Most criminal prosecutions in Tennessee are resolved when the defendant accepts a plea offer made by the prosecutor involved. In return for a guilty plea, prosecutors may offer to reduce charges or recommend a more lenient sentence, but the final decision rests with the judge. Judges are not bound by the terms of the plea agreements, and they may choose to impose harsher sentences if they wish. When judges reject plea agreements, they usually do so because of something they read in the presentence investigation report.
The presentence investigation
In Tennessee, a presentence investigations begin when a jury returns a guilty verdict or a defendant enters into a plea agreement. During the investigation, the probation officer assigned to the case will look into the defendant’s family background, work history and ties to the community. Other factors they take into account include alcohol or drug problems, mental health issues and the defendant’s remorse and willingness to accept responsibility for their actions.
The presentence interview
Defendants have a chance to explain their actions and anything else that may have come up during the investigation at their presentence interview. Attendance is extremely important as failing to show up for this interview could lead to increased bail and a more severe sentence. Another pitfall for defendants to avoid is adopting a hostile attitude and acting as if they did nothing wrong.
Preparing for the interview
When explaining the terms of a proposed plea agreement, experienced criminal defense attorneys may explain the presentence investigation procedure and help their clients to prepare for their interviews. Attorneys could advise their clients to answer the questions they are asked openly and honestly, and they may also suggest that they let their employers and family members know that a probation officer will likely be contacting them.