Are parties bound to the PSI report and its contents alone, or can live witnesses also be called at the PSI sentencing hearing in addition to the written report? In other words, can the defendant call witnesses for purposes other than to correct inaccuracies to the report - as if it were a full blown punishment hearing?
We call live witnesses at basically every PSI sentencing hearing that we have. Typically this includes the preparing probation officer to add some more detail to what's in the report, and sometimes officers from prior crimes to prove up the facts and circumstances of those convictions. It may also be a chance to prove up extraneous bad acts from the original offense if they were excluded during a trial.
What kinds of questions do you ask the probation officer? I'm assuming: Was the defendant remorseful? Did he seem forthcoming and honest? What is your recommendation on punishment? Any other issues you can suggest, recommend? Thank you.
Some of the questioning that I do is to 1) make sure that the Judge actually understands the content of the report and 2) provide a clearer record to head off appeals. So I want the officer to briefly summarize the PSI, and I pay particular attention to any statements regarding this offense, and the defendant's prior history.
But yes- honesty, attitude, whether or not the defendant seems to understand the requirements of probation. Our probation department won't make a punishment recommendation, but they WILL talk about what kinds of services would be available that might be of use to this particular defendant. If they have a substantial drug problem, I'll ask about relative success of SAFP versus outpatient probation treatment. We'll talk about how even intensive supervision doesn't mean a babysitter, about the various ways that probation can fail and who that presents dangers to.
In our smaller jurisdiction it's extremely likely that the officer has supervised the defendant on some OTHER probation, even if it's a misdemeanor. So we'll absolutely talk about how they did last time, whether they made all their appointments, if they ever tested dirty or made admissions of drug use, etc.
In some instances there isn't that much to talk about. In some cases I've called multiple probation officers- the one that did the PSI, a probation officer from previous supervision, and our drug counselor to talk about SAFP v. outpatient.
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