Seventh Circuit Allows Consideration of Mental Health Issues in Sentencing

By Reddin & Singer


When judges are considering a sentence for a criminal defendant, they may look at a wide variety of factors and issues, including prior recidivism, remorse, whether the crime was conducted in a particularly egregious or violent manner, or mitigating circumstances such as economic or personal issues. In a recent case before the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, judges considered whether it was acceptable to consider the prior mental health history of a defendant in determining the severity of his punishment.

In United States v. Kluball, Mr. Kluball was charged with transporting a 17-year-old girl across state lines in order to engage in prostitution with her. He met the girl on Facebook, drove down to meet her in Tennessee, brought her back to his home, and posted ads prostituting her online. He pled guilty to the charges. The probation officer initially recommended a sentence of 121 to 151 months, but the statutory maximum under the guidelines was limited to 120 months. The judge adopted the 120-month maximum, based in part on the pre-sentencing report that was prepared. That report detailed Mr. Kluball’s extensive mental health history and resulting violence, including bipolar disorder, PTSD, and depression. Mr. Kluball had been repeatedly unable to engage with society, even as a young child, and was kicked out of numerous day cares and schools. Doctors were unable to find medication to treat his condition, and he was violent toward friends and family members.

Mr. Kluball did not object to the contents of the report, and the judge relied on it during sentencing. Specifically, the judge noted that while Mr. Kluball’s mental health history did not absolve him of the crimes he had committed, it did show that he was a very dangerous individual and that there were unlikely to be any facilities or treatments that would change or reform his behavior. Accordingly, the judge found that the maximum sentence was appropriate. Mr. Kluball appealed this determination.

On appeal, Mr. Kluball argued that his due process rights were violated when the judge concluded that, based on his history, there were no facilities or treatments that would adequately treat him. Mr. Kluball contended that this was speculative. Due process requires that a criminal defendant be sentenced on the basis of accurate information and that such information be reliable rather than speculative. To succeed on an appeal on this basis, a defendant must show that a sentence was based on inaccurate information.

The Seventh Circuit determined that Mr. Kluball could not meet this standard. The pre-sentencing report had clearly reiterated his mental health history in a factually accurate manner, and the report fairly supported the judge’s conclusion that Mr. Kluball was unlikely to benefit from further treatment. Unlike in other cases in which judges inaccurately speculated on issues regarding which they had no information, here, the judge had Mr. Kluball’s extensive mental health history and history of violence available to him in making a sentencing decision. The Seventh Circuit held that the judge’s determination of Mr. Kluball’s likely future actions and lack of rehabilitation was not unwarranted in light of the facts. It therefore affirmed the sentence.

Judges have significant discretion in their analysis of factors important to sentencing, including a defendant’s prior history and likelihood of engaging in future misconduct. However, judges may not make unwarranted and unsupported statements about a defendant. If you are facing such speculative justification for your sentencing, you may be able to seek a new sentence. To find out more about your options for contesting your sentence, do not hesitate to contact the experienced Milwaukee sex crime lawyers at Reddin & Singer, LLP online or give us a call at (414) 271-6400.