What is a Pre-Sentence Investigation and What is on It?

As part of any felony-based conviction (sometimes on misdemeanors with open terms and by judge’s request), a judge will typically order a pre-sentence investigation or “PSI.” A PSI came out of what is commonly referred to as Evidence Based Practices — a movement where judges wanted to make informed, evidence-based decisions when determining appropriate sentences for defendants. The practice of conducting PSI’s has long been a typical step in federal guilty pleas and sentences, and over time, states started requiring them as well.

In practice, any sentencing on a matter that is above a misdemeanor (in some courts above a level six felony) and/or where there is an argued or set sentence where the defendant can or is sentenced to the Indiana department of corrections, requires a PSI. Some judges are more lenient in allowing defendants to plead guilty and waive the PSI requirement, but other are not.

Importantly…before a defendant ever participates in a PSI interview, they should, without a doubt, meet with their attorney to discuss what to say, or more importantly, what not to say. Everything the defendant says will be in the report, and it is much harder to fix things after the fact rather than plan for them beforehand. A defendant should treat the probation officer with as much respect as possible, as they often hold the defendant’s freedom in their hands — regardless of how frustrated the defendant may be with the situation.

The PSI Procedure

Regardless, if ordered, a PSI typically takes 2 weeks to 30 days to conduct, that’s because defendants have a right to be sentenced within 30 days of any guilty plea. However, most defense attorneys will waive the 30-day requirement if they, themselves, are gathering information for sentencing purposes. They are almost always conducted by a probation officer or someone from the probation department. The defendant is always present, and sometimes (mostly at the federal level and rarely at the state level), a defense attorney is present as well. The probation officer will gather information from the defendant and will try to independently verify the information through third parties or outside businesses/means.

Once completed, the report is sent confidentially to the court, the prosecutor, and the defense attorney/defendant. The parties can file a formal objection to any information they believe to be incorrect, or at the federal level, objections to enhancements/guidelines, etc. The parties also have an opportunity to object to any findings in the PSI at the time of sentencing as well.

The court will then review the information contained in the PSI prior to sentencing and will use that information, along with evidence and arguments at sentencing, to craft an appropriate sentence within the guidelines of the plea agreement or statutory limits.

So, What’s In it?

  1. Court Information: this section lists all of the court identifiers (cause # and caption), the court information, the attorneys/parties, and who prepared the report.
  2. Offender’s Personal Information: this section lists the defendant’s identifiers, address, identifying marks (tattoos, etc.), criminal involvement
  3. Case/Offense Information: this section includes the present offense information, offense date, arrest date, days in jail, whether it is a sex registerable offense, probation/parole offense, suspendible or not, if there are co-defendant cases, and a brief synopsis of the offense.
  4. Marital Information: this section includes the defendant’s marital status, spouse information, number of children, support obligations, and if they are current on support
  5. Education, Employment & Health: this section gives information on the defendant’s high school, if they graduated or have a GED, suspended or expelled, college/vocational, where they are employed, what they do at that job, when they were hired, hours they work, whether they are a certified professional, whether they are financially secure or not, whether they have any mental or physical ailments, and whether or not they use alcohol or drugs.
  6. Contact Persons: this section deals with the defendant’s emergency contact information and relationship.
  7. Victim Impact: this section deals with any information provided by the victim, such as a victim impact statement, whether or not they wish to participate, and/or if the victim was contacted but did not respond.
  8. Additional Information: this section is used to explain any boxes that were yes/no in any of the above sections as to provide more detail.
  9. Sources of Information: this section lists all the people, places, and sources of information used to complete the report.
  10. Legal History: this section lists all of the defendant’s past juvenile and adult interactions. It lists the crimes, when they occurred and were resolved, what the outcome was (acquittal, adjudication, guilt, dismissal, etc.), and what the sentence was.
    1. IRAS Score Given: ranges from low to moderate to high to N/A
  11. Present Offense:
    1. Official Version: this section lists the charging information and probable cause that is the underlying basis for the offense.
    2. Defendant Version: this section gives the defendant a chance to make a statement as to what happened to bring about the charges (most attorneys advise them not to say a word here other than an apology)
  12. Victim Impact Statement:
    1. Victim Statement: this section allows the victim (if applicable) to say how they feel about the offense.
    2. Victim Notification: this section allows the probation officer to explain what efforts they took to inform the victim (if applicable)
  13. Family/Social Background:
    1. Parental/Family Information: this section allows for explaining the familial relations the defendant has had since birth (i.e. parents, siblings, etc.)
    2. Personal Relationships: this allows for discussing the defendant’s significant others or exes.
    3. Dependents: this section describes those that the defendant supports as dependents.
    4. Family & Social Support Domain IRAS Score Given: ranges from low to moderate to high to N/A
    5. Peer Associations: this section describes close friends or acquaintances
      1. IRAS Score Given: ranges from low to moderate to high to N/A
    6. Personal Background:
      1. Education: this section provides a complete description of the defendant’s education background.
      2. Employment: this section provides a complete description of the defendant’s employment background.
      3. Financial Situation: this section provides a compete description of the defendant’s financial situation.
      4. Education, Employment & Financial Situation Domain IRAS Score Given: ranges from low to moderate to high to N/A
      5. Residence, Neighborhood & Leisure Activities: this section describes the defendant’s past and present living arrangements and activities they do for fun.
      6. Neighborhood Problems Domain IRAS Score Given: ranges from low to moderate to high to N/A
    7. Personal Health, Attitudes, and Behavior:
      1. Physical Health: this section describes the defendant’s current and past physical health related issues
      2. Mental Health: this section describes the defendant’s current and past mental health related issues
      3. Substance Abuse: this section describes the defendant’s current and past substance-abuse related issues (i.e. drug dependency, experimentation, etc.)
        1. Substance Abuse IRAS Score Given: ranges from low to moderate to high to N/A
      4. Attitudes and Behavior Orientation: this section describes the cooperation of the defendant during the PSI and their overall attitude towards the case and crimes in general. They typically ask whether you believe in “doing unto others before they do unto you.” Obviously, this should be “no.”
        1. Criminal Attitudes & Behavioral Patterns IRAS Score Given: ranges from low to moderate to high to N/A
      5. IRAS Bar Chart: this section breaks down all of the IRAS scores above and combines them in a bar chart. It then averages all of the sections to create an overall IRAS score…basically an overall risk to re-offend based on the established factors. Certain crimes, like sex crimes, can be adjusted to higher levels regardless of the scores above.
      6. Evaluation/Summary: this section creates a quick snapshot of all the other sections combined into one easy to read narrative.
      7. Aggravating and Mitigation Circumstances: this section discusses the statutory aggravating and mitigating circumstances that can increase or decrease the advisory sentence a judge could impose.
      8. Recommendation: this section is probably the most important section. This is where the probation evaluates the appropriate recommendation the court should impose/consider. If it is based on a plea agreement, they will first discuss whether it is a legal plea, then they will discuss if it should be accepted or rejected. Finally, they will offer a proposed sentence if it is different than a plea or there is no set term offered by the state or the defense. Judges tend to follow probation’s recommendations, as they should be grounded in Evidence Based Practices.

If you have any questions about your case or how the new laws may impact your situation give our Indianapolis criminal attorneys a call at Banks & Brower 24/7 at (317) 870-0019 or email us at info@banksbrower.com.