Pre-Sentencing Investigations: Arguing with the Algorithm

Wisconsin courts will usually order the State to conduct a pre-sentencing investigation before sentencing a criminal defendant who has been found guilty of serious charges or agreed to a case settlement. The defendant’s attorney can and should request an independent pre-sentencing investigation. The court will use the reports made by the investigators when considering the defendant’s sentence. Pre-sentencing investigation reports are meant to show the court the defendant’s entire background, presenting the defendant as a human being, however flawed. This is meant to ensure equitable sentences. However, the State’s report, the one that is supposed to give the court a picture of the individual, is actually generated by a computer algorithm, not a human.

The State relies solely on a proprietary algorithm called COMPAS, which is an acronym for Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions. It’s a computer program that profiles specific groups, not individuals, and then based on calculations that remain a guarded secret, the program, not the investigator, makes a recomendation on how long the human defendant should spend in prison. It’s like the Minority Report, the 2002 movie where police arrested people for crimes they haven’t yet committed. The State basis its recommendation based on foreknowledge, except their knowledge of the defendant’s future comes from an algorithm, not some sleepy clairvoyants.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court held that even though no one knows how it works because it is proprietary, using the algorithm does not violate a defendant’s right to due process. State v. Loomis, 2016 WI 68, 371 Wis. 2d 235, 881 N.W.2d 74.

Criminal Defense Attorneys who want to ensure the best sentencing outcomes for their clients need an licensed investigator who knows the law, knows the judicial guidelines, and knows how to write a pre-sentencing investigation memo that stands up to the algorithm. Not only am I a Wisconsin licensed private detective, license no. 12845-63, I hold a law degree and am an accomplished legal and professional writer. My pre-sentencing investigations are thorough. My memorandums for filing with the court are precise, calculated to present the defendant as a human being.

My flat rate for independant pre-sentencing investigations, including a memorandum for filing with the court, is $1,200.00. Contact me at for more information.