7 Questions and Answers about Presentence Investigations

For defendants in federal cases, an important part of the criminal sentencing process is the presentence investigation. The investigation becomes a report that helps the legal system determine anything from the length of a sentence to the facility where the sentence is served.


Who goes through a presentence investigation?

Anyone who enters a guilty plea or is convicted of a federal crime in a trial will be subject to a presentence investigation.


What is the purpose of a presentence investigation?

The purpose is to prepare a thorough report on the defendant and the circumstances surrounding the conviction. The judge and other people within the legal system then use the report to decide on the sentencing details.

Who conducts the investigation?

A probation officer from the U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services System conducts the investigation. They conduct the interview as a third party not connected with the defense or the prosecution.

What does a presentence investigation cover?

The initial meeting with the probation officer will generally consist of an interview with the defendant to go over the following information:

Additionally, the probation officer will seek information from other sources. According to the U.S. Courts website, this may include the prosecutor, law enforcement agents, victims, mental health and substance abuse treatment providers, and the defendant’s family members, associates, and employer. The officer will also review documents like trial transcripts, investigative reports from other law enforcement agencies, criminal history records, counseling and substance abuse treatment records, and scholastic records.

How should I prepare for a presentence investigation?

It’s important to take the presentence investigation seriously. The report created by the probation officer will be used for more than sentencing. The probation office will also refer to the report after your sentence to assess the risks you may pose and to determine specific rules for your post-release supervision.

The best way to prepare is to counsel with an experienced defense lawyer to go over the process, determine a strategy, and make sure you have all the correct details and information. Whether you purposely or accidentally give incorrect information during your interview, you will be held accountable. Keep in mind that trying to conceal information that may make you look bad could end up causing more issues later when the parole officer interviews other people and gathers official records with your information.


Does the PSI affect which facility I am sent to?

The presentence investigation report helps the Bureau of Prisons designate which institutions may be appropriate for you. This includes consideration for which institutions have prison programs that will be beneficial or necessary.


Can a defense lawyer help with my presentence investigation?

Though the presentence investigation is handled by a probation officer, the report is disclosed to the defendant, the defense attorney, and the prosecutor before sentencing. At that time, each party has the chance to comment and request changes. That is handled through a formal process established by the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.

This period between the investigation and sentencing can be crucial for making objections to the report and getting a fair sentence. The expert legal team at Brown, Bradshaw & Moffat can help you navigate the details of this process and get the best result.


Contact us today at (801) 532-5297 for a free consultation. We are ready to fight for your rights.

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