Jeremy Gordon

After conviction but before sentencing, the probation department puts together a “PSI” or a Pre-Sentence Investigation.

federal sentencing, psi

The Investigation

After conviction, a probation officer in the Probation Department conducts a pre-sentence investigation.  As the first step in the sentencing process, this investigation takes a fairly extensive look at the facts and circumstances of the crime itself. Additionally, it takes a detailed look into the defendant’s life. This might include the defendant’s criminal history, family life, upbringing, and economic circumstances.

Firstly, the probation officer reviews records related to the case and the defendant. For example, they might review court dockets, plea agreements, investigative reports, medical records, counseling and substance abuse treatment records, academic records, employment information, financial records, and more. Basically, the probation officer does a very careful evaluation of all aspects of the defendant’s life.

After reviewing the documents, the probation officer interviews the defendant.  This interview focuses largely on the defendant’s history and circumstances.  Also, the probation officer will investigate the defendant’s feeling about the crime. They do this to try and gauge the defendant’s level of remorse. 

Further, the probation officer may reach out to the prosecutor. The prosecutor provides additional information about the crime, the victim’s loss, and any other relevant documents. The probation officer may also take interviews with victims, family members, employers, counselors, and others. 

The PSI Report

After the probation officer completes the investigation, then he or she compiles a “pre-sentence investigation report,” more commonly known as the “PSI”. 

The PSI typically runs about 10 to 30 pages in length.  Ideally, it captures all of the relevant information about the defendant and the crime. Usually, the judge primarily uses the PSI make an informed decision on the proper sentence. 

The Sections:

  1. Offense conduct. This section of the PSI describes in detail the conduct that led to the defendant’s crime. Normally, this sections gives a detailed narrative of the crime itself.

  2. Offense levels. The PSI must advise the judge on the applicable Federal Sentencing Guidelines for the case. Thus, the PSI will inform the judge as to the applicable “base offense level,” and any adjustments based on the crime and situation.

  3. Criminal history category. The Federal Sentencing Guidelines assign each offender to one of six criminal history categories based on the extent of an offender’s past misconduct. Accordingly, the PSI indicates the category applicable to the defendant.

  4. Background of the person. The last main section of the PSI relates to the defendant’s life. It should include any circumstances that affect the defendant’s behavior as well as impact on any victim and relevance of restitution.

  5. Sentencing recommendation. In the PSI, the probation officer typically provides in a recommendation to the judge. The judge may ignore it or take it.

PSI Objections

Unless the defendant waves the minimum period, the probation officer who prepared the PSI must give it to the defendant, the defense attorney, and the prosecutor at least 35 days before the sentencing hearing.  Then, those parties all have an opportunity to object and ask for corrections to the report.

Under Rule 32, the parties have to state their objections within 14 days of receiving the PSI.  Correspondingly, those objections can be to any part of the report. Objections might dispute factual information, Sentencing Guidelines ranges, and any policy statements included in the PSI.

After receiving the parties’ objections, the probation officer makes revisions as appropriate and must submit the revised PSI to the court and the parties seven days before the sentencing process reaches the hearing.     

After the probation department completes your PSI, your case will move to court for sentencing. Click here for more information on the sentencing process.