Why The Pre-Sentence Report Is So Important

Pre-Sentence ReportAt some point between when you are convicted of a crime and when you are sentenced, you will be asked to interview with a probation officer who is responsible for creating a pre-sentence report (PSR). This report is designed to give the judge important background information about you, as well as providing context for your case so he/she can determine a fitting sentence. State judicial systems each have their own procedures for this report, but in federal cases, the PSR is of the utmost importance to receiving a fair sentence. For this reason, it’s highly advisable to have your defense attorney present during the pre-sentence interview.


It is ultimately the job of the judge to determine an appropriate sentence, but due to the extensive amount of cases processing through the courts at any given time, it is difficult for a judge to give each defendant the personal consideration he/she deserves when determining sentence. To offset this burden, the probation office takes on the task of gathering the necessary information and compiling the PSR, along with a recommendation as to appropriate sentencing. Not only does this help keep the courts from getting too backlogged, but it can also work to the benefit of the defendant who otherwise might receive a harsher sentence because the context wasn’t taken into account. It also gives the defendant an opportunity to show cooperation and contrition, which may also impact sentencing.


During the pre-sentence interview, the probation officer will likely ask you questions related to the crime itself, including your version of what happened and the motive for the crime. You may also be asked questions regarding your personal history, family history, past and present drug use, employment history and prior criminal record (if any). You may also be asked about your finances, as this information is sometimes used when fines are a part of the sentencing process. Apart from the interview, the probation office may also investigate any history of psychological problems you may have, as well as obtaining statements from any victims as to how the crime has impacted them. While much of this is highly personal, it is necessary to provide the proper context. Typically, the more you cooperate during this stage, the more likely you are to obtain leniency when sentencing occurs.


While your honesty and cooperation during the pre-sentence interview can go a long way, it’s still highly advisable to have an attorney involved in the pre-sentencing stage. A skilled attorney will be able to help you gather the important information, advise you on your rights, remind you of important information you might have forgotten, and work with the probation officer to make sure any and all information that could work in your favor is included in the pre-sentence report. For more information, contact the attorneys at the Federal Criminal Law Center.