Many, if not most, think that the judge’s task ends once the jury decides whether the accused is “guilty” or “not guilty.” However, determining the defendant’s guilt or innocence is only half the court’s job.
Judges must also determine the appropriate sentence for a particular offender. They do so by relying on what is commonly known as a presentence investigation report (PSI).
The court’s goal is not only to read the law and penalize liable people. It also aims to help such individuals reintegrate into society successfully.
Suppose you or a loved one is about to face a trial. In that case, you might wonder how much research and evaluation underpins the sentencing process. You might also seek insights on what to expect during the PSI phase.
Meanwhile, you might be a law student or a pro who wants to review PSI.
LookUpInmate.org is your one-stop online resource to access relevant details regarding inmates, prisons, and jails in Los Angeles, San Antonio, Miami, Cleveland, Atlanta, and other cities in the United States.
Whether you are a legal professional or an everyday citizen interested in PSI, this article can help you learn about a PSI’s structure, process, and content.
What Is a PSI Report?
A PSI report (or PSR) is a comprehensive document that a judge can use to help determine the best way to hold an offender accountable to the law.
Probation officers, social workers, or qualified psychologists in the probation department can conduct a live interview with the defendant to create the report.
A PSI or PSR typically contains the following information regarding the defendant’s background:
- Criminal behavior
Probation officers usually collect and organize details from various sources of information, including written statements from other people. After an investigation, they submit it to court and attorneys.
Once the sentencing hearing happens, the information is open for the court to see (unless protected by a confidentiality agreement).
The comprehensive report helps the judge decide on the proportionate sentence for the defendant.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court says PSIs are only required for death penalty cases.
Still, state laws regarding PSIs vary, with some requiring the document for all felony convictions or if the accused is facing a prison sentence.
Presentence Investigation Report Application
The PSI application process differs from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. That said, to give you an idea of how it goes, here’s an example from the Indiana Judicial Branch:
The Judicial Conference of Indiana is in charge of developing a standard PSI report that all courts in Indiana must use.
The Indiana statute also requires probation officers to accomplish a PSI report regarding every felony case, except Level 6 felonies.
The current PSI report includes the associated risk assessment, designed to provide the sentencing judge with details about an offender’s vulnerabilities and needs. Thus, the trial court can impose appropriate sanctions, supervision plans, and treatment programs.
Mid-2011, Court Technology launched PSI Report as an INcite (Indiana Court Information Technology Extranet) Application.
INcite is a single platform for hosting all web-based applications the Supreme Court currently provides or will provide.
How It Works
Here’s how the Indiana Judicial Branch processes PSI reports:
- The court orders a PSI.
- The assigned probation officer sets an interview date with the defendant.
- After the interview, the probation officer scores the assessment based on the updated Risk Assessment INcite application.
- The probation officer continues drafting the PSI report.
- After reviewing the PSI Report, the probation officer prints an official copy for court filing.
- Probation departments can now use an electronic means for creating a PSI Report, ensuring consistency with how information is presented to trial courts statewide.
- Probation departments can access finished PSI Reports statewide. This concept wasn’t familiar before INcite since many departments could not share data back and forth.
- For repeat offenders, probation officers can generate a new PSI Report based on previous reports for repeat offenders. This development is invaluable when compiling an offender’s criminal behavior.
Your Presentence Report and How to Improve It
The presentence report explains to the sentencing judge why a lesser sentence is justified in a defendant’s case.
Judges rely on PSIs to make sentencing decisions, especially in felony and high-level misdemeanor cases.
Probation officers typically prepare these reports between the conviction and the sentencing date.
PSIs provide details on the following:
- The nature of the offense
- The defendant’s criminal record, including their juvenile record (if applicable)
- The victim impact statement
Get Started by Preparing
Best-practice preparation requires the individual to invest the time and energy to learn about the process before a sentencing hearing or court investigation.
Be cautious if a defense attorney downplays the PSI or PSR’s significance. This report is administrators’ principal tool to assess inmates, particularly at the beginning of their stay.
Process Leading to the PSI
After a federal felony conviction, the judge may order federal probation to develop a PSI.
Where Does the Investigation Begin?
The probation officer might visit the defendant in jail or detention if the defendant is in custody.
If the defendant lives in the community, the probation officer will likely go to the defendant’s home. Alternatively, the probation officer may initiate an investigation at the federal or defense attorney’s offices.
If the accused had been free during the pretrial process, the judge could allow the defendant to stay free post-conviction.
What Is Included in a Presentence Investigation Report?
PSIs may report on the following areas of the defendant’s life:
- Educational background
- Criminal history
- Family background
- Social background
When Is a PSI Ordered?
PSI interviews occur between plea hearings and sentencing hearings.
The court may order a PSI for a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor plea, but it is not mandatory. However, in a felony plea, a PSI is necessary.
Who Writes the Presentence Investigation Report?
With a federal and state PSR, it’s up to a probation officer to do the research and write the report.
This setup requires the officer to speak with the defendant and then collaborate with others who may be involved in the investigation.
Defendants can have their attorneys with them during the meeting with the federal probation officer.
When they meet, other defendants with no counsel present might initiate the PSI.
Elements of a PSI Report
The presentence account generally includes details about the offense and information on the defendant’s criminal history.
The PSI could also include the defendant’s family history, education, employment record, finances, military service, and health.
It also often discusses the victim’s experience and whether some restitution might be appropriate for the victim and their family.
Is There a Presentence Investigation Drug Test?
Judges may request more information regarding the defendant and order a presentence investigation drug test. This scenario will likely happen if the crime is a drug-related offense.
Therefore, it is best to be ready for a drug test during the presentence investigation phase, mainly if the crime involves substance abuse.
How Does the Judge Use a Presentence Investigation Report?
Again, the primary objective of the PSI or PSR report is to provide the judge with all the information necessary to determine the appropriate sentence for the defendant. Consequently, the judge usually reviews the report before the sentencing hearing gets underway.
Then, they will use it to assess what’s best for the victim, the society, and the defendant.
Some Common Reasons People Fail to Prepare for the Presentence Investigation
Defendants are not always ready for a PSI, and here are four reasons why:
- Anxieties over the criminal justice process cause the individual to deny the reality of their situation.
Intense and competing emotions can cloud an individual’s judgment. In fact, stress may even impede their decision-making abilities.
- PSIs happen immediately following convictions that the defendant may not have the opportunity to educate themselves on the implications of this process.
- The defendant’s attorney, an excellent litigator or strategist at trial, fails to realize the extent of the PSI document’s influence on the sentencing process.
- Defendants who invest themselves in the hope that they will prevail with an acquittal do not think through the potential consequences of a conviction until it’s too late.
Defendants can expect the probation officer to be familiar with the case before the initial interview.
The probation officer has already communicated with the prosecuting attorney and checked on the criminal history and the defendant’s statement before the initial meeting.
The probation officer will usually ask a series of questions. Before meeting with the probation officer, the defendant would be wise to prepare for the following questions:
Here are some personal questions defendants can expect:
- What is your full name?
- What is your date of birth?
- Where did you grow up? Where else have you lived? How long did you live in those places? (The interviewer might also ask the defendant to describe your city and neighborhood).
- Who has influenced you the most in your life?
- What is your Social Security number?
- How do you describe your family?
- What has been your usual living situation?
Defendants must also be ready to answer these family-related questions and requests:
- Can you describe your family, including your parents and siblings?
- Where do your family members live?
- What kind of job do your parents have?
- Do you have any dependents?
- How do you think your parents perceive your current situation?
- What is your relationship with your siblings like?
- Was there any domestic conflict in your childhood home?
- Are your siblings going to be available for an interview?
- What is the full name of your spouse? What is the current state of your relationship?
- What are the names of your children? How old are they?
- Do you work with social service agencies?
Regarding physical condition, here are some questions to expect:
- Do you have any tattoos or scars? How significant are they to you?
- Do you have any existing medical conditions or disabilities? If so, can you describe the unique challenges you face regarding your health? Moreover, when were you diagnosed, and who was the supervising physician?
Emotional and Mental Health
Regarding psychological condition, here are some questions to expect:
- Do you have a history of mental or emotional health problems?
- Do mental or emotional problems exist in your family history?
- Have you ever sought help for a mental or emotional problem? If so, what diagnosis did you receive?
- How would you describe your current state of mental or emotional health?
- Have you taken any medication for emotional problems?
Below are some substance abuse-related questions defendants may expect to hear:
- When did your drug use begin?
- How often would you say that you’ve abused drugs or alcohol?
- How much did your drug habit cost you?
- Have you received any treatment for your condition?
- Does your family have a substance abuse history?
Educational, Vocational, and Special Skills
Here are questions regarding the defendant’s employment history:
- Where did you attend high school?
- What is your highest level of educational attainment?
- If you’re a business owner, how would your business fare if in prison or jail?
- Is your employer already aware of your legal situation?
- Can you return to work after serving time in corrections facilities?
- What is your employment status? How long have you worked in your current position? Also, how much do you make for that position?
Regarding financial condition, the probation officer may ask the defendants the following questions:
- Have you documented your liabilities, assets, net worth, regular expenses, and cash flow?
- How can I validate the financial information you give me?
- How would you describe your expenses relative to your income?
- Have you ever attempted to conceal an asset?
- Have you recently tried to transfer assets from your name?
- What resources do you have to pay a fine or restitution?
- How do your assets compare compared with your sources of income?
Questions That Probation Officers May Ask Others
Probation officers may also ask relevant people the following questions about you:
- What is your impression of the defendant?
- What is the relationship between you and the defendant?
- How has the defendant’s criminal record impacted your relationship with each other?
- If you’re the defendant’s relative, how has the defendant’s offense affected your family? How has the defendant’s criminal action impacted the family’s finances?
- How much do you know regarding the defendant’s substance abuse?
- Do you have any knowledge of the defendant’s mental stability?
- What impact would the defendant’s imprisonment have on the defendant’s family?
- Could you describe the defendant’s tendency to commit violence?
Questions Defendants Should Anticipate That the Probation Officer Will Ask the Assistant Attorney
Here are additional questions to expect during PSI interviews:
- Has the offender collaborated with the government?
- Has the defendant interfered with the investigation in any way?
- Are there any aggravating or mitigating circumstances?
- Does the defense dispute anything not mentioned in the plea agreement?
- Do we have any information regarding the defendant’s criminal convictions?
- Were there any previous bail-jumping incidents in the defendant’s criminal history?
Part A: The Offense
PSIs may consist of two primary sections:
- A section regarding the defendant’s offense and all its implications
- The defendant’s criminal history (if applicable)
“Part A: The Offense” section highlights crucial information regarding the offense and its impact on the victim. It also reports the offense level to help the judge determines the appropriate punishment.
Charges: A Brief and Clinical Overview of the Charges
This part mostly consists of objective information, a past snapshot beyond the defendant’s control.
Codefendants: Descriptions and Identifications of Any Other Individuals Charged in the Same Indictment or Criminal Case Document
This information can influence the defendant’s post-conviction circumstance. For example, prison officials may separate codefendants from serving time in the same facility.
Defendants and their attorneys should not underestimate the significance of this report as it could result in them serving a prison sentence thousands of miles away from their families.
Related Criminal Cases: Descriptions of Any Other Cases That May Be Directly or Indirectly Connected to the Defendant’s Case
When other cases are involved, the defendant can consult with an experienced defense attorney before submitting a statement of explanation.
The Offense Conduct: Comprehensive Assessment of the Defendant’s Crime and Circumstances
Probation officers use this section to describe the offense. They can base this narrative on what the presentence investigation indicates, so it doesn’t have to match the details in a plea agreement or what took place during the trial.
As a rule, probation officers should be careful not to rely on what others alleged but on what has already been proven.
Obstruction of Justice: Detailed Descriptions of Any Deliberate Effort to Impede or Obstruct the Investigation Process
Defendants should speak deliberately, measuring their words precisely when presenting their cases. A defendant does not have to answer every question the probation officer asks.
If the defendant elaborates, the defendant must ensure that the probation officer doesn’t perceive them as sneaky or manipulative.
Such accusations may result in a sentencing recommendation for obstruction of justice.
Acceptance of Responsibility: A Favorable Factor Signifying the Defendant’s Acknowledgment and Genuine Remorse, Leading to a Downward Adjustment in the Sentencing Range
Here are some factors that may lead to a favorable outcome for the defendant:
- Payment of restitution
- Documented efforts at post-arrest rehabilitation
- Statements of remorse
- Cooperation during the presentence investigation
- Timeliness of the defendant’s guilt admission
Offense Level Computations: Precise Mathematical Formula Used to Determine the Sentencing Guideline Range
This section describes how the probation officer integrates his findings from the investigation and the sentencing options recommended by the federal or state sentencing guidelines.
The probation officer sometimes imposes a sentence that differs from the one the defense and the prosecution agreed upon. The sentencing judge renders a final decision.
Offense Behavior Not Part of Relevant Conduct: Section Highlighting Potentially Damaging Area of the Report
Sometimes, parties dismiss specific counts to obtain a guilty plea.
However, the probation officer can discuss dismissed criminal charges in this area. Unfortunately, some facilities may use this section when classifying an inmate.
Part B: Defendant’s Criminal History
This section provides historical data that could influence how prison officials classify an offender.
This part may or may not influence the sentencing judge. Still, prison officials will carefully examine it before classifying an offender.
How to Obtain a PSI Report
PSI reports are confidential files. Generally, only authorized individuals or institutions, including district courts, treatment program providers, law enforcement agencies, defense counsels, and paroling authorities, can access them.
However, if you do not belong to any of these groups and still want to access the record, you can file a formal (written) request to the chief probation officer.
Once completed, the PSI report follows the defendant during incarceration, through appeals, and elsewhere in the criminal justice system.
Getting a Fair Presentence Report
Some probation officers may use prewritten clauses in their reports.
The probation officer must refrain from writing a report that justifies predetermined decisions instead of weighing the merits of an individual case.
Prison Professor Excerpt
Referral to the PSI is crucial for individuals navigating the post-conviction process.
In the book, Earning Freedom: Conquering a Long-Term Prison Term, “Prison Professor” Michael Santos stresses the significance of considering PSIs’ implications and responding accordingly.
He noted that having a strategic plan and seeking advice from counsel is necessary to get better outcomes after the post-conviction process.
Suppose the defendant plans to appeal a conviction. In that case, the counsel may help them refrain from saying anything regarding the offense during the presentence investigation.
- What are the main components of the presentence investigation report?
The sentencing report should contain information on criminal charges or convictions and the defendant’s criminal history.
- What is the content of the PSI report?
A PSR provides the sentencing judge with relevant information on the defendant’s life and the offense’s circumstances and gives them information pertinent to the sentencing decision.
- What is the purpose of a presentence investigation report?
While its primary purpose is to assist the court in determining an appropriate sentence, it is essential in decision-making after the conviction.
1. The History of the Pre-sentence Investigation Repo
2. Presentence Investigation Report Application
3. Indiana Court Information Technology Extranet (INcite)
4. Disclosure of Investigative Reports by United States Probation Office https://www.id.uscourts.gov/Content_Fetcher/index.cfml/District_Local_Criminal_Rule_321_1960.pdf?Content_ID=1960