Today’s blog post is a little different from what we usually do here at Prison Insight. Instead of answering specific questions about the lives of prison inmates, we wanted to produce a guide for Court Attendance Investigation (PSI) reports.
A Presence Investigation Report is a document that gives you the opportunity to show the sentencing judge hearing your case why you deserve a lesser sentence for the crime you were convicted of. In felony cases at the state and federal levels, judges often rely on court appearance reports (prepared by probation officers) to make sentencing decisions.
In the weeks between the conviction date and sentencing date, the probation officer will put together this report and include several pieces of information. To prepare the report, the probation officer will interview you, check your criminal record, talk with the victim (if any), consult with the arresting officer, and possibly talk with your family and/or friends.
Most court appearance reports will also provide the circumstances of the crime committed, your personal history (education, work history, etc.), and, if applicable, a statement from the victim, called a victim impact statement.
Your defense attorney should do all they can to make sure the parole officer who is preparing the report knows about all the good things you have done or are doing, including treatment plans and therapies.
It is very important that you and your attorney try to make your court appearance report as favorable as possible for you, as it can have a huge impact on the sentence you receive.
So, let’s take a look at today’s blog post: Guidelines for Presence Investigation (PSI) Reporting.
In this blog post, I will cover the following topics:
- elements of a presentation
- your speaking interview
- How to Improve Your Impression Reports
- Make sure your representation report is fair
Elements of a Presentation Report (PSR)
The specific elements of presenting the report do vary from state to state, but they are all very similar. There is also a common reporting report used at the federal level, whose elements include:
- Crime: Official Version, Defendant’s Version, Any Co-Defendant Information, Witnesses, Plaintiff’s and Victim’s Statements
- Previous Records: Juvenile Sentences, Adult Arrests, and Adult Convictions
- Personal and Family Data: Defendant information, parents and siblings, marital status, education, employment history, health assessments (physical, mental, and emotional), military service, and financial status (assets and liabilities).
- Evaluation: Alternatives, Sentencing Data
All PSIs contain information about the defendant’s background, including his or her personality, upbringing, criminal history, health, and any other details that may affect the severity of the sentence.
your speaking interview
After you are found guilty (or plead guilty), one of the first things to happen is your court interview. A parole officer will talk to you and hear your description of the crime and the circumstances of the conduct that led to your conviction.
If you and/or your family have a criminal record, they will want to know why you committed the crime, and they will also want to know about your life. Get ready to answer these questions: What is the highest degree you have completed? Do you have a job? Are you addicted to drugs or alcohol? What is your experience with various drugs? When did you start taking drugs? How are your finances? Are you married? Have you ever served in the military?
You have to be prepared to talk about all of these topics to participate in this interview. If you have any documents, such as high school diplomas, college degrees, military discharge papers, or letters of support from family, friends, and employers, be sure to bring a copy with you.
You should also be prepared to explain why you think the judge should sentence you to probation or the lightest sentence the law allows. It’s important to note that no matter how well prepared you are or what arguments you present to get a light sentence, it’s ultimately up to the judge.
In my case, I have no criminal record, have a college degree, have a full-time job, have no drug use or history, and since I am a first time non-violent offender, the parole officer advised me to go on probation as I was low risk.
However, the judge in my case didn’t care, ignored the recommendations, and sentenced me to a maximum of 15 years for a first-time marijuana offense. The house I live in has 12 plants in the closet and that’s it. This is crime.
My history doesn’t matter, the circumstances surrounding my case don’t matter. The judge did what he wanted to do. I eventually won my appeal and was released four years later.
Judges often just rubber-stamp the parole officer’s recommendation because they don’t have time to investigate on their own. Note, however, that they can ultimately do whatever they want (within guidelines) when it comes to sentencing.
How to Improve Your Impression Reports
Even though your attorney is supposed to be involved in on-site interviews and reports, be prepared to address all of these issues yourself. Lawyers are not always allowed to participate, or they may not be available. For this reason, make 100% sure that you are prepared for the speaking interview so that you can make a positive impression.
Make sure to clean up and dress appropriately, bring all the documents you need, and bring anything else that can help you out. This is important because sometimes parole officers make recommendations based on information that was not presented during the trial. They can also use information not permitted by the court, as well as illegally obtained evidence.
You must also pay attention to what you say in the interview, because all your statements will be used to prepare the presentation report.
Make sure your representation report is fair
Parole and probation officers are just as busy and overworked as everyone else in the criminal justice system. They’re also receptive to “tough on crime” advice, and they probably have pre-written clauses – also known as “boilerplate clauses” – that they use in every situation.
This means that your presentation can be put together based on general, predetermined decisions that have nothing to do with the merits of your case. To avoid this, work with your defense attorney to ensure that all favorable information about you is available to the judge.
You and your defense attorney can research possible alternative sentences (treatment centers, home detention, community service) and develop a realistic, beneficial plan for a judge to implement rather than jail time.
You can also improve your image by participating in a treatment program, finding a job, or volunteering in the community.
If your attorney is available, ask them to meet with the parole/probation officer who is putting together your court appearance report so they can provide useful information. Your attorney can also prepare a mitigating affidavit and explain why you deserve a lesser sentence.
Court appearance reports can be very beneficial if the people involved (parole officer, judge, defense attorneys) do what they are supposed to do and handle your case with the attention it deserves.
Unfortunately, many judges and parole officers don’t consider the merits of the case, and many defendants (like me) end up getting the maximum sentence because it’s the easiest way to make them appear to “strike a felony hard.”
Do you have additional questions about the presentation report? Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: Your presentence report and how to improve it The History of the presentence investigation report What is a PSI Report?