What is a presentence report?

If you’ve found yourself in the middle of a criminal case and have been struggling to understand some of the terms used throughout the process, don’t feel alone. Times like these can be confusing, frustrating, and down right scary. If you’re facing jail time the fear you’re feeling can be overwhelming.

Part of the sentencing process for criminal cases can include what’s called a presentence report. This happens later in your case after you’ve been arrested, charged, and begun the process of going through the courts.

The process might seem daunting, but in federal court it’s actually a critical part of the justice system and the best way to ensure it works as it is supposed to. In New Hampshire state court, it is not used as often, but is still sometimes requested by the Judge .

What exactly is a presentence report? Read on to learn more about what this part of your case is and how our team at Cohen & Winters might help you navigate it.

What is a presentence report?

Presentence reports are reports put together by a probation officer to help a judge determine sentencing for a defendant. The first step to creating a presentence report is for the probation officer to review the case and interview the defendant. 

Most commonly, serious misdemeanors and felonies rely on presentence reports for sentencing.

Once the defendant has been interviewed, the probation officer then moves on to interviewing the victim, arresting office, and possibly even family and friends depending on the case.

In federal court, the probation officer summarizes all the facts gathered and then calculates the federal sentencing guidelines, including a range of incarceration length. The guidelines decision can be challenged by either the government or the defendant. The Judge has the final decision about the appropriate sentencing guidelines.  The Judge does not have to sentence the defendant within the Guidelines range, but she must strongly consider them.

The process of interviewing and evaluating everything helps the probation officer make a fair recommendation on sentencing to the judge. The probation officers’s goal is to  a sentencing recommendation that offers the best chance for growth and rehabilitation to the defendant, and justice to the victim. 

Presentence reports usually include:

  • version of the criminal act giving rise to the conviction 
  • reason or motive for committing the crime 
  • prior criminal record, including juvenile record 
  • personal and family history 
  • education 
  • employment history 
  • health 
  • past and present alcohol and drug use 
  • financial status, and 
  • military record (if any)

Your Presentence Interview

Depending on the circumstances of your crime, you may be required to attend a presentence interview in-person or through Zoom. When you attend your interview it’s important that you’re polite, patient, and answer just the questions that are asked. Don’t add more details than are necessary.

It’s also critical that your dress properly. Our article on how to dress for court should help you get an idea of what to wear.

As experienced criminal defense attorneys, we advise our clients on how to best answer questions, what to wear, and what to expect. It’s one of the many ways we try to impact your overall presentence experience.

Victim Statements

The presentence report and investigation process also involves the probation officer contacting the victim and speaking with them directly. They’ll want to know how the victim was impacted, how they suffered, and what their thoughts are on the sentencing of the defendant.

Victim impact statements typically cover the following:

  • How the crime affected their family
  • The emotional impact of the crime on the victim and their family
  • The financial impact
  • Recommendations on sentencing
  • Additional details for the court

What does a defense attorney do during the presentence reporting period?

During the presentence reporting period – the time when all the data is being gathered – the defense attorney will attempt to paint the best picture possible for the defendant. This might include detailing good things they have done, collecting statements from friends, families, and employers about the overall nature of a person, and then transmitting that information to the probation officer. The goal is to make the defendant appear as favorable as possible and decrease the severity of sentencing. 

Ensuring Your Get a Fair Presentence Report

Your presentence reporting should be fair. We work to ensure this is the case through several methods:

  • We’ll research alternative sentencing options that night better fit the crime and make more sense outside of what traditional sentencing night include
  • Suggest drug treatment or rehab if applicable so you’re given a fresh lease on life
  • Prepare a written statement explaining why a defendant deserves alternative sentencing
  • Perform legal research that may be relevant to the sentencing guidelines range
  • Sometimes we seek a presentence report written by someone other than a probation officer so that your case is looked at from a different perspective than that of traditional sentencing

Are you in need of a criminal attorney who is familiar not just with New Hampshire’s criminal laws, but also local laws? Schedule a free consultation with our New Hampshire criminal law team to get an honest review and assessment of your case and needs.

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