Montana Court Records
How Does the Montana Specialty Court Work?
Montana specialty courts are courts that handle specific cases. These courts serve as unconventional means of achieving justice. In the state, these are the youth courts and the drug courts.
Montana Youth Courts have jurisdiction over cases that involve a juvenile charged with any offense under the Montana Youth Court Act. These include allegations of delinquency against any youth under 21 years of age charged with violating any state law or any ordinance except traffic infractions. Also, the Act grants the youth court jurisdiction over allegations involving the violation of fish and game laws or regulations by a youth under the age of 18 years.
There is a youth court in each of the 22 judicial districts in Montana. A chief probation officer, juvenile probation officers, and other support staff run the program in each district. Youth courts are nontraditional in that the court employs a restorative justice model where youths are liable for criminal behavior. Simultaneously, the court ensures that the offending youth receive appropriate services to develop necessary life skills that prevent future unfavorable encounters with the law.
Likewise, youth courts also employ a preventive approach to reduce delinquency. Several youth courts have early intervention programs that target out-of-home youths who are at risk of committing crimes. These early intervention programs allow juveniles to be treated and served in their home communities.
The courts also use juvenile probation, a program that works by referral from parents, law enforcement, and other agencies. A referral to the youth court begins when the referee submits a ticket and a report from law enforcement detailing the juvenile’s personal information and offense (except traffic and fish and game violations). The youth then appears in front of a juvenile probation officer, with a parent or guardian, to respond to the allegations. The process of the juvenile probation officer working with the accused to resolve the ticket is informal.
Conversely, the formal process happens if the referral moves forward to the county attorney, who files a petition on the charges. Then, the youth must appear before the youth court judge to answer the allegations. Either way, the court may impose one or more sanctions on the guilty juvenile offender. These include fines, mandatory community service, routine drug tests, commitment to drug treatment, or therapy.
According to a report, Montana youth court received 3,420 referrals in 2019. Of these, the courts conducted informal hearings on 67%, dismissed 15%, and 9% of referrals went to a formal trial. The youth court program has been mostly successful in Montana. According to the report, 91% of participants did not commit a new offense during the program’s length. One year after completion, data shows that 82% of referrals did not revert to crime. Referrals have also dropped by 12.5% between 2015 and 2019. Parties can access a directory of youth courts in Montana.
Drug courts in Montana address substance dependence issues in an adult, youth, and family. These courts exist to resolve bio-psycho-social problems that may be a barrier to living a non-criminal sober life. Thus, while ensuring that offenders bear liability for the crimes committed, drug courts also help participants resolve employment, educational, or housing issues that may result in recidivism.
Admission into the drug court program begins with a comprehensive assessment of the individual. Drug courts often require eligible offenders to enroll in a rehabilitation program, pass routine drug tests, and attend self-help meetings. To ensure full compliance, participants must also regularly meet with case managers and attend status hearings in court. Unlike youth courts, both district courts and courts of limited jurisdiction in Montana can adopt the drug court program. The drug court exists as a docket in the court of establishment.
As of September 2020, there are 31 drug courts in Montana. While these courts operate under the federal drug court model’s tenets, each program is uniquely designed for the local community. Nevertheless, all drug court programs in Montana have the following characteristics in common:
- Integration of treatment for chemical dependence with justice: Evidence suggests that the justice system’s impact on a drug user is highest in the time following an arrest. The drug court team works with state and independent organizations to encourage offenders to receive help for drug use.
- Early identification and enrollment of participants: For most individuals, getting arrested creates an immediate internal crisis that brings the drug problem into perspective. Drug courts exist to leverage this impressionable stage in reducing drug-fuelled crimes in Montana.
- Frequent monitoring and testing: This ensures that the offender does not relapse because the court employed a penalty that did not involve going to jail. Not only does testing cover the offender’s choice drug, but it also covers other drugs, including alcohol and prescription drugs.
The drug court judge directs the program with other judicial officers, staff, and treatment specialists. Unlike the orthodox judge, an independent and objective arbiter, the drug court judge develops new expertise. He or she must be knowledgeable about treatment modalities and the limitations of those modalities. Also, the judge must regularly participate in training organized by the Supreme Court to ensure the program’s effectiveness.
Likewise, the prosecution and defense counsel operate beyond the standard adversarial roles. Instead, the prosecutor ensures public safety by determining the offender’s eligibility for the program. Upon establishing eligibility, the prosecutor uses continued enrollment, good performance, and sobriety instead of criminal liabilities.
On the other hand, the defense counsel will act as an adviser to the defendant. He or she encourages the defendant to be truthful about the drug problem. More importantly, the defense counsel alleviates the defendant’s fears concerning an open admission of guilt in court.
According to a comparison report in 2018, the drug court program has been very successful in Montana. For example, DUI offenders who participated in the program had fewer arrests compared to the control group. The judiciary plans to scale the drug court program, which has 564 participants in 36 programs across the state.