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Presentence Investigation

Research that is conducted by court services or a PROBATION officer relating to the prior criminal record, education, employment, and other information about a person convicted of a crime, for the purpose of assisting the court in passing sentence.

A presentence investigation (PSI) is prepared for persons convicted of serious crimes. In misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor offenses, the court may order a PSI, whereas in felony cases a PSI is mandatory. State and federal statutes (18 U.S.C.A. § 3553(b) [1984]) set PSI requirements and are supplemented by federal and state rules of CRIMINAL PROCEDURE.

The presentence investigation generally consists of an interview with the defendant, a review of his or her criminal record, and a review of the specific facts of the crime. The probation or court services department prepares a report that contains all of this information and makes a recommendation to the court about the type and severity of the sentence. The court always makes the final decision about the sentence, but it may be limited by federal and state sentencing guidelines, which set standard sentences based on the seriousness of the present crime and the previous criminal history of the convicted person. A sentencing guidelines worksheet is often included in the PSI to assist the court in determining whether to depart from the guidelines and enhance or reduce the severity of the standard sentence.

If the court desires more information than is otherwise available to it as a basis for determining the mental condition of the defendant, it may order the defendant to undergo a psychiatric or psychological examination.

Since the 1980s many states have allowed the victims of a crime to participate in the presentencing stage. Some states have victim loss or victim impact forms that give crime victims an opportunity to make people in the criminal justice system aware of the impact a crime has had on their lives. Victims are also encouraged to contact the probation office and provide other relevant information for the PSI.

A PSI often contains a mix of public and confidential information. Information about juveniles and crime victims, as well as psychological reports, are confidential and must be kept out of the public record.


Green, Celillanne. 1983. "Presentence Investigation, Sentencing and Multiple Sentences." Howard Law Journal 27 (summer).



Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationFree Legal Encyclopedia: Prerogative orders to Prohibition