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The Trouble with the LSIR

Posted By Houston Criminal Defense Attorney on Jun 29, 2012 12:00pm PDT

The latest tool Judges use in Harris County to ostensibly help them determine the appropriate sentences are these LSIR reports. First, a little education: An LSIR is a quantitative survey of offender attributes and offender situations relevant for making decisions about levels of supervision and treatment. In effect, it’s a psychological and life circumstance test to determine whether a person would make a good probationer and what conditions would make him better.

What happens is this: After a plea of guilty to a criminal offense, the Judge will reset the case for sentencing. Then the probation officer in the Court will schedule an interview. The defendant will answer a series of questions about his home life, habits and financial situation. After the interview, a score is calculated and recommendations are made. And then, the Judge inevitably follows the recommendations at sentencing.

My opinion? It’s voodoo. I think any information is helpful if it is merely an aid in the Judge’s decision, but in Harris County these recommendations are taken as gospel. If the probation officer recommends drug treatment, it’s a done deal. Once again, each defendant is minimized to a number, and placed in an appropriate slot. Frankly, I think it’s an opportunity for Judges to defray their responsibility. There I said it, and I feel better!

The biggest problem I have with the LSIR is that it completely destroys the legitimate ends of plea-bargaining. I don’t know about other attorneys, but I am not the least bit interested in agreeing to a sentence of probation or deferred adjudication if at the end, I have no control over what conditions my client has to suffer through. A Judge may think it merely an inconvenience for an accused to get shipped off to a six month in house drug program, but it doesn’t work out that way for his family or employer.

I get it. Drug addiction is destructive, and family and job often takes a back seat to the habit. But does a person necessarily need intensive treatment because he has used cocaine in the past? Or marijuana? If that were the case, then say goodbye to the person to the right of you and the person to the left of you. They need treatment, and you are going to have to make do without them.

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