How Do I Understand PSRs and Sentencing Hearings?

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Dear Resilient Course Visitor: 

There are two pathways to a sentencing hearing. One pathway is for a jury or judge to convict you of a crime. The second pathway is through a plea agreement. Both paths lead to a criminal conviction. A sentencing procedure follows. 

The best outcome at sentencing starts with knowledge of the sentencing process. 


The Presentence Investigation Report  (PSR)

After a conviction, the judge will order a Presentence Investigation. A probation officer will investigate you and other people you know. That investigation will result in a written report that has enormous influence on the person’s life if he goes into the prison system. The judicial system typically refers to the report as the PSR. People that work in the prison system refer to this report as the PSI. Stakeholders refer to the same report as either the PSI or PSR. 

The presentence investigation report influences the sentencing hearing. In our Reframe Course, you can learn techniques to prepare for the PSR, for sentencing, and for prison. Lawyers may focus on court proceedings and sentencing. Yet anyone convicted of a crime should know more. 

What relevance does the PSR have following the sentencing hearing? The report will influence the following proceedings: 

  • Placement in the Bureau of Prisons
  • Access to programs in the Bureau of Prisons
  • Access to medical treatment.
  • Access to quarters assignments.
  • Exposure to violence.
  • Eligibility for programs that can lead to early release in the Bureau of Prisons
  • Eligibility for transfer to a halfway house
  • Eligibility for transfer to home confinement
  • Level of liberty on Supervised Release
  • Eligibility for early termination on Supervised Release

Some defense lawyers fail to prepare clients for the PSR. Lawyers focus on court and sentencing. Then they move on. They may not realize how the PSR influences life in prison. Defendants should learn everything there is to know about the PSR, long before the investigation. 

Take appropriate steps to get the best possible outcome. 


Sentencing Hearing

The probation officer drafts the PSR report. Both the prosecutor and the defense attorney review the PSR. They can object and request revisions.

The PSR will calculate the appropriate sentencing range. In the feds, the range complies with the federal sentencing guidelines. State sentencing systems use a framework for judges to consider at sentencing, too. 

The federal sentencing guidelines are advisory. They're not mandatory. Still, federal judges typically use the guidelines as a starting point. Defendants should learn about the guidelines. The more defendants know, the better they can prepare to influence the sentence. 

It’s impossible to change the past. We can sow seeds to build a better future. Start to prepare by reading guidelines. Read about sentencing decisions in different venues. If you can't prepare, then hire an expert to guide you.

It's obvious that a judge will consider the crime. A judge will also take the conduct of the offender into account. Title 18 of the US Code, section 3553, describes sentencing procedures. A federal judge considers several factors, including the history and characteristics of the defendant.

The need for the sentence to:

  • Reflect the seriousness of the offense
  • Promote respect for the law
  • Provide just punishment
  • Provide for adequate deterrence
  • Protect the public from further crimes by the defendant
  • Provide the defendant with needed educational or vocational training, medical care, other correctional treatment in the most effective manner
  • Avoid unwarranted sentence disparities among defendants with similar records.
  • Provide restitution to any victims of the offense.

How can a person use the factors above to prepare for sentencing? Think creatively. 

To the extent that a person anticipates those factors, he sows seeds. Those seeds can influence a better outcome. 

The sentencing hearing will result with the judge making a ruling. That ruling may include time in prison. It may include a monetary fine or restitution order. It may include probation. It may include a term of Supervised Release.

Learn the facts. The the American Bar Association provides some guidance. About 97% of all people charged in federal court plead guilty. Of those who go to trial, 25% prevail. Juries find 75% of people that go to trial guilty. When the feds charge a person with a crime, a sentencing hearing will follow. That happens 99% of the time.  More than 85% of those people will serve time in federal prison. 

Consider those statistics. Prepare for sentencing wisely. Every defendant (and the defendant’s family) should learn. Research. Ask questions. Learn as much as possible. Learn before the sentencing hearing. 

Take initiative if your attorney isn't preparing you for sentencing. You can hire a guide to help you. Or you can research and learn and prepare for sentencing. 

Members of our Reframe Course can access information that we publish regularly. Read and learn to restore confidence in your ability to overcome and reframe your life.

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