Once you’ve been convicted of a federal or state crime, the presiding judge typically relies heavily on the information in your pre-sentence report to determine the length and severity of your sentence. Having a skilled defense attorney in your corner may be critical at this stage of the case to help ensure your sentence is as fair and/or lenient as possible.
Understanding Pre-Sentence Reports
Between your conviction and your sentencing, a probation officer will conduct a pre-sentence investigation, inquiring into the circumstances surrounding your case and the crime(s) for which you’ve been convicted. The officer will want to know such things as the context surrounding the crime, your prior criminal history, your family history and situation, health status, past and present substance abuse, financial situation and other personal information. This information is gathered through relevant documentation and usually a pre-sentencing interview, and compiled into a pre-sentence report which the judge uses to make a determination as to a fair sentence that complies with laws and guidelines.
While you are required by law to answer all questions honestly or face additional penalties, this is also a time for you to put your best foot forward, to highlight the positive steps you’re taking toward rehabilitation, etc. This positive information can have a huge impact on how the probation officer prepares your report, and how the judge perceives it.
Why You Need an Attorney During the Pre-Sentence Phase
While it’s not mandatory for your attorney to be involved in the pre-sentencing phase, it’s a very good idea to have your attorney present, not only for the interview, but also to help you gather and prepare the paperwork and documentation. A good defense attorney can help in the following ways:
- Helping to gather positive information and documentation. This may include such things as positive reviews from employers, statements from friends and family as to your character, or documentation of your enrollment in a treatment or counseling program, if applicable.
- Advising and assisting you on taking steps to improve your profile. This might include anything from enrolling in counseling to getting a job.
- Interacting with the probation officer to ensure your fair treatment. Overworked probation officers can often fall into the bureaucratic snare of processing convictions by preset formulas rather than looking into the singularities of each case, and this can result in a less favorable profile. A good attorney will actively engage the probation officer to make sure all the positive aspects make it into your report.
Our Experience with Pre-Sentence Reports
Because judges often have many cases to consider, time doesn’t always permit them to delve deeply into the specific circumstances for each case; they rely on the pre-sentence report to provide this information for them. Therefore, what is contained in this report can have a major impact on your sentence. The attorneys at the Federal Criminal Law Center have plenty of experience with the pre-sentencing process, both at the federal and state levels. They not only know the steps you should take to improve your profile, but they also know how to engage diplomatically with the probation officer to ensure your pre-sentence report puts you in the best possible light.