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United States v. Zohfeld

February 11, 2010


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 07 CR 403-Milton I. Shadur, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Williams, Circuit Judge.


Before EASTERBROOK, Chief Judge, and WILLIAMS and TINDER, Circuit Judges.

Charles Zohfeld, after pleading guilty to stalking the surgeon who saved his life, was sentenced within the Sentencing Guidelines range. He complains that the district court relied on inaccurate information in sentencing him and improperly considered the mental health treatment he may have received in prison when arriving at his sentence. After reviewing the record, we find that the district court did not rely on any inaccurate information in sentencing Zohfeld. We also find that the district court did not abuse its discretion in considering Zohfeld's mental health among the variety of factors it discussed at sentencing. Therefore, we affirm his sentence.


Charles Zohfeld was rushed to the emergency room in May 2005 after suffering an apparent heart attack. Emergency room physicians stabilized Zohfeld and transferred him to the surgery unit. A cardiac surgeon performed open heart surgery and implanted a pacemaker, saving Zohfeld's life.

But after his successful recovery, Zohfeld began to harass and threaten the surgeon and his staff-making repeated threatening phone calls, appearing at the clinic without appointments, and monitoring the surgeon's family's whereabouts. On one phone call, he said, "I have been able to buy a Beretta 9-millimeter handgun and I will bring it by for [the surgeon] to see." On another call, he stated that he had been "practicing with my 9-millimeter handgun. . . . You really should consider taking out the stuff you put into me. I was the wrong person to stick a knife into. Got that?" Eventually, the surgeon felt the need to relocate his practice and family from Illinois to California. Much to the surgeon's dismay, after moving to California, Zohfeld again appeared at his medical office, and the threats continued.

Zohfeld was arrested and charged with two counts of making threatening phone calls in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 875(c). He pleaded guilty, and the government filed a memorandum requesting a sentence above the suggested Guidelines range based on the severe impact Zohfeld's crimes had, as well as Zohfeld's expressed desire to continue to harass the surgeon. The government also asked the district court not to apply the two-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility despite the fact that Zohfeld quickly pleaded guilty after his arrest.

Prior to sentencing Zohfeld, the district court granted his motion to be examined by a psychiatrist. Dr. Bernard Rubin, the examining physician, found him competent to stand trial. He also found that Zohfeld was delusional and would benefit from extensive therapy and psychiatric medication. Zohfeld voluntarily entered group therapy during his pre-sentencing detention. His therapist, Dr. Richard Bongard, advised the court that continuing therapy would be beneficial to Zohfeld.

At the sentencing hearing, over the government's objection, the court found that Zohfeld accepted responsibility for his actions and awarded him the corresponding two-level reduction. It then calculated the Guidelines range, which the parties agreed was 18 to 24 months' imprisonment. The government requested a sentence of 24 to 30 months' imprisonment, arguing that Zohfeld's conduct had a severe impact on the surgeon and others. Zohfeld's counsel asked the court to sentence Zohfeld to probation so he could receive outpatient psychiatric treatment.

Before reaching its decision, the district court discussed a variety of factors. Prominent in the court's mind was the severe impact Zohfeld's crime had on his victim and his victim's family. The court also stated that it felt that Zohfeld needed psychological treatment and medication in a custodial environment because he was not actively participating in the group therapy. The court acknowledged that it could not mandate that Zohfeld receive treatment, but Zohfeld said he needed it, so the district court instructed the Bureau of Prisons to place him at a facility that would give him the best mental health treatment possible. It then sentenced him to 24 months' imprisonment followed by 3 years of supervised release. Zohfeld appeals his sentence.


We interpret Zohfeld's argument as having two parts:

(1) the district court erred by relying solely on the fact that it believed that Zohfeld needed custodial mental health care in sentencing him to prison rather than probation; and (2) the district court relied on inaccurate information (its belief that he would receive adequate mental health care ...

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