Once a defendant either enters a plea of guilty or is found guilty by jury trial, they enter the next phase of the judicial process as it relates to the U.S. Probation Office. While the defendant, unless detained, is still supervised by the Pretrial Services Officer, he or she will now come into contact with a probation officer assigned to the Presentence Investigation Unit.
Following the change of plea or finding by jury the defendant will meet with a U.S. Probation Officer who will interview the defendant in preparation of completing a presentence investigation report. During this interview, the officer will ask the defendant about his or her family, education, employment, medical history, drug and alcohol use and financial status. The interview is followed by a period of active investigation by the probation officer to both verify the information that was provided and to uncover additional information that will assist the Court in fashioning an appropriate sentence. In addition to the social history information outlined above, the probation officer conducts an independent review of the facts underlying the offense of conviction.
Another important aspect of the presentence investigation report is the inclusion of restitution information in those cases where restitution is a consideration or required by law. This information includes identification of the victim(s) of the case and the precise amount of restitution that should be ordered by the Court. During the investigation into the financial status of the defendant, the probation officer will analyze the defendant's financial records and will recommend to the Court a repayment plan and any lump sum payments that can be made at the time of sentencing.
The presentence investigation report is crucial in the sentencing process. The PSR is designed to provide the court independent, comprehensive, and accurate information about the defendant's offense, criminal background, and social circumstances - personal, family, education, employment, health, and financial. The PSR will also detail for the court the various advisory guideline and statutory sentencing options that are available. The desired outcome of the presentence investigation is providing the court all the information it needs to impose a fair and just sentence. The Federal Bureau of Prison also uses the presentence investigation report where incarceration is the sentence imposed to effectively place the defendant into the proper facility and programs (e.g., substance abuse treatment, sex offender treatment, etc.). Finally, the Supervision Unit of the U.S. Probation Office utilizes the report during the pre-release investigation phase to structure appropriate supervision plans to assist in maximizing the success potential for the defendant under community supervision.