What is a Presentence Investigation Report ("PSIR")?

What is a Presentence Investigation Report (“PSIR”)?

If you’ve been convicted of a crime and are waiting for sentencing, the Presentence Investigation Report (also called a “PSIR”) is about to become the most important thing in your case. The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs makes this clear on its website: “The presentence investigation report has been called the most important document in the Federal criminal process.”

The Presentence Investigation Report is a report that is prepared before the sentencing hearing. At the state and local levels, it’s usually prepared by someone in the county’s probation office. As this example from Arizona shows, PSIRs address housing, health, employment, family, education, drug and alcohol use, criminal history and even your attitude about your criminal case.

On the surface, the main purpose of the Presentence Investigation Report is to help the judge determine a sentence. A judge uses it to determine the appropriate sentence, weighing all of those different topics to pick a sentence inside (or, in some cases, outside) of the sentencing guidelines range that state or federal law establishes for the criminal offenses at issue.

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Why is it so important for people to know about Presentence Investigation Reports?

The Presentence Investigation Report has a huge impact on your sentencing hearing. So it’s obviously important for you to make sure it’s accurate before that hearing. If it includes inaccurate information about your criminal record, the charges at issue or anything else, you and your lawyer want to make sure that the judge corrects that information before deciding on a sentence.

But the importance of a Presentence Investigation Report continues long after your sentencing hearing, too. Prison officials in both state and federal prisons will rely on the information in the PSIR for your placement. And these officials will also rely on it when you become eligible for release.

The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs puts it like this: “The report is the most comprehensive collection of information concerning an inmate and the offense available to the Bureau of Prisons and the parole commission. As a result, the report is crucial in many custody and release decisions.” So making sure it is completely accurate before sentencing is absolutely crucial.

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Can you challenge things in your Presentence Investigation Report after sentencing?

If you don’t challenge the accuracy of the information in the Presentence Investigation Report at or before your sentencing hearing, you can also challenge it on appeal. However, appellate judges are not quick to send a case back to a trial judge unless the error is obvious. And, if they do, they usually send it back for that one simple change, not for any new hearings or a new trial.

The Takeaway:

The Presentence Investigation Report is one of the most important parts of a criminal case. But, until you go through the justice system yourself, you might not even know it exists. A PSIR has a big impact during your sentencing hearing. But that big impact extends far beyond your sentencing hearing. In fact, it can impact you all the way until your release from prison.

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