Pre-Sentence Investigations, Reports, and Sentencing
Criminal Division staff prepare Pre-sentence investigations for Criminal Judges who render sentences on all convicted defendants. The Pre-sentence investigation report is designed to assist a judge in weighing the circumstances of the crime, a defendant's criminal and juvenile record, and overall life situation in relation to the severity of the sentence. The investigative reports provide a uniform assessment of a defendant's overall family, medical and criminal background. Offense circumstances are summarized and statements are received from victims and their families. Assessments of drug abuse history and the amenability to probation supervision and treatment are assessed. Financial conditions of defendants are considered, since most sentences involve a fine, penalty, restitution or reimbursement to a victim. Assessments of defendant's situations and their suitability for probation are also discussed. Reports generally recommend either prison or probation. Judges are obviously not bound by this advice, but this insight is essential in the criminal sentencing process.
Judges consider the degree of harm and hardship imposed on victims and their families. Mitigating factors, or reasons explaining the crime in light of a defendant's past or present circumstances weigh against aggravating factors which are elements that speak to the severity of the crime. Prior criminal record weighs heavily, and is an indicator of a defendant's potential for rehabilitation based on his past history, as well as the risk posed for another crime if probation is ordered.
In most cases, sentencing judges have some discretion or choices on how they will sentence convicted criminals within the parameters of the Criminal Code. This discretion may extend to whether a defendant must serve time in prison, or receive a term of probation. Of course, a judge's discretion may be limited if there is a plea agreement which contains a sentencing recommendation. Some crimes, such as convictions for using a gun during a robbery, carry mandatory prison terms, where the judge must sentence a criminal to prison for at least a minimum term.