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Today’s blog post will be a little bit different than what we usually do here at Prison Insight. Instead of answering a specific question about life as a prison inmate, we wanted to create a guide to the Presentence Investigation (PSI) Report.
The Presentence Investigation Report is a document that gives you the chance to show the sentencing judge in your case why you should receive a lesser sentence for the crime you were convicted of. In felony cases at both the state and federal level, judges usually rely on presentence reports – which are prepared by probation officers – to make their sentencing decisions.
Over the course of several weeks between the conviction date and the sentencing date, the probation officer will put this report together and include several pieces of information. To prepare the report, the probation officer will interview you, check your criminal record, talk to the victim (if there is one), consult with the arresting officer, and possibly talk with your family and/or friends.
Most presentence reports will also provide the circumstances of the crime committed, your personal history (education, job history, etc…), and a statement from the victim, if applicable, which is referred to as a victim impact statement.
Your defense attorney should do everything they can to make sure the parole officer who is preparing the report knows all about the good things you have done or are currently doing, including treatment programs and therapy.
It is extremely important that you and your attorney make your presentence report as favorable as possible to you because it could have a huge impact on the length of the sentence you receive.
So, let’s get to today’s blog post: A Guide to the Presentence Investigation (PSI) Report.
In this blog post, I will cover the following topics:
The specific elements of a presentence report do vary by state, but they all are pretty similar. There is also a one-size-fits-all presentence report used at the federal level, and the elements include:
All PSI’s feature information on the defendant’s background, including his or her character, upbringing, criminal history, health, and any other details that might affect the severity of the sentence.
One of the first things that will happen after you are found guilty (or plead guilty) is your presentence interview. The parole officer will talk to you and hear your version of the crime and the circumstances surrounding the act that led to your conviction.
They will want to know your reason for committing the crime, if you and/or someone in your family has a criminal record, and they will also want to know about your life. Be prepared to answer these questions: What was your highest level of education completed? Do you have a job? Are you addicted to drugs or alcohol? What is your experience with various drugs? When did you start using drugs? What is your financial status? Are you married? Did you ever serve in the military?
You must come to this interview prepared to talk about all of these topics. If you have any documents like a high school diploma, college degree, military discharge papers, or letters of support from family, friends, and employers, make sure to bring copies with you.
You should also be prepared to explain why you believe the judge should sentence you to probation or to the most lenient prison sentence allowed by law. It is important to note that no matter how prepared you are or what kind of argument you make about getting a lenient sentence, it is ultimately up to the judge.
In my case, I had no criminal record, a college degree, a full-time job, no history of addiction or drug abuse, and the parole officer recommended me for probation due to my low risk as a first time nonviolent offender.
However, the judge in my case didn’t care, ignored the recommendations, and gave me a maximum sentence of 15 years for a first-time marijuana offense. There were 12 plants in the closet of a home I was living in, that’s it. That was the crime.
My history didn’t matter, the circumstances surrounding my case didn’t matter. The judge did what he wanted to do. I eventually won my appeal and was released after four years.
Judges usually just rubber stamp what the parole officer recommends because they don’t have time to investigate themselves. But, be aware that they can ultimately do anything they want (inside the guidelines) when it comes to sentencing.
Even though your lawyer should be involved with the presentence interview and report, be prepared to tackle all of this on your own. Lawyers aren’t always allowed to be involved or they might not be available. For this reason, make 100 percent sure you are prepared for your presentence interview, so you can make a positive impression.
Make sure to clean yourself up and dress appropriately, bring all of the documents you need, and also bring anything else that can help your situation. This is critical because sometimes parole officers make their recommendations based on information that was not brought up during trial. They can also use information that was inadmissible in court, as well as illegally obtained evidence.
You also have to be careful about what you say during your interview because all of your statements will be used to prepare the presentence report.
Parole and probation officers are just as busy and overworked as everyone else in the criminal justice system. They are also very susceptible to “tough-on-crime” opinions, and they may have prewritten clauses already prepared – also known as “boilerplate clauses” – that they use in every case.
This means that your presentence report could be put together based on general, predetermined decisions that have nothing to do with the merits of your individual case. To avoid this, work with your defense attorney to make sure all of your favorable information is available to the judge.
You and your defense lawyer can research possible alternative sentences (treatment center, home detention, community service) and put together a realistic, favorable plan for the judge to implement instead of prison time.
You can also improve your profile by enrolling in a treatment program, getting a job, or volunteering for community service.
If your lawyer is available, ask them to meet with the parole/probation officer who is putting together your presentence report so they can provide helpful information. Your lawyer can also prepare a written statement in mitigation of the crime and state why you should receive a lighter sentence.
Presentence reports can be incredibly beneficial if the people involved (parole officer, judge, defense attorney) do what they are supposed to do and handle your case with the attention it deserves.
Unfortunately, many judges and parole officers don’t take into account the merits of the case, and many defendants (like me) end up with a maximum sentence because that is the easiest way to appear like they are “tough on crime.”
Do you have any more questions about the Presentence Report? Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: Your presentence report and how to improve it https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/your-presentence-report-how-improve-it.html The History of the presentence investigation report http://www.cjcj.org/uploads/cjcj/documents/the_history.pdf What is a PSI Report? https://kretzerfirm.com/federal-presentence-investigation-report-psi/
Natalie earned her Bachelors degree in Journalism from the University of Kansas, and has worked in television and radio during her career. When she was a 19-year-old sophomore at KU, she got her first on-air job as a sports reporter for a CBS-TV affiliate. In 2013, she was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the possession and production of marijuana. She was released in 2017. We've kept her last name off of our website so that she does not experience any professional hardship for her contributions.
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