Federal Probation: The Basics

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Under federal law, many crimes are punishable by incarceration or probation, in addition to potential financial penalties. While many sentences could include probation, there are some federal crimes for which probation is not a potential sentence – these are crimes that carry mandatory minimum sentences. If probation is a possibility, you should know what to expect. Many of our clients have misconceptions about what probation is and how it will affect their lives. The good news? We’re here to guide you through that, make sure you understand the practicalities of probation and fight for the best outcome for you.

Length of Time

The longest amount of time probation can be imposed is five years. For felony crimes, if probation is imposed, it must be for a minimum of one year.


Probation comes with conditions with which the individual must comply. Some of those conditions are mandatory, meaning the judge must impose them. Others are discretionary but if the judge imposes discretionary conditions, they must be related to the crime. Some conditions you can expect are:

Reporting to the probation officer – this typically must be done within 72 hours of the sentence and then on a regular basis.

Notifying changes in residence – if you move, you’ll need to update your address at least 10 days before your move date.

Employment and notification of changes in employment – you may be required to be lawfully employed and if your employment changes, you’ll need to notify your probation officer at least 10 days before the change occurs.

Possession of firearms – the court may prohibit you from possessing a firearm while on probation. If you own a firearm, make sure you fully understand this requirement and what it means to possess a firearm.

Treatment – you may be required to obtain treatment for mental health issues or substance use. If this condition is imposed, make sure you fully understand what is required of you. You may be limited to seeing certain treatment providers, you may be required to provide documentation – be sure you understand those requirements to prevent accidental noncompliance.

Community service – you may be required to perform community service under the supervision of your probation officer. Typically, you would be required to complete a certain number of hours within a certain period of time. Don’t procrastinate on completing this.

There are many other conditions of probation that you may be required to comply with. Failing to comply could have drastic results for you. Make sure you fully understand what is required of you and are prepared to abide by those requirements. We’ll walk you through the process and help you create a plan to ensure compliance so you can successfully complete probation and move on with your life.