First, a change of plea hearing occurs. (It is also possible that a defendant is convicted by a jury at trial, but this is far less common). At that change of plea hearing, the district judge will first ensure that the defendant's guilty plea is knowing, intelligent, and voluntary. Assuming it is, the district judge will assign a U.S. Probation Officer to the case and set the actual sentencing hearing, which usually occurs approximately 90 days after the change of plea hearing.
Second, the U.S. Probation Officer interviews the criminal defendant (in the presence of defense counsel, of course). The probation officer will obtain extensive information regarding the defendant's personal background, work history, financial status, and criminal history.
The PSIR Is Prepared
Third, the probation officer prepares a Presentence Investigation Report (PSIR). This Report includes not only all of the defendant's information obtained from the interview, but also a detailed calculation of the defendant's sentencing range, supervised release range, and fine range. The probation officer typically discloses this report 35 days after the change-of-plea hearing.
Opportunity to Object
Fourth, after the PSIR is disclosed, both the prosecutor and the defendant have a set time period (usually 14 days) to review the PSIR and file any objections. These objections can range from factual inaccuracies in the defendant's personal history to claimed errors in how the probation officer calculated the defendant's applicable sentencing range.
Opportunity to Correct
Fifth, the probation officer has an opportunity to review the parties' objections, if any, and make any necessary corrections. If the probation officer disagrees with the objections, then the district judge will need to resolve the dispute at the sentencing hearing.
Submission of a Sentencing Memorandum
Sixth, both parties are allowed to file sentencing memorandums. These memorandums typically contain 1) any objections to the PSIR, 2) a description of the applicable sentencing range under the guideline calculations, and 3) any motions for downward departure under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, 4) the recommended sentence, and 5) why the district judge should adhere to the recommended sentence. It is appropriate for the defendant to attach to the sentencing memorandum any support letters from friends or family.
The Sentencing Hearing Itself
Seventh, the actual sentencing hearing. A sentencing hearing ranges in time from 30 minutes to several hours depending on the case's complexity, as well as the number of friends, family, or victims offering statements at the hearing. At the hearing, the district judge will rule on any PSIR objections. The hearing is also an opportunity for the defendant to express his contrition to the district judge before an actual sentence is imposed.
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