Readers (the 4 of you know who you are) are aware that I am a criminal defense lawyer in Atlanta who’s specializes in federal cases and criminal appeals. My cases in federal court are often in Georgia, but also take me to other parts of the country. Today, I am meeting with a client in Atlanta to go over the Presentence Investigation Report (or “PSR”) for her case in federal court in Texas. So, let’s talk about the PSR.
A PSR is the document that is sort of the beginning and the end of a federal criminal sentencing process. If a Defendant is found guilty, by pleading or through a jury verdict, the sentencing hearing does not happen right away. Instead, federal sentencing hearings happen 2-3 months after the plea or verdict. During this intervening period, a United States Probation Officer (often called the “PO”) has to prepare the PSR, which is a lengthy document designed to tell the Judge more about the Defendant as a person and how the federal sentencing guidelines might apply to that person and his or her crime. See more on the sentencing process here.
The start of the PSR is when the PO wants to interview the Defendant. Here is often Mistake #1 made by inexperienced or substandard lawyers. To being with, it is close to malpractice for the lawyer to NOT attend this session with the PO, although I have seen lots of lawyers allow their clients to do so, often with disastrous results for the client down the road. The PO is basically an arm of the court and works for the Judge, so this is mostly the first time for the accused person to make an impression, good or bad. Also, there are pesky rules and court cases holding that a false or even misleading statement to the PO can qualify as “obstruction of justice”, so the lawyer damn well should be present to make sure that his or her client does not lie or otherwise screw up this first impression on the Judge’s PO!