Tuesday, August 30, 2011

PSI Reports in Dakota County

On July 12, I attended a continuing legal education seminar on probation and pre-sentence investigations. The session was presented by two supervisors at Dakota County Community Corrections, Heidi Siebenaler and Phyllis Grubb.

I was especially interested in this particular CLE for two reasons.

For one thing, I worked in state government as a criminal justice planner for six years, from 1997 to 2003. In the early 2000s, I worked in the Minnesota Department of Corrections under then-Deputy Commissioner Mark Carey, who previously directed Dakota County Community Corrections.

The other reason I was so interested was that, in law school in the mid-1980s, I’d written my student law review note on pre-sentence reports. More precisely, my topic was the discoverability of federal pre-sentence reports under the Freedom of Information Act. Though I chose not to publish the piece, writing it earned me the job of articles editor on the Valparaiso University Law Review for my third year of law school.

Interestingly, one of the specific issues regarding pre-sentence investigation (PSI) reports that the two presenters raised was confidentiality. According to Siebenaler, some Minnesota counties bifurcate the PSI into confidential and non-confidential parts. In Dakota County, however, the entire report is considered confidential.

At first glance, it may seem odd, or even Kafkaesque, not to provide the offender with a copy of his own report. That is the rule, though, in Dakota County. The defense attorney is allowed to see it, but not the offender..

On further analysis, however, the rationale for the rule becomes clearer. In domestic abuse cases, for example, information that other parties have communicated to investigators about the offender can be very sensitive. In fact, Siebenaler said, this can even be a concern when information is communicated to the offender indirectly through the defense attorney.

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