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The Spodek Law Group understands how delicate high-profile cases can be, and has a strong track record of getting positive outcomes. Our lawyers service a clientele that is nationwide. With offices in both LA and NYC, and cases all across the country - Spodek Law Group is a top tier law firm.

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What Happens Before A Sentence Is Imposed In Federal Court?

By Spodek Law Group | November 3, 2020
(Last Updated On: February 28, 2023)

Last Updated on: 28th February 2023, 10:42 am

Imposing a sentence in federal court is a complex process. In New Jersey, when you are convicted of a crime, the next thing that can happen is being sentenced. At this point, the federal court judge reveals whether you are going to prison or not. The judge also says how many years or months you are going to spend in prison.

How the judge determines the sentence is a complicated procedure. Regardless, you need to know before proceeding to federal court. Here is what happens before a judge in New Jersey imposes a sentence in federal court.

Presentence Report

First, the federal court requests a probation officer to sit with the convicted individual and interview them. It is after you have pleaded guilty. The interview can take place at the probation office, your house, or the facility holding you.

The interview will help the probation officer put together a presentence report. The document should contain your educational history, social history, family history, financial history, medical conditions, and plans. Simply put, the purpose of a presentence report is to help the federal court know more about you.

The judge decides whether or not to ask for a presentence report. The probation officer can present the report to the judge either verbally or in writing.

The interview with the probation officer is arguably the most important interview you will ever have. It has the largest impact on your sentence.

The judge will rely on the presentence report to determine how long you will stay in prison. It is why it is essential to be respectful to the probation officer during the interview.

It is important to note that a probation officer is also a law-enforcement officer. Therefore, make sure that all the information you provide is correct. If the officer suspects you are providing misleading information, they can charge you with obstruction of justice.

While you wait for the interview, ensure that you prepare for it. There are two things to keep in mind. First, be honest. For instance, if you withhold your substance and alcohol abuse history, you will not enjoy the benefits of RDAP. The program can reduce your sentence by up to two years.

Secondly, read the report to confirm that all the information is accurate. It is because the probation officer will also interview your medical providers, investigators, family members, and your attorney. You cannot change any information on the report after a sentence.

A quick summary of why a presentence report is essential


  • A psychologist will use it to see if you are eligible for programs.
  • It will determine whether you can participate in programs while in prison.
  • It will determine who can visit you while in prison and who can’t.
  • It will determine the severity of your offense.
  • It will confirm whether you need medical attention.

Once the pre-statement report is ready, it will go to the judge, the prosecutor, and the defense lawyer. Fortunately, you can object to the contents of the report. An attorney can help you identify the objections to make.
Sentencing Memorandum
Before sentencing in the New Jersey federal court, your criminal defense lawyer will help you prepare a sentencing memorandum. The memorandum contains letters from friends and relatives saying good things about the offender. The goal is to convince the judge to be lenient when addressing the sentence.
There is no limit to the number of letters that your attorney can submit to the judge. However, it would be best if you focused on quality over quantity.
You should ask your relatives and colleagues to be honest when writing letters. They should highlight how you have positively impacted their lives.
Even though the letters are addressed to the judge, they should be sent to your attorney, who will include them in the sentencing memorandum. Letters sent directly to the judge are rejected and returned with a notice of discrepancies.
The prosecutor can also prepare a sentencing memorandum. Theirs request harsher penalties such as more time in prison. Below are what to include in a sentencing memorandum:
Your childhood and educational background
Your accomplishments and aspirations
Your contribution to society
Philanthropic acts
Your role as a spouse or parent
Medical needs
Sentence Hearing
During the hearing, the judge will have to listen to what you, the prosecutor, and your attorney have to say. Therefore, you need to work together with your criminal defense attorney to know what to say before the judge. It increases your chances of getting a lenient sentence.
During a sentencing hearing, ensure you remain relaxed. When giving a statement, stick to the script provided to you by your attorney. You can also ask your attorney to recommend a prison to the judge.
The above is what happens before a sentence in a New Jersey federal court. Spodek Law Group can represent you through the entire process. We have a team of experienced criminal defense lawyers to help you find the best possible solution.

Federal criminal prosecution is a lengthy and complex process. Many months will pass between the entry of a verdict and the sentencing hearing, and it may seem as though the process has stopped. The entry of a judgment means the time limit to file post-trial motions begins.
More importantly, the official entry of a verdict initiates an active and crucial new phase in the judicial process: the presentence investigation (PSI) begins. The PSI is extensive, examining numerous aspects of an offender’s characteristics and background. The end result of the investigation is the presentence report (PSR), which the federal judge will use in the sentencing hearing. The PSR has a far-reaching impact and will affect the trajectory of an offender’s life in many ways.

Post-trial Motions

Anyone who disagrees with the verdict in their case because they believe it was affected by errors or misconduct has the right to file a post-trial motion. If a jury delivers a guilty verdict, the defense attorney will often file a post-trial motion requesting that the judge override a jury’s decision and either grant a new trial or acquit the defendant. A judge usually denies these motions. However, there are valid reasons for post-trial motions, such as when:

  • The evidence was clearly insufficient to sustain the verdict.
  • A juror engaged in improper conduct.
  • The court did not have proper jurisdiction.
  • New evidence has been discovered.
  • The court obtained the judgment fraudulently.

Most post-trial motions must be filed within 28 days of the entry of a verdict; certain motions have a one-year window.

The Presentence Investigation

The PSI begins shortly after the entry of a guilty verdict or guilty plea. An official of the federal probation department is responsible for conducting the investigation. The primary purpose of the PSI is to assist the court in determining an appropriate sentence for the offender. The probation officer will conduct interviews, gather applicable documentation and review court records to develop a thorough picture of the offender’s character, personal history, criminal background and other factors that will affect sentencing.
After becoming familiar with the court case, one of the first things the probation officer will do is schedule a presentence interview with the offender. Later, he may also interview family and friends of the offender, victims, employers, school officials, doctors, the defense attorney, prosecutor and others. All the information gathered will be evaluated and used to create the PSR for the sentencing hearing.

Interview of the Offender

The probation officer will question the offender about his motive and involvement in the offense. Other topics of importance to the investigation include:

  • Criminal history
  • Personal and family history
  • Education
  • Employment history
  • Financial status
  • Military status
  • Physical health issues
  • Mental health issues
  • Alcohol and drug use

The offender has a legal right to have his attorney present at the interview. Therefore, the probation officer must give the defense attorney notice and opportunity to attend.
Any statements made by the offender in the interview can be used in the PSR, including details that weren’t permissible in the trial, such as hearsay or evidence obtained illegally.

The Presentence Report

Finally, after all relevant information is collected and evaluated, the probation officer will compute the sentence just as a federal judge would: by applying the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines put forth by the United States Sentencing Commission.
The guidelines use a point system to arrive at a sentence, using the seriousness of the offense and the offender’s criminal history. Adjustments are made for specific situations, such as the offender’s acceptance of responsibility, obstruction of justice, and degree of participation in the crime.
The PSR will include:

  • All documents and information collected in interviews
  • Recommended sentence based on the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual
  • Victim impact statements
  • Obstruction of justice adjustment if the offender made false statements in the presentence interview or otherwise obstructed justice
  • Acceptance of responsibility adjustment

After the PSR is complete, the probation officer will deliver it to the defense attorney and the prosecutor. Either party may object to elements of the report. The probation officer will consider the objections and either make revisions or have the sentencing judge resolve the issues at the sentencing hearing.

The Long-lasting Impact of the PSR

The PSR has an enormous impact on an offender’s life, especially if he is sentenced to federal imprisonment. The Federal Bureau of Prisons will use it to determine placement, programming and treatment needs. It can affect the offender’s:

  • Prison security level
  • Release date
  • Level of freedom upon release
  • Job opportunities and level of pay
  • Rehabilitation and education resources
  • Special physical or mental needs

A knowledgeable defense attorney who understands the federal justice system is essential in order to obtain the best possible sentencing outcome for an offender.

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