In some cases, a Judge may order a presentence investigation report prior to imposing a sentence. In others, either the prosecuting attorney or the defense attorney may order such a report. In some cases the production of such a report is required by law, and in others, such production is discretionary.
The Law On Presentence Investigation Reports
Subsequent to a defendant being convicted of a felony or misdemeanor, the probation department conducts an “investigation” and submits that report to the court prior to the imposition of a sentence.
Every such report must include a substance abuse evaluation, alongside information about the defendant’s family background, educational history, employment record, and criminal history, including any past juvenile delinquency record. A victim impact statement also is included where the offense involves a victim; that statements described the nature of any injury suffered by the victim, an itemization of any economic loss suffered by the victim, and an evaluation as to the victim’s safety if a probationary sentence were to be granted in the case.
In some cases, the court may also require the report to include a psychiatric examination.
Within no less than seventy-two hours of the sentencing hearing, copies of the report must be provided to the prosecutor, the defense attorney, or the defendant himself if he does not have counsel representing him.
Should the presentence investigation report be completed in reference to a sex offense, then it is legally required to include a sex offense specific evaluation. In sex offenses specifically, the presentence investigation report must be completed, and cannot be waived by the parties.
A presentence investigation report also includes a statement as to the defendant’s financial situation and assets, as well as an assessment of the defendant’s risk of re-offending, and needs in terms of treatment and supervision which could help prevent such re-offending, at least in the eyes of probation.
Perhaps most importantly, this report will include a recommendation as to the sentence to be imposed.
How a Presentence Investigation Report Can Be Helpful
Prior to the production of this report, the Judge knows very little about you apart from a little information about what is alleged to have happened in your case. The report is how he learns more information both about what happened in the case, and also about you yourself. Because of this, the presentence investigation interview is an opportunity to represent yourself in a positive light and to distinguish you as a person from you as a defendant charged in a criminal case. Oftentimes, a favorable presentence investigation report can sway a Judge to issue a more favorable sentence than otherwise would be imposed.
The Report Has Incorrect or Misleading Information – What Next?
Sometimes, the presentence investigation report contains inaccurate information. While this information may be harmless, it may be of such a nature that it could negatively impact the outcome of your case. Your defense attorney will review the report with you, and it is important that you along with your defense attorney look for any such potentially harmful information, and request of the Court that such information be stricken from the report prior to the parties making their sentencing arguments and a sentence being imposed.
When Wouldn’t You Order The Report? (Waiving the Report)
In some cases, the prosecution and the defense agree in advance of sentencing to the nature and length of the sentence to be imposed.
A defendant, through his defense attorney, may waive a presentence investigation report when a favorable sentence has already been negotiated on his behalf. Even where the prosecution makes a non-binding recommendation, it is unusual for a judge to not follow such a recommendation; therefore, if such a non-binding recommendation is favorable, the completion of a presentence investigation report may be deemed unnecessary by defense counsel.
Because the presentence investigation report can be so detailed, it may provide information regarding the defendant’s background which justify a more severe sentence than otherwise would be imposed.