Legal Term Tuesday: Probation

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Legal Term Tuesday: Probation

Legal Term Tuesday: Probation

Justin Lavelle
September 15, 2015

This is the latest entry in BeenVerified’s legal term library designed to help you better understand public record information, criminal records and related terminology. The information in this article is provided for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

If a defendant has been convicted of a relatively minor offense or is a first time offender, then he or she may be looking at serving probation, instead of being sent straight to prison. But what is probation, exactly? Who decides on it and how do probation laws differ by state? Read on to find out.

According to the United States Court Glossary, probation is a sentencing option available to presiding judges in a criminal court setting. In practice, probation means that a convicted person is released back into the community and supervised by a probation officer, as opposed to being confined to a jail or prison. Probation typically also carries with it a number of behavioral guidelines that must be adhered to in order to maintain the relatively lighter burden of probationary status, as opposed to full-time supervision in the penal system.

According to, probation is considered a “deferred punishment” and the convicted person must report to a probationary officer or supervisor at set times. It is considered an additional criminal offense to miss such an appointment and often leads to immediate imprisonment if the required meetings are not kept. Any additional crimes committed while on probation are also a cause to have probationary status revoked. In these situations, defendants typically will appear before a probationary board, whose job it is to determine if the alleged offenses were a violation of the conditions of probation.

Depending on where the crime is committed, conditions for probation can vary by state and locality. Some states even allow for unsupervised probation, according to Each state also has various conditions and measures to allow for the alteration and removal of probationary conditions.

Probation is occasionally confused with parole, but these terms differ significantly. Probation is a deferred punishment where conditions must be met to avoid imprisonment. Parole is an early release of a prisoner, typically based on good behavior while inside prison and on the promise of avoiding future trouble. The commonality is that both terms tend to involve supervised release during the duration of their respective periods.

Probation is public record in almost all cases, but will depend on in which locality the person was convicted as to how easily and where the information is accessed. In order to clear a personal public record of such information, an “early termination” or “deferred adjudication” must be sought through the relevant court by the convicted person, according to the Gilbert G. Garcia Law Firm.

Celebrities who are currently on or have in the past served probation include the singer Chris Brown, actress Lindsay Lohan and actor Mel Gibson, according to

Disclaimer: The above is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.