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December 30, 2005

The importance and power of POs and PSRs

Everyone involved in federal sentencing proceedings knows well the importance and power of federal probation officers (POs) through their work in preparing presentence reports (PSRs).  As this FJC item notes, though "the judge makes the final call on a sentence, he or she depends heavily on the PO's presentence report and sentencing recommendation."  Even a few ivory tower academics have taken note of POs and PSRs (see article here at pp. 450-54), although presentencing work is arguably the most important and least examined aspect of the federal sentencing process.

Thanks to this interesting article in the New York Times about the high-profile criminal case involving the Staten Island ferry crash in October 2003, the importance and power of POs and PSRs seems to be reaching new heights.  Here are some highlights from the article:

A high-ranking federal probation official has recommended sharply reduced prison terms for two men who pleaded guilty in the Staten Island ferry crash in October 2003 — three months for the assistant captain, Richard J. Smith, and six months for his supervisor, Patrick Ryan — according to papers released yesterday.

The official, Chief Probation Officer Tony Garoppolo, found the "lion's share" of blame in the crash, which left 11 people dead and injured dozens more, rests with the senior management at the city's Department of Transportation, not with Mr. Smith, who passed out at the helm, or Mr. Ryan, the director of ferry operations....

The release of the analysis and recommendations was highly unusual.... Officials at the Department of Transportation declined to comment.  But the city's Law Department said in a statement that it "strongly disagrees with the conclusory and many unsupported 'findings' " in the report, which it said "were clearly based on incomplete and one-sided information."

December 30, 2005 at 12:16 PM | Permalink


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