-Booker appellate review. 437 F.3d 1050, 1055 (10th
Cir. 2006). First, we “determine whether the district court considered the
applicable Guidelines range.” Id. If so, and the sentence falls within that range,
it “is presumptively reasonable,” subject to rebuttal by the defendant “in light of
the other sentencing factors laid out in § 3553(a).” Id. If the sentence does not
fall within the guideline range, it is not entitled to a presumption of
reasonableness on appeal. See United States v. Calzada-Maravillas, 443 F.3d
1301, 1309 (10th Cir. 2006) (citing Kristl, 437 F.3d at 1054). The reviewing
court will consider whether the district court calculated the relevant guidelines
range, including any applicable departure; considered the guidelines range along
with other § 3553(a) factors; and imposed a reasonable sentence. See United
States v. Fernandez, 443 F.3d 19, 26 (2d Cir.), overruled as to other issues, Rita
v. United States, 127 S. Ct. 2456 (2007), cert. denied, 127 S.Ct. 192 (2006).
“[A]fter Booker, every sentence that a district court ultimately imposes must
reflect its determination of what is reasonable in light of the same § 3553(a)
factors, whether that sentence is within or outside the Guidelines range.” United
States v. Sanchez-Juarez, 446 F.3d 1109, 1114 (10th Cir. 2006). Reasonableness
is required in two respects – “the length of the sentence, as well as the method by
Appellate Case: 05-1317 Document: 010132482 Date Filed: 09/14/2007 Page: 6
which the sentence was calculated.” Kristl, 437 F.3d at 1055 (emphasis in
Still does not challenge the district court’s calculation of the guidelines
range. Rather, he contends the sentence imposed is unreasonable because the
degree of departure was greater than any reasonable pre-Booker methodology
would have sanctioned. He also argues the district court did not adequately
consider the § 3553(a) factors and the circumstances of his offense, but instead
focused solely on his criminal history. We must determine whether the district
court could reasonably have imposed the maximum statutory sentence, thirty-six
months, based on the record before it. Although our ultimate decision is guided
by the factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), we consult and take the guidelines
into account. At each step, “‘we review legal questions de novo and we review
any factual findings for clear error, giving due deference to the district court’s
application of the guidelines to the facts.’” United States v. Wolfe, 435 F.3d
1289, 1295 (10th Cir. 2006) (quoting United States v. Martinez, 418 F.3d 1130,
1133 (10th Cir.), cert. denied, 546 U.S. 1081 (2005)).
A. Upward Departure From the Guidelines
While guideline and non-guideline considerations will necessarily overlap,
we consider four factors in reviewing a district court’s upward departure from the
Appellate Case: 05-1317 Document: 010132482 Date Filed: 09/14/2007 Page: 7
The government suggests we modify this test to reflect the “new vitality” 2
of the § 3553(a) factors post-Booker. (Appellee’s Br. at 12.) We need not decide
if the wording of this test requires post-Booker modification as Still cannot show
error under the guidelines or § 3553(a).
(1) whether the factual circumstances supporting a departure are
permissible departure factors; (2) whether the departure factors relied
upon by the district court remove the defendant from the applicable
Guideline heartland thus warranting a departure; (3) whether the
record sufficiently supports the factual basis underlying the
departure; and (4) whether the degree of departure is reasonable
[pursuant to a methodology associated with guideline factors].
United States v. Walker, 284 F.3d 1169, 1171 (10th Cir. 2002). As to the first
factor, the applicable guideline policy statement, found in USSG §4A1.3,
provides that upward departures may be based upon the inadequacy of the
criminal history category:
information indicates that the defendant’s criminal history
category substantially under-represents the seriousness of the
defendant’s criminal history or the likelihood that the
defendant will commit other crimes, an upward departure may
be warranted.
Still concedes it was proper for the court to consider the length of his criminal
history. As to the second factor, Still no longer argues his history of recidivism
fails to take his case out of the guidelines “heartland” or is insufficient to provide
reliable information supporting a departure. As to the third factor, the type of
information which may be considered reliable includes, but is not limited to,
information concerning prior sentences of substantially more than one year
imposed as a result of independent crimes committed on different occasions.
Appellate Case: 05-1317 Document: 010132482 Date Filed: 09/14/2007 Page: 8
USSG §4A1.3(a)(2). The record is replete with reliable information which
supports the factual basis underlying the departure.
Thus, we proceed to the fourth factor, and consider whether the degree of
departure was reasonable. As we stated in United States v. Proffit,
The district court is required to precisely lay out its reasoning and
analysis as to why it is selecting a particular degree of departure.
This reasoning and analysis must give us reasonable indicia that the
sentence the district court pronounces is proportional to the crime
committed. The district court accomplishes this task by using any
reasonable methodology hitched to the Sentencing Guidelines to
justify the reasonableness of the departure.
304 F.3d 1001, 1012 (10th Cir. 2002) (internal citations and quotations omitted).
Where the district court determines a criminal history category VI does not reflect
the seriousness of the defendant’s criminal history or his proclivity for
recidivism, USSG §4A1.3(4)(B) suggests “the court should structure the departure
by moving incrementally down the sentencing table to the next higher offense
level in Criminal History Category VI until it finds a guideline range appropriate
to the case.” As the government noted in its brief in support of its motion for an
upward departure, if Still’s uncounted “convictions were assigned points, [he]
would have thirty-four additional criminal history points for a total of fifty-two.”
(Vol. I, Doc. 21 at 4.) The government suggested (and the probation department
concurred) that the court apply a total offense level of twelve rather than four,
resulting in a sentencing range of thirty to thirty-seven months imprisonment.
The government further urged the court to sentence Still at the statutory maximum
Appellate Case: 05-1317 Document: 010132482 Date Filed: 09/14/2007 Page: 9
The Probation Department filed an addendum to the PSR in support of 3
the government’s assessment in its Motion for Upward Departure. It stated:
“given the defendant’s criminal history and the nature of his offenses, [ ] a three
year term of imprisonment is reasonable.” (R. Vol. III at A-1.)
Still had seven uncounted convictions valued at three points each, five 4
uncounted convictions valued at two points each and three uncounted convictions
valued at one point each, for a total of thirty-four uncounted criminal history
points. See USSG § 4A1.1(a),(b)&(c). (R. Vol. III at 6-10.)
under 18 U.S.C. § 912, arguing “[s]ociety should be protected from the defendant
for as long as § 912 allows.” (Id. at 6.) While the district court did not
expressly state the reason for an upward departure from the guideline offense
level of four to twelve, it specifically adopted the government’s arguments.
(Vol. II at 13.)
Still argues this departure would not be sanctioned under pre-Booker
precedent because it is unsupported by the record. However, even adopting the
methodology Still suggests, assigning one offense level for every four uncounted
criminal history points above fifteen or sixteen, the total increase would be eight
offense levels, bringing Still to the offense level twelve he now rejects.
(Appellant’s Br. at 21, n.1.) Thus, there is no question that the district’s court’s
decision utilized “a[ ] reasonable methodology hitched to the Sentencing
Guidelines to justify the reasonableness of the departure.” Profitt, 304 F.3d at
1012; see also United States v. Hurlich, 348 F.3d 1219, 1222 (10th Cir. 2003)
(“The district court may use any reasonable methodology hitched to the
Sentencing Guidelines to justify the reasonableness of a departure, which includes
Appellate Case: 05-1317 Document: 010132482 Date Filed: 09/14/2007 Page: 10
18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) provides, in relevant part: 5
(a) Factors to be considered in imposing a sentence. The court shall
impose a sentence sufficient, but not greater than necessary, to
comply with the purposes set forth in paragraph (2) of this
subsection. The court, in determining the particular sentence to be
imposed, shall consider--
(1) the nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and
characteristics of the defendant;
(2) the need for the sentence imposed--
(A) to reflect the seriousness of the offense, to promote respect
for the law, and to provide just punishment for the offense;
(B) to afford adequate deterrence to criminal conduct;
(C) to protect the public from further crimes of the defendant; and
(D) to provide the defendant with needed educational or
vocational training, medical care, or other correctional treatment
in the most effective manner . . . .
using extrapolation from or analogy to the Guidelines.” (quotation marks and
citations omitted). Thus, we conclude that the district court correctly consulted
the guidelines and conducted the proper departure analysis.
B. Reasonableness Under the § 3553(a) Factors
Next, we must consider whether the district court adequately considered the
factors listed in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). Under Booker, the ultimate question on 5
review is whether the sentence is reasonable under these factors. Sanchez-Juarez,
446 F.3d at 1114.
Appellate Case: 05-1317 Document: 010132482 Date Filed: 09/14/2007 Page: 11
Still claims the district court ignored “many factors weighing against a
departure.” (Appellant’s Br. at 13.) More specifically, he concedes his criminal
history is long, but claims the district court failed to consider the relatively
benign nature of his offenses. He argues his crimes have “barely deviated” over
time, never escalating from “petty thefts and cons” for “small amounts of money.”
He also points out his crimes are without the presence of violence or drugs, the
hallmarks of a “serious offense.” (Id. at 14.) Citing to United States v. Walker,
he contends the court erred because it looked only at the quantity, not the quality
of criminal history. 284 F.3d 1169, 1173 (10th Cir. 2002).
In Walker, we questioned reliance solely on the sheer number of a
defendant’s past convictions when structuring a departure from criminal history
category VI because it could “create a de facto criminal history category higher
than category VI.” Id. In this case, however, the district court looked not only to
the length of Still’s criminal career, but also to his response to the legal system’s
efforts to constrain his criminal behavior. It stated:
In my 30 years of practicing law, the last 17 on the bench, I cannot
recall a criminal record more lengthy than this one, and any sentence
short of the statutory maximum would in my view depreciate the
seriousness of this offense, considered in context under my respect
for the law, and certainly provide inadequate deterrence to the public
under the law for this particular defendant, thus, in considering and
formulating a sentence first under the now advisory sentencing
guidelines, I am convinced that I should depart upward, and that I
should depart upward to facilitate the imposition of the statutory
maximum of 36 months or three years as urged and recommended by
the government, now as supported by the probation department.
Appellate Case: 05-1317 Document: 010132482 Date Filed: 09/14/2007 Page: 12
Independently, as I consider sentence, under the sentencing factors at
18 U.S.C. section 3553(a)(1) through (7), I reach a similar
conclusion. That a sentence to the statutory maximum is the only
sentence that will reconcile and satiate those sentencing factors
considered individually and collectively . . . .
The defendant has, by choice, led a life of crime, interrupted only by
intermittent incarceration as his criminal activity was detected and
prosecuted. I am convinced beyond any doubt that Mr. Still will recidivate
after release . . . and during a term of supervised release and thereafter.
The public is owed the best the court can provide in these circumstances,
and that is the maximum sentence or period of potential deterrence by law,
in this case 36 months or three years.
While Still attempts to downplay his criminal past, his constant repetition of
similar offenses, often while on parole or supervised release from a previous
conviction, is truly extraordinary. Such a pattern can justify an upward variance,
even though the offenses were not violent. See Proffit, 304 F.3d at 1011-12;
United States v. Akers, 215 F.3d 1089,1104-05 (10th Cir. 2000); United States v.
Bernhardt, 905 F.2d 343, 344-45 (10th Cir. 1990).
The district court found Still’s extraordinary criminal history warranted the
statutory maximum sentence because a shorter sentence would “depreciate the
seriousness of the offense . . . in the context of this offender.” The accuracy of
this statement is established by the same facts underpinning the record support for
other statutory factors. We begin with Still’s life-long commitment to the
criminal deception of others, despite his numerous convictions and resulting
sentences. Over the past forty years, Still has not been deterred by sentences of
five and six years, immediately returning to his previous lifestyle after being
released. Still has spent almost eleven of the last fifteen years in prison.
Appellate Case: 05-1317 Document: 010132482 Date Filed: 09/14/2007 Page: 13
Nonetheless, he managed to accrue six felony convictions in his four years of
freedom. We also consider the numerous occasions Still re-offended while on
probation and supervised release, as well as his escapes from detention outside
prison walls. See United States v. Contreras-Martinez, 409 F.3d 1236, 1241 (10th
Cir. 2005) (“The violation of a condition of supervised release is a breach of trust
. . . ”).
These facts underscore Still’s complete disdain for the law and suggest a
shorter sentence would provide inadequate deterrence. These facts also support
the determination that a thirty-six month sentence would allow the public
protection for as long as possible. Each of these considerations is proper under
§ 3553(a)(2) and the district court’s decision to sentence Still to the statutory
maximum of three years was both reasoned and reasonable.
B. Discrepancy Between the Guideline Range and the Sentence Imposed
In his final argument, Still maintains his sentence must be considered in
terms of the proportion of the variance, in his case, an increase of over three
hundred percent (twelve months to thirty-six months). Indulging Still’s insistence
that a percentage approach to the degree of his variance is appropriate, the district
court did not abuse its discretion. “‘[W]hen a district court imposes a sentence
outside the guidelines, the level of scrutiny we apply in reviewing the sentence
depends on the ‘comparative difference’ between the applicable range under the
advisory Guidelines and the actual sentence imposed.’” United States v. Hildreth,
Appellate Case: 05-1317 Document: 010132482 Date Filed: 09/14/2007 Page: 14
The Supreme Court has recognized “a number of circuits adhere to the 6
proposition that the strength of the justification needed to sustain an
outside-Guidelines sentence varies in proportion to the degree of the variance.”
Rita, 127 S.Ct. at 2467. The Court will consider this approach next Term in
United States v. Gall, No. 06-7949.
485 F.3d 1120, 1127 (10th Cir. 2007) (quoting United States v. Cage, 451 F.3d
585, 594 (10th Cir. 2006)). We look to the percentage of divergence as well as
the “absolute number of months above or below the Guidelines range.” United
States v. Valtierra-Rojas, 468 F.3d 1235, 1240 (10th Cir.2006), cert. denied, 127
S.Ct. 2935 (2007). The detail with which the court must explain its decision to
vary from the guideline range is relative to the degree of the discrepancy between
the sentence and the advisory range. Cage, 451 F.3d at 594 (“Had the
comparative difference been smaller but still outside the Guidelines range, the
district court’s decision would not have been presumptively reasonable but an
appropriate justification would suffice for this court to determine that it is
We have often approved sentences which were several times higher than the
applicable guideline range based on repeated similar criminal conduct. Hurlich,
348 F.3d at 1220-23 (departure from twenty-seven to thirty-three months to a
sentence of seventy-eight months); Bernhardt, 905 F.2d at 343, 346 (departure
from range of eighteen to twenty-four months to a sentence of sixty months);
United States v. Smith, 417 F.3d 483 (5th Cir. 2005) (departure from range of
thirty-three to forty-one months to a sentence of 120 months based on twenty-year
Appellate Case: 05-1317 Document: 010132482 Date Filed: 09/14/2007 Page: 15
history of “con-man”-type offenses.), cert. denied, 546 U.S. 1025 (2005). In
addition, we have affirmed variances of more than twenty-four months. Hurlich,
supra. For the reasons previously stated, the district court’s explanation was
sufficient and the sentence reasonable.


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