Los Angeles Pre-Plea Probation Report
All felony cases that go through the Los Angeles County court system, if they're criminal, require a pre-plea probation report. It's also possible to plead to the case and get the same probation report, it just wouldn't be obtained before-hand. But, just about all of the judges will not sentence a criminal defendant unless they have reviewed a probation report.
Basically, what a probationary report is, is the probation department will assign a probation officer to evaluate a particular defendant. They'll run their criminal record. They may try to talk to them if the defendant and their
attorney agree, or they can just do the pre-plea probation report without talking to the defendant.
They will evaluate their criminal case. They'll look at all the facts and details of the criminal case. They'll talk to any witnesses in the case. They'll talk to any victims in the case. Then they will write a report for the judge with a recommendation as to what they think the punishment should be for the defendant's behavior.
Criminal Record Check
One good resource for these reports is they run a pretty good criminal record check on a particular defendant. So, if you're telling the prosecutor or the judge that your client has no criminal record and you have a probation report that shows no criminal record – no law enforcement contacts, no arrests, no convictions – then you're in a pretty strong position that they'll believe that the person has no criminal record and take that into account when deciding how to resolve the matter.
Also, you can get a good probation report where the probation officer writes some good things about your client – points out that they have no prior felony convictions, they didn't do any violence in the case for example – and other good things.
When you're a defense attorney in a criminal case, you can obviously use that when negotiating with the prosecutor and judge. You can point to a page in the pre-plea probation report that helps your client. On the other hand, if your client has a horrible record and there are a lot of bad things associated with your client's case and the victims in the case say a lot of bad things about your client to the probation officer, obviously this would hurt a criminal defendant in a lot of different ways.
Significant Sentence for Bad Criminal History
One, the prosecutors and the judge are going to read that and probably hold it against the particular client. Also, the judge may use some of the things in there against your client in formulating a bad sentence for them, and finally, if your client has a bad criminal record, then that probation report is going to show that and the person is going to be looking at a more significant sentence than they normally would with a clean record.
A lot of times what the prosecutors will do or say is, your probation report shows your client did three years last time. I'm going to give him six this time. He obviously didn't learn his lesson.
So, to be an effective criminal defense attorney, you really need to know how to deal with probation reports and the probation department. Most of the time, I'm not going to let them interview my client because my client may say something that either hurts them or incriminates them in some way.
What if you do the probation report and then you decide to take the case to trial and you had your client blabbing their mouth off – they could maybe call the probation officer as a witness against your client in the trial. Obviously, you don't want to do that. You have to be careful as a defense attorney.
There are cases where they obviously have the goods on my client. The person is not going to go to trial and I think they would actually make a good impression on the probation officer and could say a lot of good things. In that case, I might even let the probation officer interview them. I've done that before and actually got good probation reports from probation officers and have been able to use those to effectuate favorable resolutions for my client.
Benefit Of A Probation Report
As I've indicated above, there are some benefits. You could get your client to endear themselves to the probation officer. You could fair it out that they've got no criminal record. Sometimes the victims might even say good things about the client depending on the circumstances of the case.
Beyond that, I would really say, for the most part, these probation reports are pretty much a waste of time. The judges are supposed to read them. I'm sure some of them do, but I'm sure some of them don't. They don't have much respect for the probation officers, because probation officers really don't put the time and the effort into these probation reports, so, it's really kind of a half-hearted effort. A lot of times the probation reports are late and they don't carry correct facts. Sometimes the probation officers don't correct the reports from the last one they did.
So, I would say for the most part, in my opinion – having done criminal defense now for twenty-five years – I would say these probation reports are pretty much a waste of time. A lot of the information contained in them you can get from another source.
For example, a probation report always runs a criminal history. Yes, I've used that before, but by the same token, the prosecutors can run a criminal history on their system and it's just about as strong and accurate as the probation department's system.
I would have much more credence and credibility for these probation reports if the judges and prosecutors would actually look at them and consider them when they say something good about a criminal defense. Of course, if they say something bad about the criminal defendant they'll use that.
So, I really don't see much benefit, if you're a criminal defendant, to getting a probation report, and now very slowly, I'm starting to see a lot of the judge's actually letting you waive the probation report.
That just started recently. I don't know how much longer probation reports – either pre-plea or post-plea are going to be around, but they can be useful under very limited circumstances, but for the most part they are a waste of time and you should just rely on your criminal defense attorney and let them strategically guide you through the criminal justice system instead of relying on some sort of a probation report from somebody who doesn't know you and has limited information.