Sometimes, despite the best efforts of yourself and your legal defense team, the facts and circumstances of a case lead to a guilty verdict, or a plea agreement admitting some level of culpability. Most people picture a defendant then being led away in handcuffs to serve out a sentence, like we see on TV shows. The reality is more complex than that. A guilty plea, nolo contendere plea, or guilty verdict is one step in a process that includes another crucial step – the sentencing hearing.
At this point, there is still more work to be done by the prosecution, defense, Department of Corrections, and the judge. Before sentencing can occur, the court usually refers the case to the Department of Corrections for a pre-sentence investigation pursuant to Florida Statutes Sec. 921.231.
The Presentence Investigation (or “PSI”)
What is a presentence investigation? In short, this is a report and recommendation made by the Department of Corrections about a person’s full background and criminal history (if any). A presentence investigation helps the judge to determine whether, at sentencing, they can go light or heavy on the defendant, based on what statutory sentencing guidelines will allow. A PSI that is favorable to the defendant could mean that the judge imposes the bare minimum they are required to sentence, potentially saving months of jail time and thousands in fines.
If the PSI is unfavorable and portrays the defendant as a troubled criminal with a likelihood to reoffend, that can lead to a sentence toward the higher end of statutory guidelines, including additional months in jail or prison. Because of the stakes involved, both prosecutors and defense counsel will have some input on the presentence investigation before it is submitted to the judge in its final form.
Generally, a Florida presentence investigation includes an interview between a probation officer and the defendant. Additional interviews may be conducted with a defendant’s family members, associates, mental health treatment providers, and other people with knowledge of the defendant. They will also interview any crime victims involved in the case, law enforcement officers, and the prosecutor on the case.
The report may include, as exhibits, the defendant’s criminal history records, mental health and other counseling records, employment history, and other pertinent information.
In its final form, the presentence investigation intends to show:
- The circumstances surrounding the crime, including why and how it was committed;
- The defendant’s prior criminal history, and likelihood of reoffense
- Character references and family background
- Mental and physical health histories
- Education and employment histories
Presenting all of this information helps the court get the full picture of a crime and the defendant involved. In many cases, this could be to the defendant’s benefit, as it may show how destructive family dynamics and mental health issues may have led to the commission of a crime, for example. The PSI may show that the defendant simply made a mistake, and their background shows they are unlikely to do it again. These are all factors that could lead to a lesser sentence for the defendant.
A skilled Florida criminal defense attorney may also be able to meet with the probation officer or DOC agent to discuss the defendant’s background and make the case for leniency. In court, a defense attorney will also have an opportunity to address the presentence investigation and rebut any discrepancies or issues their client sees.
The Importance of Having an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney at Sentencing
At the sentencing stage of a criminal case, should it get to that point, a defendant still has opportunities to reduce the length of their sentence and the costs involved. It is crucial that they have a strong legal advocate in their corner who will make sure all important facts and witnesses are available to the officers performing a presentence investigation. Simply standing by and allowing a judge to rubber-stamp a PSI skewed in the prosecution’s favor can cost a defendant months or even years of additional jail time.
Our Tampa Criminal Defense Lawyers at Trombley & Hanes Can Help You Fight for a Fair Sentence Following Conviction
Following a guilty plea or conviction, a defendant’s case is not over. The sentencing and presentence process allows a defendant to paint a clearer picture of their situation to the judge. Sometimes, this can mean a difference or weeks, months, or years in a jail sentence. Not to mention potentially thousands of dollars in fines that can be avoided at the sentencing level. Our Tampa criminal defense attorneys at Trombley & Hanes stand ready to assist you from start to finish – including the sentencing stage if necessary. Call us today for help.