What is a Presentence Investigation?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A presentence investigation, also called a presentencing investigation or PSI, is an investigation, usually conducted by a probation officer, which is designed to provide additional information about an offender which can be used by a judge when determining an appropriate sentence. In some regions of the world, a PSI is required for certain types of crimes, especially major ones, while in other cases it may be optional or waived under some circumstances. Lawyers may also conduct their own presentencing investigations on behalf of their clients.

A presentence investigation can help determine which prison is best for someone scheduled to serve time.
A presentence investigation can help determine which prison is best for someone scheduled to serve time.

The purpose of the presentence investigation is to generate a complete profile of the offender. It includes basic demographic information along with interviews from the offender, family members, and other people who have come into contact with the offender. Presentence investigations can also go into things like prior convictions, medical and psychological history, and so forth. Any information which would shed light on the offender and potentially demonstrate that mitigating circumstances were involved can be included. In addition, victim impact statements may be added.

A judge may use a pre-sentence investigation before determining an appropriate sentence.
A judge may use a pre-sentence investigation before determining an appropriate sentence.

With the conviction and sentencing guidelines in mind, a judge reads through the presentence investigation and considers the information when deciding which sentence would be most appropriate. There may be evidence which would lead to leniency, or evidence which would suggest that a harsher sentence may be advised. The presentence investigative report gives the judge a better picture of who the offender is, not just what the offender did, and this information can be balanced in sentencing decisions where the legislature has not created a mandatory sentence.

In addition to being used when developing sentences, presentence investigation reports are also utilized to decide which prison facility would be most appropriate for an offender, based on crime and personal history. Because the report often includes confidential and personal information, it must be kept secured and only released to people who are authorized to read it.

After a conviction, the offender should take care to read the presentence investigation before the sentence is delivered. If information in the report is wrong, it should be brought up with an attorney so that it can be corrected. It's also important to make sure that the report includes a complete list of family members to avoid problems with visitation. If a lawyer fails to correct problems with the report, the prisoner should bring it up at the sentencing hearing before the judge delivers the sentence, as the errors may have bearing on the decision of the judge.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@indemnifyme - I actually disagree with you both. I think every one should receive the same sentence after being convicted of the same crime. I don't think there should be any "leniency" because of other factors.

A crime is a crime. Criminals should be punished, regardless of whether a victim impact statement is given.


@Azuza - I think victim impact statements are important too. However, I don't think they're the most important thing to consider when sentencing someone.

I feel like their past history should come into play a little bit also. Do they have a criminal record, or is it a first offense? I also think their psychological history should be a factor too.


I've never heard of this, but I have heard of victim impact statements. I think that victim impact statements should hold a lot of weight during sentencing.

Having been the victim of a violent crime myself, I know first hand how much it can change your whole life. I had horrible post traumatic stress disorder and a whole lot of other problems after my "incident."

My attacker was never caught, but if he had been I would have said all of that in my victim impact statement in hopes that he would get maximum sentencing.

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