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Sealing and Expunging Criminal Records in Montana

When a record is sealed or expunged in Montana, all information including convictions, arrests, mistrials, and dismissals will not show up in background checks made by individuals or government entities. In Montana, residents are eligible for expungement of criminal misdemeanor records under Title 46, Chapter 18, Part 11. However, the party must meet specific requirements to be eligible for expungement or sealing.

The Difference Between Sealing and Expunging Criminal Records

In Montana, the result and process of sealing and expunging records are similar, but requestors are advised to know the differences between these actions. Sealing records, per MCA 46–18–204, means that members of the public can only access the records with a Montana District Court order. Other criminal justice agencies can also view these records, as outlined in MCA 44–5–103. Expungement means that the court erases records, and no entity can recover them. Expungement law in Montana states that the system files only save the individual’s fingerprints.

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching more straightforward, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for 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 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 Seal a Criminal Record in Montana

Records are only sealed in Montana, where no mandatory sentence is involved. Before individuals request to have a record sealed, they may check existing records using the state’s Criminal History Online Public Record Search (CHPRS) platform. It is also possible to make a record request via mail. Once the individual knows all of the criminal record’s convictions and arrests, the individual can request to have the record sealed. Parties can make this request by contacting the court that ordered the sentence and asking for the court to seal the records.

What Crimes Can Be Expunged in Montana?

Per Montana Expungement Law, courts can only expunge misdemeanors. Expugnable misdemeanors in Montana are typically less severe than felonies. They include:

  • Petty theft worth up to $1,500
  • Possession of marijuana
  • First offense disorderly conduct
  • First offense stalking

The exceptions to this rule are misdemeanors that involve violence or driving while impaired or are sexual. Individuals charged with a crime that does not immediately qualify for expungement can make a case at a court hearing. At the hearing, the court will consider the individual’s at the time of the crime, the duration of time that has passed, rehabilitation of the individual, and the likelihood of reoffending.

How to Expunge Criminal Records in Montana

To have a Montana criminal record expunged, requestors must fulfill all eligibility requirements. Offenders must pay any fines and complete all rehabilitation or treatment programs the court has ordered. Also, five years must pass from conviction before applying for expungement. Suppose the individual applying for expungement has applied to the United States military, armed forces, or national guard, and cannot hold a particular position due to the convictions—in that case, the court may waive requirements to qualify for expungement if they see fit. The expungement process is as follows:

  • The offender must petition the District Court for expungement;
  • The individual’s attorney must notify the government entity responsible for the conviction, as well as all potential victims;
  • The District Court will grant or deny the request;
  • If granted, the individual must have fingerprints collected again;
  • The petitioner will verify the expungement by filling out an Expungement Form, along with the fingerprint card, to the Montana Criminal Records and Identification Services Section (CRISS) at the following address:

P. O. Box 201403

Helena, MT 59620

Typically, expungement takes 30 days from the date of approval to process.

Do Sealed Records Show up In Montana Background Checks?

Yes, sealed records show up in government background checks. However, the records sealed by the court are not available for public access. Expunged records are destroyed and do not show up in any background checks by any entities.

Who Can See Sealed Criminal Records in Montana?

If an individual has requested to have a record sealed and the order has been approved, the state removes the records from public access. Members of the public may be able to view the records with a subpoena from the District Court. Law enforcement agencies, such as the military, FBI, and Border Patrol, can still access sealed records. However, expunged records are not available to any entity because all history of them has been erased.

How to Obtain Sealed Records in Montana

As mentioned above, sealed records are available to members of the public who obtain a District Court order. To obtain an order from the District Court, a requester must petition the district court by creating a document that includes personal information and justification for accessing the sealed criminal records—this petition must then be brought to the court judge. Once the judge reviews the petition, it will be granted or denied. If granted, the court will have the documents and files collected and given to the requestor, either by mail or in-person.

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