A Lonoke County man whose criminal record earned him status as a career offender was sentenced to spend the next 17½ years in federal prison for his guilty plea to being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition.
Michael Lawrence Scales, 43, of Scott, was indicted May 4, 2021, on one count each of being a felon in possession of a firearm, possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, possession with intent to distribute MDMA (ecstasy), possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, and felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition. In exchange for Scales’ agreement to plead to the last count, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Ray White agreed to dismiss the remaining counts against him.
In court Friday, White argued that Scales’ lengthy criminal history, which he traced back to a 1998 conviction for aggravated robbery and theft of property in Pulaski County for which he served seven years in prison, established a pattern of criminality he said was virtually unbroken in over 20 years.
Subsequent convictions included one for firearms possession in which White said Scales was arrested less than seven months after leaving prison in 2005, a theft by receiving conviction in 2010, another firearms conviction in 2011, conviction charges of drug possession with intent to distribute and tampering with evidence in 2015, and another conviction for drug possession with intent to distribute and tampering with evidence in 2019.
Scales was indicted for crimes associated with two incidents that occurred six months apart in July 2020 and January 2021.
According to court records, on July 8, 2020, Scales was arrested by North Little Rock police responding to a disturbance call about 4 p.m. to find Scales sitting in a car in an alley playing loud music. When police arrived, court documents said Scales rolled up the windows and locked the doors and refused to get out of the car, instead appearing to reach under the driver’s seat.
Once Scales got out of the car, police found small quantities of marijuana and ecstasy in his pockets, an unspecified quantity of methamphetamine and some cash. A search of the car turned up a Taurus .40-caliber pistol reported stolen earlier that year.
On Jan. 5, 2021, court records said, North Little Rock police responded to a North Little Rock address after a woman reported Scales had kicked her and her two toddlers out of the house after he returned from the White County jail in Searcy following an arrest five days earlier by Bald Knob police on drug possession charges. While questioning Scales, the records said, North Little Rock police saw what appeared to be an extended magazine protruding from under a couch and found a loaded, Bushmaster .223-caliber rifle.
As U.S. District Judge Lee Rudofsky went through the background of the case and the relevant calculations that went into crafting a guideline sentencing range, he explained that the guideline range for Scales’ offense was enhanced due to his criminal history — which placed him in the category of being an armed career criminal — making a 15-year sentence the minimum sentence he could give under the law, and life in prison the maximum. Under U.S. sentencing guidelines — which are advisory — the guideline range was calculated at 168 months to 210 months in prison.
Without enhancements, the same offense carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
William Shelton, Scales’ attorney, argued for the statutory minimum of a 15-year sentence for Scales, saying that given Scales’ age of 43, would see him released at an age where he would be less likely to re-offend.
“We feel that’s appropriate given his criminal history and it’s appropriate in light of the types of sentences that have been received in this district in similar types of situations,” Shelton said. “When you look at his personal history, the substance abuse and physical abuse that occurred in his young life, you can understand easily how he, himself, became involved in drugs.”
But, Rudofsky said, Scales’ own record indicated that despite repeated arrests and convictions, there was no indication that the defendant was trying to do better.
“My problem here is that Mr. Scales keeps possessing guns, even when he knows he’s not supposed to,” the judge said. “And he hasn’t just done it once … when he gets done being punished for it, he gets another gun.”
White, arguing for a high-end guideline sentence of 210 months, said that had Scales gone to trial on all five counts and been convicted, “he would have been looking at significantly more than 15 years.” White pointed out that Scales’ criminal history indicated that he would not be deterred by a lesser sentence.
“He’s not somebody who complies with the law,” White said.
Following a brief recess, Rudofsky ordered Scales to serve 210 months in prison to be followed by a five-year term of supervised release. He said he went to the high end of the guideline range because Scott’s record indicated that no matter what punishment he received, he had refused to conform to societal norms.
“It suggests to me that no matter how long I put you in prison,” Rudofsky said, “you’re going to return to a life of crime when you get out.”
Given Scales’ history, he said, gave him no confidence that the high end sentence would deter him from re-offending, “but a lighter sentence isn’t going to work either.”