02. Presentence Investigation
"You can destroy your now, by worrying about tomorrow."
- Janice Joplin
Rule 32 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure provides that a U.S. Probation Officer conduct a Presentence Investigation (PSI) and submit a report to the court prior to sentencing. That investigation is ordered after a conviction or guilty plea by the U.S. District judge hearing your case. When it comes time to determine a prison term there is no more important process than the PSI and the resultant report, the Presentence Report (PSR). The PSR is one of the most influential documents presented to the judge for purposes of sentencing and the contents of the PSR follow you through the entire criminal justice system.
The Probation Officer is responsible for gathering all pertinent facts about you and the offense, verifying the information gathered, interpreting and evaluating the data, applying the facts to the advisory guidelines and statutes, and presenting the information in an organized, objective report. The results of that investigation will be made part of a pre-sentence report (PSR), which is discussed in more detail in the next section. The PSR is prepared for the judge in order to help her determine a prison (probationary) term. The information you provide during the interview process will have a direct affect on your prison term, the prison programs you are eligible for, the prison security level and the prison designation.
The government prosecutors also provide information to U.S. Probation during its investigation.. The inputs from both your defense team and the prosecution are balanced by the Probation Officer to create an unbiased report for the judge to consider upon sentencing. It is not uncommon for attorneys on opposing sides to aggressively attempt to guide the tone of the report to favor their position.
The aim of the PSI is to provide a timely, accurate, objective and comprehensive report to the judge. The report will support two main objectives. The first is to provide enough information to assist the judge in making a fair sentencing decision and, two, to assist the Bureau of Prisons (and community corrections) officials in managing offenders under their supervision. The report is meant to provide a complete picture of the defendant including background and personal information that may not have been part of any judicial proceeding to date.
The PSI is conducted within a tight schedule to not only meet the demands of providing a complete report prior to sentencing but to also allow for corrections and comments to be made by both parties during the report preparation. The PSI usually begins within a few weeks of the conviction or guilty plea but may be delayed depending on when sentencing will occur. A few reasons for delay in initiating the investigation and report could be that other co-defendants in the case are planning on going to trial or the case is part of a larger probe that could go on for many months. As such, the PSI and the resulting report may be delayed to be closer to the sentencing date so that they reflect the most current information available.
Be sure to obtain a copy of your criminal record. The reason for this is that past infractions, some you may have forgotten about, will be obtained by U.S. Probation as part of their investigation. Those infractions, including things like Driving Under The Influence (DUI) will be made a part of the report, so do your due diligence and request a copy of your criminal record from both state and federal authorities.
The information requested of you in the interview process is both very important and very personal. The interview process consists of forms you are required to fill out, additional documentation you submit to support the information you provide and an in-person interview with a U.S. Probation Officer assigned to prepare the report.