Friday, May 21, 2010

Understanding the New York DWI PSI (Pre-Sentence Investigation)

There is not much written online concerning the process surrounding New York State's system of determining who receives a sentence of probation for a misdemeanor DWI. It is a mystery to many. I believe as a DWI defense lawyer that uncertainty is a nightmare for those going through this process. In this blog, and the next I hope to explain the procedure in simple terms.

First, the vast majority of DWI cases as well as other criminal cases in this state are negotiated with pleas. The cases that go to hearings and trials have issues that need to be addressed by either Judges and/or Juries.

If the case is resolved with a negotiated plea then the District Attorney may or may not agree (as part of the plea agreement) to waive a PSI (Pre-Sentence Investigation). What that means is that the District Attorney may or may not be seeking a term of Probation as part of the final sentencing of the Court. He may be seeking probation for your DWI because of the results of your drug/alcohol evaluation, the amount of your BAC (Blood Alcohol Concentration) at time of your arrest, a DWI involving (property or people) damages, prior criminal history, prior history of drugs and/or alcohol abuse, your age, and driving history.

For all New York State DWI Misdemeanors Probation Terms are for Three Years.
NOTE: Probation could be terminated early (less than a three year term) by your attorney filing a Motion with the Judge after a period of "good" probation. "Good" meaning a period of time in which you have no problems, no committed offenses, and/or crimes, involving the use of drugs, and/or alcohol.

A PSI is where you are interviewed by the Probation Department (usually of the County's Probation Office in the city in which you live) to determine an appropriate sentence for the crime being pled to. NOTE: If you are from Out of State, Probation can not be recommended by the department because it can not be transferred to another state or country so it unlikely that probation will be part of sentencing. Unfortunately, since the Judge and DA can not give a term of probation they may seek some jail time.

Now the Court (The Judge) can still seek a PSI (Pre-Sentence Investigation) before rendering it's sentence because ultimately the Judge must agree to "the deal" struck between both sides (Counsel for the defendant as well as Counsel for the State of New York). This can add many weeks to the process between making a deal, and having a final resolution of the matter. Sometimes PSIs (and their final report to the Court) can take four to six weeks even though the actual interview usually takes less than an hour.

The way that it works is if after a final disposition (case outcome) by negotiated plea bargain if can go one of two ways:

If the Judge and DA both agree to a CD (Conditional Discharge) then there is NO Probation and no need for a PSI.

OR

If a PSI is ordered by the Judge then Probation department will contact the defendant and set up an interview. This is a "this is your life" type of interview and review. Probation is usually for people who need supervision. Supervision normally entails being watched over with random screenings and tests for the use of drugs and alcohol. It is also likely to include some type of drug counseling/rehab/treatment program and/or mental health counseling.

In my next blog I will detail what goes into a PSI report, and how a probation determination is made.