Federal Sentencing: The Pre-Sentence Report

Sentencing in Federal Court: Presentence Investigation Reports and Guidelines Range

The process of sentencing in federal court is quite different from that in Florida state criminal courts. In both Florida and federal criminal courts, the first phase of any criminal prosecution is the guilt phase. If a case is brought to trial at the conclusion of the trial, the jury determines whether the evidence is of sufficient quality, that is beyond a reasonable doubt, to sustain or support a finding of guilt. This is true in Florida federal courts as well as Florida state criminal courts.

The next phase is the sentencing phase, which is quite different in Florida federal and state courts. In the federal courts upon an entry of plea, or adjudication by a jury of guilt, the process begins with the federal judge ordering a presentence investigation.

For the presentence investigation, an interview is set up between the defendant and the federal probation department. The interview is set usually immediately after a determination of guilt. So by way of illustration: If you enter a plea of guilty in federal court and the judge accepts your change of plea he will immediately, that means right after court, send you to a federal probation office usually in the federal courthouse. The client is interviewed. The probation officer does extensive background research into all aspects of your life: your character, your criminal history, the nature and the facts involved in the case, your family, and your finances. The probation officer will often interview co-defendants who have pled guilty, and members of your household, as well as victims. During these 60 days, the probation officer will complete a presentence investigation, of which the results will be in the presentence investigation report. The report not only contains the background of the defendant and the stipulated or agreed facts of the case, but it also gets into the federal sentencing guidelines scoring system.

In 1984, by congressional act, the United States Congress created the United States Sentencing Commission. The Commission publishes an extensive set of rules, regulations, guidelines, and policy statements.

You must be familiar with your federal criminal code and the sentencing guidelines to go through this process. Once the presentence report is submitted to the federal prosecutor and the defense attorney, you have 10 days to file any objections. The objections focus on the guidelines calculation. The result of the calculation is a numerical number indicating your sentencing score. There are two categories: Criminal history and offense level. By looking at the sentencing table and knowing your criminal history category and your offense level, you will be able to determine the range, in months of the guidelines sentence. So for example, if your offense level is 27 and your criminal history category is three, the sentencing guidelines range is 87 to 108 months.

A series of cases, beginning in 2004 and into the present, marks a significant change in sentencing. Now in federal court, the guidelines range and the guidelines score is advisory to the federal criminal judge. Advisory means the judge must take the guidelines into consideration before imposing a sentence. This balancing of the guidelines range and the considerations contained in 18 U.S. Code § 3553 is the process of the sentencing hearing.