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In criminal law, probation is a court-imposed criminal sentence that, subject to stated conditions and restrictions, releases a convicted criminal defendant into the community instead of confining them to jail or prison.

In Gall v. United States, the United States Supreme Court noted that several conditions restrict the liberty of offenders on probation. These restrictions, as the Supreme Court observed in Griffin v. Wisconsin, are to ensure that the probation serves as a period of rehabilitation and that the community is not harmed by the probationer’s being at large. Probationers need to notify and/or receive permission from their probation officer or the court before they could leave the judicial district, move, or change jobs. Also, they need to report directly to their probation officer, and they cannot drink excessively or associate with any person convicted of a felony. The probation officer could pay unannounced visits to the home of the probationer. Finally, the court puts individual special conditions on most probationers.

In the context of employment, see probationary period.  

[Last updated in February of 2024 by the Wex Definitions Team]