A presentence investigation, or PSI as it is often called, is an in-depth report about a defendant that judges look at before sentencing. Few have heard about PSIs as they are meant to be private because they can contain sensitive information about a defendant ranging from personal circumstances to previous brushes with the law. A PSI is “the single most important document that influences correctional decision making in the state” according the writings of one Wisconsin judge. It provides a window into the life of the defendant.
The history of PSIs date back a century, where reformists pushed for a medical model of criminal corrections that sought to understand what led up to the defendants actions in order to “prescribe” the right treatment. A PSI is an attempt at telling the story of a defendant’s life to provide the best chance of rehabilitation. Was the defendant raised in a stable household? Were there problems with homelessness, drugs, or other issues beyond his or her control? Is mental illness a factor? Is there a history of issues that might make certain programs beneficial in conjunction with other sentencing?
When judges pass sentence in serious felony cases for example, they often explain their decisions weighing each fact found in a PSI. In one case, a judge looked at the history of a young adult defendant guilty of home invasion with a potential 40 year sentence. He faced far fewer consequences than his accomplices because he was shown to have excelled in high school, played athletics, and had stayed out of trouble up until the crime despite having an absent parent – a triumph when considering the odds stacked against him that were not lost on the court after reading the PSI.
Who Creates the PSI?
With the potential to make or break a defendant, many wonder who is behind the writing of a PSI. When people think of probation or parole agents, they often think of men and women that oversee criminals after release. What many don’t realize is that these same agents also work as investigators preparing presentencing reports. They are tasked with interviewing employers, family members, teachers, friends of the defendant, and victims to the crime. They also look at confidential and public information from the DAs office, police reports and talk to other agents that may have supervised the defendant as well as looking at criminal history. If relevant, juvenile records and mental health evaluations may be taken into account. Defendants themselves are interviewed and sometimes asked to respond to questionnaires to get a sense of whether they understand and take responsibility for their actions. Recommendations on sentencing follow.
A PSI or PSIR (presentencing investigation report) both play an important role in sentencing. With many cases resulting in plea bargains without ever going to trial, these reports can provide invaluable information to the judge so that he or she can sentence a defendant with an eye on rehabilitation. Certainly, a defendant is better served if they have an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help a defendant navigate the process of a presentencing investigation. Contact Waukesha criminal defense attorney Andrew C. Ladd for assistance today at 262-542-3900.