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What Are The Differences Between Federal And Montana State Crimes?

Federal crimes and Montana state crimes differ in more ways than one, but primarily, they differ based on the agencies that preside over them. Federal crimes violate federal law or the U.S. constitution; hence, they are prosecuted and investigated by national law enforcement bodies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Secret Service. Federal crimes are usually committed on federal property, involve interstate movement, or are part of a larger federal agency investigation. According to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, they directly affect the security of the United States America and therefore carry harsher sentences and penalties.

Such crimes include;

  • Drug Trafficking
  • Identity Theft
  • Mail Fraud
  • Counterfeiting money or money laundering
  • Immigration crimes
  • Public corruption crimes
  • Intellectual property crimes, etc.

Montana state crimes are crimes that directly violate Montana Criminal law that generally covers areas not reserved for the Federal Government. These are crimes against individuals on state properties that are investigated and prosecuted by state and local law enforcement agencies such as the local sheriff’s department, Montana Department of Justice—Division of Criminal Investigations, Montana Highway Patrol, etc. When these cases go to trial, they are tried in Montana State courts. Examples of crimes that may be charged under Montana State law are:

  • Homicide
  • Burglary
  • Assault
  • Battery
  • Drug possession, etc.

How Does the Montana Court System Differ From the Federal Court System?

Generally, the federal and state court systems in the United States are governed by different laws despite having similar criminal justice processes.

Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure govern criminal proceedings and prosecutions in Federal courts while the Montana Rules of Criminal Procedure govern criminal proceedings in Montana state courts.The federal courts have limited jurisdiction over criminal cases in Montana. These courts can only hear cases that directly violate federal criminal laws, cases of crimes committed on federal properties within the State, cases concerning intellectual property, interstate crimes that go beyond the borders, or Montana. In contrast. Montana State courts have a broader jurisdiction and a higher caseload than the federal courts in the State. They handle cases that directly involve crimes against the state’s citizens, their property, and other disputes that arise under Montana State laws.

Cases that go to trial in the federal court are presided over by a District Court Judge appointed for life by the President of the country and the senate. Such cases are tried by the Assistant U.S attorney appointed by the United States Attorney General.

In Montana, criminal cases that go to trial in the state courts are presided over by the state judge elected for a four-year term in a nonpartisan election. The cases are prosecuted by the Montana Attorney General.

How Many Federal Courts Are There In Montana?

The United States District Court for the District of Montana is the only federal court in Montana. The court has jurisdiction over the entire State of Montana except for areas within the Yellowstone National park, which are under the jurisdiction of the United States District Court for the District of Wyoming.

The district court had 5 court locations across the state, including:


James F. Battin Federal Courthouse

2601 2nd Avenue North Billings, MT 59101

Phone:(406) 247–7000

Fax: (406) 247–7008


Mike Mansfield Federal Courthouse

400 N. Main Butte, MT 59701

Phone: (406) 497–1279

Fax: (406) 782–0537

Great Falls

Missouri River Federal Courthouse

125 Central Avenue West Great Falls, MT 59404

Phone:(406) 727–1922

Fax: (406) 727–7648


Paul G. Hatfield Federal Courthouse

901 Front Street Helena, MT 59626

Phone: (406) 441–1355

Fax: (406) 441–1357


Russell Smith Federal Courthouse

201 E. Broadway

Missoula, MT 59802

Phone: (406) 542–7260

Fax: (406) 542–7272

U.S. Bankruptcy & District Court Butte Division

Mike Mansfield Federal Courthouse

400 North Main Street, 2nd Floor

Butte, MT 59701

Phone: (406) 497–1240

Toll-Free: (888) 888–2530

U.S. District Court Billings Division

James F. Battin Federal Courthouse

2601 2nd Avenue North

Billings, MT 59101

Phone:(406) 247–7000

Fax:(406) 247–7008

U.S. District Court Great Falls Division

Missouri River Federal Courthouse

125 Central Avenue West

Great Falls, MT 59404

Phone: (406) 727–1922

Fax: (406) 727–7648

U.S. District Court Missoula Division

Russell Smith Federal Courthouse

201 E. Broadway

Missoula, MT 59802

Phone: (406) 542–7260

Fax: (406) 542–7272

Are Federal Cases Public Records?

The Nixon v. Warner Commc’ns, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 597 (1978), and the Common Law Right of Access to Judicial Records provides citizens with the rights to access, inspect, and copy public records and documents, including judicial records generated in a federal court.

Fundamentally, these laws are to maintain the transparency, integrity, and legitimacy of the Judicial branch of the United States. This access is, however, not absolute as the court may seal some records by judicial order to protect the personal privacy of the parties involved in the case, or if the disclosure of a record may affect a defendant’s right to a fair trial.

When an inquirer is denied access to court records, the Court is required to provide a legal reason for the denial. If the requested court record is sealed by court order, the individual may petition the court for access to the record of interest.

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching simpler, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for a specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or Government website, interested parties usually must provide:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
  • The location or assumed location of the record or person involved. This includes information such as the city, county, or state that the person resides in or was accused in.

Third-party sites are independent of government sources and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party sites may vary.

How To Find Federal Court Records Online

Federal court records in Montana are accessible via Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) that aids users to obtain case and docket information from federal courts across the United States. The system was provided by the federal Judiciary to provide public access to court records through a centralized service.

Registered inquirers that use the system’s case locator features can search for different case files across multiple units at once.

PACER provides access to:

  • Written Court opinions which may be downloaded at no cost
  • Docket listings
  • Case information about parties involved, the presiding judge, the attorney involved, trustees, etc
  • Case Status
  • Final Judgement
  • Images of documents filed in each case, etc.

All records that are not found in this database may be obtainable by contacting the federal court directly or via the Federal Records Centers of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)

How To Find Federal Court Records In Montana?

Every federal courthouse location in Montana has a computer terminal where members of the public may access case information. Open court records can be viewed at no cost in the clerk’s office, but copies may be obtained for a fee.

For paper records, inquirers should call the clerk’s office where the case was filed to inquire about the record’s availability and how to obtain it.

Courthouse Clerk

Billings Division

(406) 247–7000

Butte Division

(406) 497–1279

Great Falls Division

(406) 727–1922

Helena Division

(406) 441–1355

Missoula Division

(406) 542–7260

Court transcripts can be obtained from the office of the court reporter by downloading and completing the appropriate request form. Instructions and fee schedule can be accessed using the Instructions Webpage provided by the Montana District Court.

If the records are archived, they may be stored electronically. Inquirers may ask for records to be mailed by calling (509) 458–5300. These records cost 50 cents per page.

Can Federal Crimes Be Dismissed In Montana?

Dismissing a case is the court’s decision to terminate criminal charges against a defendant with no finding of guilt and no conviction. In federal courts, a criminal case can be dismissed “with prejudice” or “without prejudice” by the court pursuant to the Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 48.

Dismissing a case with prejudice means that the case is dismissed permanently because the defendant’s constitutional right to a fair and speedy trial is being violated. Dismissal without prejudice means that the court is dismissing the case temporarily due to a weakness in the case. This motion is usually moved by the prosecution to gather more data to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Although a dismissal with prejudice means that the defendant is free of all charges, records of the arrest and charges will still appear on the individual’s criminal history record unless sealed or expunged by judicial order.

How Do I Clear My Federal Criminal Record?

A federal courts may grant orders of expungement under narrow circumstances such as:

  • Unlawful and unconstitutional arrests
  • Expungement order is necessary to preserve human rights
  • First time offender under the age of 21 and convicted of drug possession under 18 U.S. C. 3607(c)
  • The record case may be misused to the detriment of the defendant

Despite the constraining conditions governing federal expungement orders, the presiding judge has the power to rule for or against a petition for expungement.

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