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What is federal supervised release?

If you're convicted of a federal crime and sentenced to jail, you'll almost assuredly serve a period of "supervised release" after you are done. It's important to understand how what this means so that you know what to expect in your future.

How supervised release differs from probation and parole

Essentially, probation is imposed on a defendant in lieu of imprisonment. Similarly, parole is a form of early release that is granted to a prisoner after they have served some part of their prison sentence. Both are considered a privilege that can be revoked if you violate the rules imposed on you by the court.

Federal supervised release, however, is not considered a privilege -- and it isn't imposed as an alternative to prison. Instead, it's a mandatory period of supervised time, imposed by the court, that you have to serve after your period of incarceration is over.

How supervised release is like probation

Supervised release does bear some similarity to probation in that the court can impose a broad array of mandates on a defendant during supervised release.

For example, you may be required to undergo mental health treatment, including addiction counseling, especially if the judge thinks that your addiction led to your crime. You may be subject to drug or alcohol testing. You have to report to an officer of the court regularly and show that you are complying with the court's rules to maintain your freedom.

What happens when you fail to comply

If you don't obey the terms of your supervised release, the court can punish you by revoking your release and requiring you to serve all or part of it in prison. You can also be forced to serve additional time under supervision or put on "house arrest" (up to the maximum allowable time given in the federal statutes).

If you're in trouble for violating your supervised release, make no mistake: You would be wise to speak to an attorney who is knowledgeable about federal criminal law and all its quirks about what to do next.

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