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What Is a Pre-Sentence Report?

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  • Written By: Mona D. Rigdon
  • Edited By: J.T. Gale
  • Last Modified Date: 06 November 2014
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In many criminal cases, a guilty verdict is not immediately followed by the pronouncement of a sentence. This is often due to the necessity of an investigation into certain aspects of the offender's life and into the community support system. After the investigation is complete, a pre-sentence report is compiled and given to the judge to provide a detailed picture of the offender and circumstances surrounding the crime; it also offers more information used to determine the best sentencing option for a particular offender. The pre-sentence report is relied upon by judges around the world to assist in determining how dangerous a criminal might be, how likely the criminal is to re-offend, what type of sentence would be an effective method of rehabilitation or retribution, and what type of support system the offender is likely to have upon completion of the sentence.

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The pre-sentence report is generally prepared by a court-authorized officer from a probation or other corrections department after a detailed pre-sentence investigation. An investigation includes a detailed look at an offender's background and social history, medical records and psychological reports – not just criminal record. Many times the court-authorized officer will ask the offender to fill out a history form that aids in the investigation and presentation of facts to the judge. This form usually provides information such as marital status, children, job history, religious preference and involvement, hobbies, interests, and financial status. Information of this type can help the court understand who the offender is outside of the offense.

Other information contained in a pre-sentence report generally consists of a detailed report of all circumstances surrounding the crime, including those not admitted as evidence during trial and a victim impact statement. These reports and statements allow the court to understand what occurred leading up to the crime, during the crime, and after the crime. The statements also speak for the victim and the victim's family, how the crime has affected them, and how likely it will continue to have an impact on them.

More technical data is generally included in the pre-sentence report, as well. The officer compiling the report must determine what programs might be available to assist the offender. Treatment centers, vocational training, special education services, mental health services, rehabilitation services, various institutions to which the offender might be sentenced, and specific programs within those facilities are included in the report. Other residential facilities or probation departments that are relevant to the situation of the particular offender and sentencing offense are included, as well.

Because the pre-sentence report generally contains highly sensitive information, it is usually sealed and not a matter of public record in most jurisdictions. A copy of the report is given to the offender, a juvenile offender's guardian, and counsel for the offender. Objections and requests for amendment are generally allowed to be presented before the court to correct any errors before sentencing. Once a judge has reviewed the pre-sentence report, he or she then pronounces a specific sentence based upon statute and his or her understanding of the crime, the victim impact, and the offender as presented through the pre-sentence investigation and report.

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