Presentence services in the Northern District of Texas will conform with the Guidelines established by the Administrative Office of the United States Courts as found in the Guide to Judiciary Policies and Procedures, Vol. X, The Presentence Investigation Report, Publication 107, and Rule 32 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.
The information contained in this guide is offered to assist in understanding the Presentence Report process. However, the requirements of the Court are subject to change without notice, and this guide should not be considered definitive. Procedures also vary from judge to judge, and from office to office, within the District. This guide is not binding on the Court or the U.S. Probation Office.
I'm Convicted… Now What?
After you plead guilty, or are found guilty by a jury or the judge, the judge will order a probation officer to prepare a Presentence Report, or "PSR," and schedule your sentencing hearing. Usually, in the federal system, you cannot be sentenced without a PSR. Federal probation officers work for federal judges (or "the Court"), including the one assigned to your case. Because these officers work for the Judge, they are genuinely interested in the truth, who you are, and in being fair to all sides.
What is a Presentence Report (PSR)?
A PSR is a legal and confidential (or private) report the Court will use to help determine a fair sentence specifically for you. The PSR is not accessible through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The PSR contains facts about the offense, your criminal history, and about your background. At first, the PSR is disclosed only to the Court, your attorney or you, and the prosecuting attorney. After you are sentenced, the PSR will be read by employees of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (if you receive prison time) to determine placement, programming, and any treatment needs you may have. Federal probation officers assigned to supervise you in the future will also read your PSR in order to learn more about your background in order to effectively supervise you in the community following release from custody.
A Presentence Report has six major parts:
- Part A shows everything that has happened in your case so far, from your arrest to when you are scheduled to be sentenced; discusses what happened during the offense(s) of conviction; the impact of the offense on the victim(s); your acceptance of responsibility for the offense; and how the Federal Sentencing Guidelines apply to the facts of your case.
- Part B lists and describes any arrests and convictions you have had before now, and scores them to obtain your Criminal History score.
- Part C is all about you. This section discusses your personal background and family information, your financial status, and any information you or your family, friends, or employers want the judge to know about you.
- Part D lays out the guideline range computed by the probation officer and the minimum and maximum punishments required by the law. It is important to remember the probation officer does not decide your sentence. Only the judge can decide your sentence and resolve any disagreements about your case.
- Parts E and F discuss identified offense or personal history factors the judge may use to give you a lower or higher sentence than the guideline range stated in Part D of the PSR.
The PSR Interview
After a probation officer is assigned to your case, you will meet with him or her, either in the probation office, at whichever facility you are being held, or another location, if necessary. You have the right to have your attorney present with you during this interview, but you may also choose to be interviewed alone. Plan on speaking with your probation officer for about two hours, and keep in mind you may be asked follow-up questions on a later date. Please talk with your attorney before the interview about what to expect and how you may want to answer different questions, so you can reduce any anxiety before the interview. You have the right to not answer anything your attorney has suggested you should not.
As you can see from these forms used during the PSR process, the probation officer will ask you about, among other things: your childhood, any abuse you have gone through, family members and their support of you, places you have lived, marriages, divorces, children, medical history, mental health, education, military service, any drug problems, your past arrests and convictions, any terms of probation or parole (when you have been "on paper"), and, about how you got involved in the offense.
Your probation officer will also ask you about how you've accepted responsibility for breaking the law. It is important to be aware that, in the federal system, defendants who do not clearly accept responsibility for their actions can receive harsher sentences than those who admit they broke the law, follow the rules of the Court, and continue to follow the law.
Your probation officer will also ask you about the assets you and your spouse own, any cash you have, and any debts you owe. The reason you will be asked about your financial situation is because, under the law, the Court is required to determine if you have the ability to pay a fine or, in some cases, restitution to victims. Restitution can be mandatory, and the financial information you provide will be used to determine monthly payments. Because of this, and because your officer will investigate and confirm the information you provide, it is very important you give truthful information about your financial situation. You may also be asked to provide documents such as, but not limited to, statements, deeds, and titles, which support the information you provide verbally, and on a variety of financial forms. If you do not have the assets or money to pay a fine, it is highly unlikely the Judge will order you to pay a fine. However, as with your sentence, the final decision regarding a fine rests with the Judge.
Finally, you will be asked to sign a variety of release forms that will allow your officer to access government records, as well as educational, medical, psychiatric, and employment information about you. Some of these forms will also ask you to promise you are providing truthful financial information to your officer.
This may seem like a lot of personal information to tell a stranger, but your probation officer asks these questions so that the Judge can get to know you and how you became the person you are today. Without this information, your PSR may end up containing a lot of information about your offense and criminal history, and not very much about you. This is why it's very important to be honest and open with your probation officer, and ask your family and friends to do the same when they are contacted by the probation officer (information on that process is found here). In fact, please be sure to tell your probation officer the things in your life that you're proud of, such as school achievements, awards, and volunteer work. Also be sure to also tell your officer about future school or work goals, any treatment needs, and how you plan on living your life once all of this is behind you. These are important details about you that the Judge will want to know.
After Your Interview
After your interview, your probation officer will begin an independent investigation into the offense, by reviewing reports and interviewing the investigating agents and anyone else involved. Your probation officer will also begin verifying your background and financial information by reviewing documents and conducting interviews with people who know you well and, possibly, the investigating agents. The role of the probation officer, at all stages of this investigation, is always the same: to gather and verify as much relevant information as possible, and to remain impartial and fair to all parties.
During your interview, you may have been asked to provide documents to support your personal information; for example: pay stubs, marriage certificates, divorce decrees, diplomas, and financial documents. After the interview, you may be contacted again by your probation officer and asked to provide additional information or help him or her understand the information in your documents. Please provide whatever documents you are asked to provide to your probation officer by the requested date. By doing this, you will not only help your probation officer prepare an accurate report, but your level of cooperation may be taken into consideration by the Judge when he or she decides your sentence.
After the interview, your probation officer may also schedule a home visit with your family. For more information on this part of the process, please click here.
Please keep in mind, whether you are being held in a facility or are free on bond before your sentencing, any violation of law, facility rules, or orders of the Court could cause you to lose the benefit of accepting responsibility for your offense. If the Judge decides not to award this benefit to you, you could be facing a harsher sentence.
When your PSR is complete, it will be disclosed, or sent, to your attorney, the government's attorney, and the Court. Once your PSR is disclosed, your attorney is required to go over the report with you. If you see any information that is incorrect, or if you disagree with how the guidelines are computed, your attorney can file objections to the PSR. Your probation officer will research the objections and file a response, called an Addendum. If there are still any unresolved objections by the day you are sentenced, the Judge will resolve any disagreements before pronouncing your final sentence.
Probation officers understand it can be very overwhelming to read about the offense and yourself in a written report. We also understand, at this moment in your life, you may be worried about what will happen to you in Court and what your future will bring. If there ever comes a time when the stress becomes too much, please do not keep it to yourself. Talk with your pretrial supervision officer, your attorney, your doctor or therapist, or the medical staff at the facility where you are being held. There are people and resources available to help you through this process, so please do not hesitate to ask for help.