What Is a Presentence Investigation Report? | Federal and State Presentence Reports

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What is a Presentence Investigation Report?

A Presentence Investigation Report, commonly known as a PSI in state court, is a document that judges use to help assess a defendant’s punishment for a crime. The analogous document in the federal system is commonly referred to as the Presentence Report or (PSR). A PSI or PSR details the defendant’s background and criminal conduct and is based, in part, on an interview with a defendant. Because the PSI can help courts find the most appropriate sentence and mitigate the severity of a sentence, it is an extremely important document in the criminal justice system.

In the federal system, presentence investigations take place in almost every case. The presentence investigation and report is governed by Rule 32 of the U.S. Rules of Criminal Procedure.

In the state system in Texas, a PSI is usually reserved for major felony cases where the judge is imposing the sentence. Art. 42A.252 of Texas Code of Criminal Procedure states in part: “…before the imposition of sentence by a judge… the judge shall direct a supervision officer to report in writing on the circumstances of the offense with which the offender is charged, the amount of restitution necessary to adequately compensate a victim of the offense, the criminal and social history of the offender, and any other information relating to the offender or the offense requested by the judge.” In addition, Art. 42A.255 provides “Unless waived by the defendant, at least 48 hours before sentencing a defendant, the judge shall permit the defendant or his counsel to read the presentence report…”

Why is a PSI Ordered?

The primary reason PSIs are ordered is to present the sentencing judge with information to consider about the offender’s life and character. It also allows probation (CSCD) to give the court input on the possible sentence, make recommendations for conditions of probation if applicable, and it assists the Correctional Institutions Division (CID) in classification.

In the federal system, the Presentence Report (PSR) will affect not only the sentence imposed by the judge, but it was also be used by the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) in determining how the prisoner is classified. It will also affect the prisoner’s ability to enter programs. For example, a person who wishes to take advantage of the Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP) must have admitted to a need for drug rehabilitation during the Presentence Investigation.

When is a PSI ordered?

A PSI is not ordered in every case – only those in which the judge is assessing punishment. For example, a PSI will not be ordered if the punishment is to be assessed by a jury or if the punishment case is resolved through a plea bargain agreement. Defendants who choose to plead guilty to a felony and throw themselves on the “mercy of the court” will often have a PSI.

Who conducts and writes a Presentence Investigation Report?

A probation officer conducts and prepares the PSI. The officer will interview the defendant and may also speak with others affiliated with the case. They will also review available materials about the case and defendant which they will use to complete a comprehensive report. Once completed, the PSI will be provided to the court, the prosecution and the defendant’s attorney. It’s important for defense attorneys to carefully review the document with their client to ensure that is true and correct.

What is included in a PSI?

Depending on the offense, these reports can be rather voluminous. A Presentence Investigation Report must address the circumstances of the offense, restitution, the criminal and social history of the offender, and any other information requested by the judge. It must also include a client supervision plan describing the programs and sanctions that the CSCD would provide if the offender were granted community supervision, as well as information regarding whether the defendant is a current or former member of armed forces in active duty status.

The contents of a PSI include:

  • Details of the offense
  • Defendant’s criminal history
  • Defendants background, including family history
  • Educational and employment history
  • Financial condition
  • Heath information, including physical and mental
  • Military service
  • Impact on the victim/amount of restitution necessary to compensate victim

What is the format of the Presentence Investigation Report?

A Presentence Investigation Report will typically have at least the following sections:

  • Court/Legal Information: This section identifies the court of original jurisdiction, judge, and parties to the case.
  • Offender Information: This section includes identifying and demographic information for the defendant.
  • Current Offense: If the official offense report is not attached, this section should include a concise summary of the facts.
  • Custodial Information: This section identifies whether or not the offender is currently under the supervision of a law enforcement agency.
  • Criminal History: The purpose of this section is to summarize the defendant’s prior offense history.
  • Victim Information: The victim impact statement and restitution information will be contained in this section.
  • Social History: This section discusses the defendant’s employment, educational, physical, and mental status at the time of the offense.
  • Military Service including nature of the discharge, any combat service, and physical or psychological injuries.
  • Substance Abuse including drugs and alcohol.
  • Supervision Plan: The supervision plan outlines CSCD’s plans regarding supervision of the defendant should the court elect to place him/her on community supervision.

What are the steps in preparing a Federal PSR?

First the court orders the defendant to go through the Presentence Investigation process. The defense attorney contacts the United States Probation Office to ensure the referral is made and a date is set for a U.S. Probation Officer to meet with their client.

The U.S. Probation Officer will schedule a meeting to interview the defendant. During the meeting, the U.S. Probation Officer will ask about the defendant’s biographical information, family history, background including residential history, martial history, educational background, and whether or not the defendant has any children. The probation officer will go over the health of the defendant, any history of substance abuse, the defendant’s mental and emotional health, and employment history. The U.S. Probation Officer will also ask about the defendant’s acceptance of responsibility for the instant offense.

The U.S. Probation Officer will then follow up on all the information collected and look for school records, work records, talk to family members, look for offense reports and judgments in order to prepare a comprehensive report to the court. The U.S. Probation Officer will also look for financial records relating the defendant’s ability to pay for court fines and restitution.

If the probation officer believes the defendant was misleading during the interview, or failed to accept responsibility, the probation officer may recommend the offender not receive credit for acceptance of responsibility or receive an upward departure from the sentencing guidelines the judge will follow at sentencing.

What is included in a Federal Presentence Investigation Report?

A typical Federal Presentence Investigation Report will include the following:

  • Offense Conduct: A brief description of the events leading up to the arrest as well as a summary of the government’s case.
  • Victim Impact Statement: A summary of how the offense has affected the victim, if applicable.
  • Defendants’ Participation: A description of the defendant’s role in the offense.
  • Obstruction of Justice Adjustment: If the defendant misled the U.S. Probation Officer or in some other way obstruct justice, the U.S. Probation officer will recommend that the offender’s sentencing guidelines be enhanced.
  • Acceptance of Responsibility Adjustment: The PSR will reflect whether the defendant accepted his role in the offense and if so, the U.S. Probation Officer may recommend that the defendant receive a downward departure. The level of the downward departure will depend upon when the offender accepts responsibility.
  • Offense Level Computation: Probation will make a determination of the what the base level offense is based on the facts of the case and the United States Sentencing Guidelines.
  • Criminal History: The U.S. Probation Officer will calculate the defendant’s criminal history points based on the offenses, punishments, and age of the offenses.
  • Offender Characteristic: The U.S. Probation Officer will summarize the defendant, family, and community ties in this section.
  • Substance Abuse: The PSR will contain a summary of any substance abuse the defendant admits to. This is particularly important for anyone who hopes to receive a reduction in their sentence by participating in a 500-hour drug treatment program during incarceration known as Residential Drug Abuse Program or RDAP for short. If the defendant does not admit to a history of drug abuse, they will not be eligible for RDAP nor will classification necessarily send the defendant to a facility where RDAP is available.
  • Physical Condition: The PSR will have a section on the defendant’s health. This will include a summary of any medication, known medical issues, as well as physical limitations.
  • Education and Vocational Training: The PSR will contain information on the defendant’s educational background. If a defendant cannot verify a high school diploma will be required to attend a 240-hour prison GED course and will receive a lower wage for prison work detail.
  • Employment Record: The PSR will contain information on the defendant’s employment history. A demonstrated history of employment has the potential to affect the court’s sentence based on the defendant’s ability to be a contributing member of society.
  • Finances: The PSR will contain information that will be used to determine the defendant’s ability to pay fines, criminal-assessment fees, cost-of-confinement fees, and restitution. Understand that the U.S. Probation officer will run a financial background check to verify the information provided by the defendant. If the court does not find the defendant to be indigent, the BOP may debit funds from the defendant’s commissary account.
  • Sentencing Options: The PSR will discuss the U.S. Probation officer’s opinion on sentencing including probation, house arrest, confinement in a community corrections center, or imprisonment. Remember that for may offenses, the minimum mandatory sentence is imprisonment.
  • Factors that May Warrant Departure: A federal PSR may contain a section laying out the U. S. Probation officer’s opinion on whether an upward or downward departure may be warranted and the basis for the officer’s opinion.

Are Presentence Investigations used in both the state and federal court system?

The PSI is heavily relied upon in both the state and federal court system.

In state court in Texas, presentence investigations are governed under Art. 42A.252 of Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. The statue states that probation officers are not required to give a sentencing recommendation, but must provide a supervision plan if the defendant were to be placed on probation.

In the federal system, Presentence Investigation Reports, or “PSRs” are governed under Rule 32 of the U.S. Rules of Criminal Procedure. Because only judges (not jurors) decide whether a defendant goes to prison in federal criminal cases, a PSI is conducted for the court in almost every case. In rare cases, judges will forgo a PSI if enough information about the defendant exists on record. Not only does the PSR contain information about the offense and offender, but also includes the sentencing guidelines and any basis for imposing a sentence outside the applicable range.

How is a PSI used by a judge?

The judge will receive the PSI prior to the defendant’s sentencing hearing. He or she will review it and take the information into consideration when deciding punishment. They will consider what is in the best interest of the community, the victim and the defendant. Many judges rely heavily on the probation department’s recommendations in the PSI, but are no under no obligation to follow it.

Does anyone else see or use the PSI?

It’s important to point out that Presentence Investigation Reports are confidential and not considered public records. However, it can be utilized throughout a defendant’s journey through the criminal justice system. If a defendant is ordered to serve time in the federal system, the Presentence Investigation Report will be provided to the Federal Bureau of Prisons to assist them in classifying the defendant to the appropriate prison. Inmates are often pressured to produce a copy of their PSR by other inmates to prove they did not snitch. As a rule, BOP will not allow inmates to have copies of their PSR with them. The inmate may request a copy of their PSR from the clerk of the district court to be delivered to the BOP counselor. The BOP counselor may possess a copy of the PSR, which can be reviewed by the inmate. Presentence Investigations also accompany defendants who are sentenced to time in state prisons in Texas. The PSI can also later assist the parole board in making a decision about the offender’s risk and release.

Can you prepare for a PSI?

Understanding the significance of a PSI is the first step to making a good impression. Make sure you arrive on time to the appointment with the probation officer and be polite and respectful. Be prepared to tell the probation officer about the positive things you have accomplished in your life, along with documentation if you have it. Remember, the PSI may play a vital role in deciding your punishment and future.

If you are going into a federal presentence report (PSR) interview, you can do many things to prepare. First, gather medical documentation or a letter from a doctor regarding any medical conditions you will treatment for during your incarceration. For example, if you cannot climb to the upper bunk of a bunk bed, bring those records to your attorney before the PSR interview. You may also streamline the process and more importantly, bring in evidence that will be favorable for you by providing your attorney with:

  • School diplomas, college degrees, and college transcripts;
  • Records of any special accommodations or limitations;
  • Medical records, as described above;
  • Income tax returns, especially if they can demonstrate an inability to pay fines or restitution;
  • Employment verification;
  • Professional certificates, licenses. and permits;
  • Military discharge papers;
  • Social security number;
  • Naturalization paperwork or immigration paperwork;
  • Marriage certificates.

Contact Us for Sentencing Representation

We are often asked to represent individuals who are preparing for a federal sentencing. We represent individuals anywhere in the nation on federal charges and are experienced federal sentencing defense attorneys. If you are interested in having one of our federal criminal defense attorneys speak to you, call us at (817) 203-2220 or send us a message online:

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