Presentence Investigation

Presentence Investigation

Iowa criminal sentencing is governed by Iowa Code Chapter 901.  Presentence investigations are the first step in many criminal sentencings.

If you've been charged with a crime in Polk County, Iowa, you may be wondering what will happen to you.  Here's a quick overview of what to expect.

After you plead guilty, accept a plea bargain, or are found guilty by the judge or jury, your case moves to sentencing.

Presentence Investigation (Iowa Code 901.2)

The first thing that happens in sentencing is figuring out whether your conviction will involve a presentence investigation. 

Presentence investigation is when the court collects information that it considers relevant to sentencing.  The court will get information from you and your attorney, from the state, and from other sources that it thinks are relevant.

If you consent, the court may start your presentence investigation before you're even found guilty.

Some types of charges, such as class "A" felonies (like murder) don't get presentence investigations. If you've been convicted of a class A felony, the board of parole will consider the Iowa medical and classification center report.  If the parole board thinks that report is inadequate, they can ask for extra information from the district department of correctional services.

Conspiracy to manufacture for delivery or delivery or intent or conspiracy to delivery amphetamine or methamphetamine to a minor is a class "A" felony that does get a presentence investigation.

Class B, class C, and class D felonies all get presentence investigations.

The court decides whether to order presentence investigations for aggravated misdemeanors.

If you're charged with a serious misdemeanor, the court can only order a presentence investigation if they find "exceptional circumstances" warranting investigation.  Serious misdemeanors presentence investigations include only your personal and social history, your criminal record, and the harm your crime caused to the victim, the victim's family, and the community.  Serious misdemeanor presentence investigations may consider victim impact statements.

What's in a Presentence Report (Iowa Code 901.3)

If the court orders a presentence investigation on a charge other than a serious misdemeanor, an investigator will consider these things:

  1. Your characteristics, family and financial circumstances, your needs, and your potential to be rehabilitated and do good things in life.
  2. Your criminal record and social history
  3. The circumstances of the offense
  4. How long you've been detained
  5. How you've harmed the victim, the victim's family, and the community.  The investigator will give a victim impact statement form to each victim.  After the victims complete these forms, the victim impact statements will be filed along with the investigator's report.
  6. Whether you're a candidate for the community service sentence program.
  7. Whether there were any "mitigating circumstances" relating to the offense. "Mitigating circumstances" are things that mean that, even though you did the crime, the court doesn't find you as blameworthy as other people who did the crime might be.  This might be something like your age, your history, any mental illnesses you have, your inexperience, whether you feel bad about you did, and whether you really meant to cause harm or were just being kinda dumb.
  8. Whether you're a candidate for deferred judgment, deferred sentencing, suspended sentence, or probation.  (Sidenote: I was under the impression that mitigating circumstances and candidacy for deferred judgement, etc. were considered for a number of offenses, but the code specifically lists only "assisting suicide," so I'm not sure what to make of that.  I'll follow up.)
  9. Whether you have substance abuse or mental health problems.  If you do have trouble with substance abuse or with your mental health, the investigator will ask you and the "correctional system" what treatment options are available to you.

State and local mental health institutions and correctional facilities will give your investigator whatever relevant information they have about you.

Who Can See Your Presentence Investigation?

Histories, treatment, and use of medication won't be disclosed to your investigator without your authorization.  If you won't authorize the disclosure, the investigator can make a note of that.

The court can approve an order to have a physical or psych exam done on you.  The court can order you to an inpatient or outpatient psychiatric facility to have your personality and personality evaluated.  If you are examined or evaluated like this, the results of your examination or evaluation will be given to your investigator.

Your presentence report is confidential.  The report is part of your record but it will be sealed.  The sealed report will be opened only on court order and when permitted by statute.  There aren't many times when your report will be seen without a court order.

Your attorney and the state's attorney will get at least three days before sentencing when they can access your presentence report.  This time is to allow your attorney and the state's attorney time to prepare for sentencing arguments.

If you appeal your case, your appellate attorney and the state's appellate attorney will be able to request to see your presentence report.  If they make these requests, they will get to see the report without a court order.

Substance abuse services and mental health services providers may be able to access your presentence investigation report when they're referring you for services.

The Department of Corrections can release your report to another jurisdiction for probation and parole services and evaluations.

Do I Get to Know Who Contributed to My Presentence Investigation?

The court can conceal the identity of someone who provides confidential information for your presentence investigation report.

What if the Presentence Investigation is Wrong?

If something in your presentence investigation report is wrong, you or your criminal defense attorney can file "a denial or refutation of the allegations contained in the report."  This means that you can say something like "that isn't true."  Your denial or refutation will be included as part of the report, so when the judge reviews your report, he or she will know that you don't agree that it's all true.

Presentence Investigation Substance Abuse Evaluation

If the court thinks you regularly abuse alcohol or other substances, they can order you to complete a substance abuse evaluation.  This evaluation will let the court know whether a professional thinks you need treatment for alcoholism or other substance abuse issues.

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