The Importance of a Pre-Sentence Report

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If someone has been convicted of or plead guilty to a federal crime, the pre-sentence report is perhaps the most important document in his or her life. This is a formal report issued by the U.S. Probation Office that is presented to the judge. The report details what the Probation Office thinks is an appropriate sentence for the convicted criminal and why the office thinks the sentence is appropriate. Here is a list of things that might be included in the report:

  • The Federal Sentencing Guidelines’ recommendation
  • The defendant’s criminal history
  • The impact of the crime on the victim
  • The willingness of the defendant to cooperate
  • The psychological history of the defendant
  • The finances of the defendant
  • A sentencing recommendation

The Federal Sentencing Guidelines

To adequately explain the Federal Sentencing Guidelines is an article in and of itself. Briefly, most federal crimes have a suggested term of imprisonment. The length depends on the severity of the crime and the criminal history of the defendant. When these two things are put together, the length of time that the defendant should serve in prison can be calculated.

The Defendant’s Criminal History

Because the Federal Sentencing Guidelines depend on the criminal history of the defendant, the U.S. Probation Office needs to find out what that history is. It will look at all the past crimes that the defendant has committed and include that information in the Pre-Sentence Report.

Victim Impact

In some cases, the Probation Office will speak to the victim of the crime and include how the crime affected the victim in the report. This is a way to let the judge know how much of an effect the crime actually had on the public welfare. For example, if a defendant murdered a father of five young children, the impact might be greater than if the defendant had murdered someone with no children.


The United States court system operates under the assumption that criminals who cooperate with prosecutors and the Probation Office are showing some signs of contrition for their crimes. Showing contrition or not can impact the ultimate length of the sentence that is imposed for the crime.

Defendant’s Psychological History

If a defendant has a history of psychological problems that might have had an effect on the crime, then it is important for the judge to know that for sentencing purposes. The information can assist the judge in deciding whether rehabilitation might be possible with counseling, for example.

Defendant’s Finances

In addition to prison sentences, many people convicted of crimes are also ordered to pay fines. Knowing how much the defendant can reasonably afford is important for judges so that they can impose fair fines that are not unduly harsh.

Sentencing Recommendation

This is the most important part of the Pre-Sentence Report. It is the U.S. Probation Office’s opinion about what is appropriate in the particular case and carries great weight with judges. The sentence can include prison time, fines, and/or restitution.

Why It’s Important

Hopefully, by now it is obvious why the Pre-Sentence Report is important. It is the first thing the judge sees that tells him or her how the defendant should be punished. Attorneys on both sides of the case can  object to the report, but judges give the reports great weight when they rule on sentences for criminal defendants.

What You Can Do

If you have been convicted of a crime, you should be extremely cooperative with the U.S. Probation Office while it conducts its investigation for the Pre-Sentence Report. This is not a good time to be difficult and defiant. Being nice to the probation officer conducting the report can lead to a lesser sentence. You should make sure that the officer has everything that could possibly be in your favor. Talk to your defense attorney about what some of those things might be and how you can explain their importance to the Probation Office. You want to make sure everything important gets included in the report that is ultimately issued.