What Is a PSI Report? – Who Writes a Federal PSI & How Is It Used?

If you’re facing criminal charges, you will likely start hearing a lot of legal jargon as your case progresses. A presentence investigation report, also known as a PSI report, is just one legal concept you will hear about until your case is over. So why is a PSI ordered, and what does the presentence investigation process involve? As your case gets started, here’s what you should know about the presentence report.

What Is a PSI Report?

A PSI report, also known as a presentence investigation report, consists of paperwork that a judge can use to help determine the right way to punish a defendant in a court case. The report is conducted by a probation officer, social worker, or psychologist in the probation department. It usually involves a live interview with the defendant.

This is because the PSI/PSR report features information on the defendant’s background, including their character, upbringing, criminal history, health, and any other details that might affect the severity of the sentence. The state system usually orders a presentence investigation report when handling felony cases, while federal cases always require one.

After the investigation, the probation officer will gather all information and write a report about the defendant that is then given to the court and attorneys. Finally, the sentencing hearing occurs, and the information is shared in court and with the judge (unless protected by some form of confidentiality). This detailed report informs the judge’s decision regarding the sentence to render for the defendant.

Note that a federal PSI may also be referred to as a presentence report or PSR.

When Is a PSI Ordered?

A presentence investigation and PSI interview occur between the defendant’s plea and sentencing hearings. In a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor plea, the court has the option to order a PSI, but it is not mandatory. However, in a felony plea, the court must order a PSI for the defendant.

Also, a PSI is not ordered in every case – only those in which the judge determines punishment. For example, a PSI will not be ordered if the punishment is to be assessed by a jury or resolved through a plea bargain agreement.

Who Writes the Presentence Investigation Report?

With a state and federal presentence investigation report, it’s up to a probation officer to research and write the document. This requires the officer to interview the defendant and then collaborate with other professionals involved in the case. The point is to get a good overview of the defendant’s behavior and character before the judge reads the PSI report and decides on the proper sentencing.

how does the judge use a presentence investigation report?

Elements of a PSI Report

Now that you know who conducts the presentence investigation, it’s time to learn what is included in a presentence report. In general, the presentence report needs to have details on the offense in question and information on the defendant’s criminal history. The PSI should also describe the defendant’s family history, education, employment record, military service, finances, and health. Additionally, it often mentions how the crime affected the victim and whether restitution to the victim or the victim’s family might be appropriate. The judge may request more information as needed aside from the above details.

The PSI and ensuing presentence report often include information about the defendant, such as:

  • The crime in question and the defendant’s involvement in the crime
  • Their criminal record and past crimes (if any)
  • Whether the crime was a first offense
  • Issues related to obstruction versus cooperation
  • Their background, characteristics, and needs
  • Their substance abuse history
  • Their latent abilities that may be developed and lead to future success
  • Their likelihood of recidivism (additional criminal actions)
  • Their social history, relationships with family and friends, and ties to the community

This information is typically gathered from multiple people and sources such as:

  • The defendant (the probation officer will usually conduct a one-on-one PSI interview with the defendant to inform the PSR report)
  • The defense attorney (a good one will provide proof of proactive steps their client has made since the underlying offense)
  • Letters from friends and family that the defendant’s attorney may have gathered
  • Official statements from the victim (also known as a “victim impact statement”)
  • Assessment results and recommendations (for example, substance dependency, other addictions, or anger management assessments)

If you’re concerned about the PSR report process for your case, you need the federal sentencing services of Seth Kretzer, so contact our firm today.

How does the judge use a presentence investigation report?

The purpose of the PSI or PSR report is for the judge to have all the information necessary to determine the proper sentence for the defendant. For this reason, the judge will review the report before the sentencing hearing begins. Then, they will use it to determine what’s best for the victim, the defendant, and society.

Is There a Presentence Investigation Drug Test?

presentence investigation drug test

Since the judge can request additional information, they may order a presentence investigation drug test. It’s especially likely when the crime was a drug-related offense. Therefore, it’s best to be prepared for a drug test during the presentence investigation process, particularly if the crime involved substance abuse.

How to Obtain a PSI Report

While PSR reports are confidential documents that are not considered public records, a criminal defendant may request an opportunity to review their PSI report. They may not, however, have a copy of the report while in prison, as other inmates may read the report, looking for indications that the defendant cooperated with police and retaliated against the defendant. The PSI report, once completed, will follow the defendant throughout incarceration, through appeals, and otherwise throughout their time in the criminal justice system.

Finding the Right Attorney Near You

If you have any concerns about the presentence investigation process for your case, you need help from a federal criminal defense attorney you can trust. At the Law Offices of Seth Kretzer, we collaborate with defendants to prepare for PSI interviews and gather the information that casts the defendant in the best light.

Contact our firm today to schedule a free consultation so you can get the legal guidance you deserve.

Phone: 713-775-3050
Fax: 713-929-2019
Houston, TX 77002
440 Louisiana, Suite 1440