Impact of Mental Health Evaluations on Federal Sentencing

In federal court, cases often come down to a sentencing hearing. Once a client pleads guilty and takes responsibility for his or her actions, a sentencing hearing will be scheduled 60, 90 or 120 days after that plea is entered into the record. The use of mental health evaluations at the sentencing hearing is often taken for granted. This is one of several reasons why it is important to hire an experienced attorney who understands this strategy and knows how to work with qualified psychologists or psychiatrists who can have a positive impact on the sentence.

How a Mental Health Evaluation Can Make a Difference

A qualified mental health counselor can evaluate a client to determine if there were certain stressors in their life which caused or contributed to the criminal behavior. For example, the death of a family member may cause someone to react in a way that is completely out of character to their normal personality. An evaluation will identify this issue and demonstrate that the defendant did not receive appropriate counseling to manage their emotional situation.

At the sentencing hearing, an expert criminal defense attorney will present this information either through the mental health counselor’s in court testimony or by presenting the counselor’s report to the Judge. The goal of presenting this information is to:

  • Demonstrate that the defendant’s criminal act was an unusual behavior for that person.
  • Explain that this crime would not have occurred but for a specific stressful event in the defendant’s life and the subsequent lack of appropriate counseling.
  • Present a treatment plan designed to address these issues and show the defendant’s intent to receive treatment in accordance to the plan.
  • To encourage the judge to see the defendant as a good person in need of help rather than a file or number to run through the system.

Through this effort, it is possible for the defendant to receive a reduced sentence from what the US Attorney General’s office recommends.

While this process is often beneficial for a client, there are times when the report is not favorable. If it is a private report, the defense attorney does not submit it for consideration by the judge.

Real Life Situation

Recently, Tampa Criminal Defense Attorney, Benjamin Stechschulte represented a client charged with a federal sexual assault crime. Using his experience and expertise, he worked with a qualified mental health specialist who evaluated the client. After presenting this evaluation to the judge, the client’s sentence was reduced and the person received counseling in addition to a prison sentence. The client’s family was very pleased with this outcome as stated in an Avvo review they recently posted.

A strong defense starts with hiring a smart and experienced lawyer. Selecting one who is also a board certified criminal defense attorney, such as Benjamin Stechschulte will assure you are represented by the best in Tampa Bay who will work for the best possible outcome.


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