What is a PSI?

Last Updated on May 11, 2022 by Fair Punishment Team

In American criminal law, a PSI stands for a Pre Sentence Investigation. If you are scheduled for a PSI appointment you will be interviewed by an PSI officer who will ask questions pertaining to your biographical background and your current case.

The court orders these interviews to take place after any felony conviction or plea, to inform their sentencing decision. PSI reports are then handed to the judge to be studied in order to ensure that an appropriate sentencing decision is reached.

Who is Eligible for a Presentencing Investigation?

Anyone who has been convicted of a felony or federal crime in the United States of America will be subject to a PSI report. Individuals who are entering a plea in relation to a criminal charge will also be subject to a PSI. Individuals may also face a PSI in custody hearings and in parole and appeal hearings.

Who Conducts and Writes Presentence Investigations and Reports?

Presentence Investigation interviews are conducted by specialist Probation Officers, and the reports are written up by the same party. Once the investigation is complete, the probation officer may work with his or her superiors in order to formulate accurate and proper sentencing recommendations for the criminal.

The probation officer may then be asked to confer with the sentencing judge prior to the sentencing hearing, and in some cases may have to give testimony relating to the findings of their investigation at the hearing.

What Happens in a PSI?

When the court orders a PSI report to be conducted, a probation officer will begin by conducting an in person interview with the convicted person. This interview generally takes place in the Probation Office and lasts between 2 and 4 hours. Of course, the length of the interview depends on the case, on the cooperation of the interviewee, and on the probation officer.

It can be an intense and stressful experience for some convicts as the result of the interview can directly impact the severity of the sentence they will receive. In some circumstances probation officers will also conduct interviews with other family members, character witnesses, and officials involved in the trial in order to create as full a picture of the case as possible.

Some probation officers will even do home visits to get a clearer sense of the convicted party’s circumstances.

What is the Purpose of a PSI Report?

The purpose of a PSI is to establish facts and details about the criminal that can inform the judge about their wider life, circumstances and backstory. This is because there may be mitigating circumstances relating to the convict that were not brought up in the trial which explain or shed light on why they committed the crime.

Often the information in the report is not centered on the events of the case whatsoever. The PSI report looks to fill in the gaps for the judge and to paint a fully formed picture of the person that the judge is about to sentence.

In the same way, PSI reports are designed to take into consideration the impact that the criminal’s behavior had on their victim and victim’s family in cases where a victim is involved. The judge needs to have a balanced overview of the full circumstances surrounding the case for the criminal, and of the lasting consequences of the case on others.

The report then aids the judge as they decide how long and severe a sentence the criminal should receive.

What is covered in a PSI Report?

As aforementioned, the purpose of a PSI report is not to gather information relating to the specific criminal case – that happens in the trial and is the job of the police investigators and the legal teams. The information covered in the PSI report relates to the criminal’s life, circumstances, relationships and behaviors outside of their criminal case.

This is because these external factors may have played a part in the criminals choices and actions leading up to the committal of their crime.

  • The PSI report covers any past convictions that a person may have received, or any run-ins with the law that did not lead to convictions – like arrests or accusations etc. This is to establish whether the person in question is prone to criminality and has shown a negative pattern of behavior in that area.
  • As well as past criminal records, the PSI covers past medical records and history. This includes both mental and physical health. Any past drug or alcohol addictions will be covered in the report, as well as any history of depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, suicidal tendencies or attempts, and any other note worthy mental or physical history. This is to establish whether past medical issues may have had an impact on the person in question’s state of mind at the time of their crime.
  • The criminal’s education and school attendance are covered in the PSI, as well as any qualifications they may have achieved in their life and any expulsions from school or instances of bad behavior whilst at school. This is to determine whether wider social factors may have contributed to the criminal’s behavior. Inequality, missed opportunities and lack of support in early life can all be considered mitigating factors.
  • The criminal’s employment history is covered in the PSI report, including any promotions they may have received, as well as times they may have been dismissed or had disciplinaries at work. A positive work record can work in the criminal’s favor as it shows they were an upstanding member of society before their crime took place. Negative working relations and history may demonstrate the opposite.
  • The PSI report also looks into the criminal’s financial situation and history to see if there are any outstanding debts or sudden changes in monetary situation that may have affected their choices and behaviors at the time of the crime.
  • The PSI report covers any history of abuse that the criminal may have experienced as a child. This is so that the judge can understand the environment and wider factors that may have contributed to the criminal behavior.
  • Family history is also covered in the PSI report in order to give the judge as accurate a picture of the criminal’s backstory as possible.
  • Military service and military records are also covered in the report, as a good military record can demonstrate positive qualities about a criminal, and military action which leads to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can explain certain criminal actions.

Does a PSI Report Directly Affect Sentencing?

A PSI report can never be used as evidence, and it does not in any way affect whether or not a person is found guilty. In fact, a PSI report is only ever conducted after a guilty verdict has been reached in a case. The PSI report can affect the length and severity of the sentence that a guilty individual receives however.

The sentencing judge will study the report in detail and be guided by its findings as well as by the severity and circumstances of the case as presented in the trial. It is then down to the judge to decide on the final sentence and they may be as influenced or uninfluenced by the report as they deem necessary.