After someone is convicted in federal court – either by pleading guilty or by a trial – the federal sentencing process begins. Unlike state court, a judge is the only entity that can hand down a sentence in federal court. To arrive at a fair and just punishment, the federal judge relies heavily on something called a “Presentence Report,” or PSR. In this article, we are going to explain the PSR, and how you can prepare for the federal presentence interview, which is a critical part of the sentencing process.
What is a federal presentence report (PSR)?A Presentence Report, or PSR, is an extremely important document in the federal sentencing process. It is a voluminous report that is generated by the United States Federal Probation Office, which contains a wealth of information about you – including the severity of your crime, criminal history, family background, employment history, mental and physical health, community ties, etc. One of the primary purposes of the PSR is to provide the judge with recommended sentencing range. While the recommended guideline is not mandatory for the judge to follow, it’s a good starting point. Because federal judges rely heavily on a PSR in coming to a sentencing decision, it’s extremely important to put your best foot forward during your federal presentence interview with the probation officer. It’s also important to make sure all the information contained in the PSR is accurate. The report is also used by the Federal Bureau of Prisons to help classify where a defendant should be housed and it will follow you through your time in federal custody if you are given prison time.
Who prepares a federal presentence report?The PSR is prepared by a Federal Probation Officer (FPO), who will gather a plethora of information from a variety of sources, including:
- the defendant,
- the victim(s),
- family members,
- law enforcement,
- court documents and records, and
- other interviews.
What is a federal presentence investigation interview?A presentence investigation interview is a formal question and answer session between a federal defendant and a federal probation officer. The purpose of the interview is to gather information for the court to consider as it relates to sentencing. The interview usually takes place in jail or at the U.S. Probation Office. In recent times, due to the pandemic, interviews have also occurred through Zoom. The interview generally takes 90 minutes to a few hours. Afterward, the probation officer may spend several weeks preparing the report for the United State District Court Judge, who will use it to help him or her decide the appropriate sentence. It is impossible to overemphasize how important it is to take the interview seriously and to prepare appropriately.
How can you prepare for a federal presentence interview?The federal presentence interview is a crucial part of the sentencing process, and it’s extremely important to be prepared. This is not the time to wing it. Your life and liberty are, quite literally, on the line. The most important thing you can do is work with an experienced federal criminal defense attorney who has guided dozens of clients through pre-sentence investigation interviews. He or she will make sure you are adequately prepared and help you navigate the process. The last thing you want is for an inexperienced attorney to show up at the presentence investigation interview without having prepped you – or even worse, not showing up for the interview at all and letting the probation officer handle the interview on their own without any oversight from a skilled defense attorney. The federal attorneys at Varghese Summersett will spend the time necessary to make sure you’re prepared for your presentence investigation interview so you will not be caught off guard and can answer the questions in a way that is most favorable to you. We also help you identify ways to get your story out and use it to your advantage. For example, hardships you endured as a child, such as neglect, abuse, or early exposure to drugs are all examples of things that we could use to help convince the judge that a low-end sentence is more appropriate than the higher sentence the government is pushing for or that probation recommends. That’s the kind of information that needs to make it into your PSR. Any information contained in a PSR is considered by the judge to be credible and reliable. That’s why it’s important to work with your attorney and have an overarching mitigation strategy as you go into the federal presentence interview. When you and your attorney are preparing for your federal presentence interview, it’s important to be brutally honest about all aspects of your life and crime. You want to be an open book about your past and especially things that may have adversely affected you or put you at a disadvantage. We have had clients confide in us about things that they’ve never revealed to anyone else. While it’s not easy, this is the type of information that could make a very big impact on your potential sentence.
Where does the PSR interview take place?If you are not in custody, the interview will take place at the United States Probation Office. You should arrive on time and dress as though you were going to church or a job interview. If you are not in custody, the interview will be conducted inside the jail. You will likely be in jail scrubs but should be clean and have a tidy appearance. Regardless of the location, you should be polite and open to answering questions honestly and without reservation. Your attorney should have prepared you for the questions, boundaries, and any possible pitfalls.
What can you do before a federal presentence interview to better your position?If you are fortunate enough to be out of custody, your actions need to show that you understand what you did was wrong (especially if this was a plea, as opposed to a trial). The federal probation officer will be looking for signs that you have taken responsibility for your actions and are working to improve yourself. Some things you can do before your federal presentence interview include:
- Get a job or go back to school;
- Volunteer in the community;
- Attend support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous or anger management classes.
- GED classes
- Anger management
- Substance abuse treatment
- Parenting classes
- Vocational training
- Any other type of self-improvement program offered by the Bureau of Prisons.