The presentence investigation report assists the court with the selection of an appropriate sentence. These reports are completed by United States Probation Officers, assigned by the Court when a person enters a guilty plea or receives a guilty verdict following a trial. Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure (Rule 32) requires a probation officer to conduct a presentence investigation report for the court in almost every case. The probation officer works as an independent investigator and gathers and verifies important information about the offense and the defendant for inclusion in the presentence report. If restitution is owed by the defendant, the rules state a presentence report must always be conducted.
The presentence investigation requires the officer to gather and verify important information about the offense and the defendant for inclusion in the presentence report. Information is gathered in two primary ways: conducting interviews and reviewing documents. The presentence investigation must:
- identify all applicable sentencing guidelines and policy statements of the U.S. Sentencing Commission;
- calculate the defendant’s offense level and criminal history category;
- state the resulting sentencing range and the kinds of sentences available; and
- identify any factors relevant to the appropriate kind of sentence, or the appropriate sentence within the applicable guideline range, and the identify any basis for departing from the applicable sentencing range.
After completion of all necessary interviews and gathering of needed documents, the probation officer prepares the presentence report to assist the court in determining an appropriate sentence. The presentence report must contain the following information:
- the defendant’s history and characteristics including any prior criminal record;
- the defendant’s financial condition
- any circumstances affecting the defendant’s behavior that may be helpful in imposing sentence or in correctional treatment;
- verified information that assesses the financial, social, psychological and/or medical impact of any victim of the offense;
- the nature and extent of non-prison programs and resources available to the defendant;
- sufficient information on which to order restitution; and
- and any other information the court requires.
The Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 adopted a mandatory set of sentencing guidelines; under the current system the sentencing court is required to consider the sentencing options recommended by the sentencing guidelines, but judges are free to impose any sentence authorized by law.