A person will first acquire a criminal record in Montana by being arrested or by committing a serious traffic violation. From then on, a criminal record will be kept in Montana’s central repository of criminal history information and be updated if the person commits additional criminal offenses in the state or has cases processed in the state’s criminal justice system.
In Montana, criminal history information from as early as the 1950s is kept on file in the form of arrest fingerprint cards. However, the state’s central criminal history repository was established in 1979 and is managed by the Montana Department of Justice. FBI and prison records from before that date have been transferred to the state’s central repository.
What is a criminal record?
A criminal record is an official document detailing a person’s criminal convictions, pending criminal cases, prior arrests, and other interactions with law enforcement agencies. Additional names for a criminal record include criminal history record, rap sheet, and a police record.
As with marriage records and court records, criminal records are generally public records in the United States and can be accessed through a criminal background check. However, public access to specific criminal record information varies from state to state.
In the State of Montana, criminal records can be accessed by any member of the public using the fee-based Criminal History Online Public Record Search (CHOPRS) web portal.
What is included in a Montana criminal record?
As criminal records are kept by law enforcement agencies at all levels of government in the United States, a Montana criminal record may vary in format and content depending on the law enforcement database from which it is accessed.
Generally, a Montana criminal record will include the following information:
- A person’s full name and possible aliases
- Personal information such as age, date of birth, sex, ethnicity, height, weight, and other physical characteristics
- Fingerprints and mugshot
- Misdemeanor criminal offenses and convictions
- Felony criminal offenses and convictions
- Traffic records
- Past arrest warrants
- Prior arrests
- Pending and dismissed charges
However, the following information is NOT included in the Montana public criminal history record:
- Active arrest warrants
- Federal and tribal offenses
- Out-of-state records
- Whether an individual is deceased
- Whether an individual is a registered sexual and/or violent offender or has been entered in the Montana sex offender registry
Why would someone access a criminal record?
There are many reasons to access a criminal record.
- Most commonly, people search criminal records as a way to run a background check on a particular person.
- They’re also used by law enforcement to identify or locate people involved in unsolved crimes or by the court system to determine an appropriate sentence after a conviction.
- An individual may want to access his or her own record as well. It’s not uncommon for people to request their own criminal records to see what information is public.
- In some cases, a record could be inaccurate or include outdated information. If that’s the case, it’s important to have the record corrected.
What’s the difference between an infraction, misdemeanor, and felony?
Arrests and convictions listed on a criminal record are separated into three categories: infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies.
To give a better understanding of the information listed on a criminal record, here’s a quick overview of each category of offense:
- Infraction – An infraction is a minor violation of the law that is regulated at the state level. Punishment for an infraction is usually just a fine or a written warning, rather than a jail or prison sentence. Examples of infractions include minor traffic violations, public nuisance offenses, and littering.
- Misdemeanor – A misdemeanor is a crime that is more serious than an infraction, yet less serious than a felony. Generally, a misdemeanor punishable by a term of imprisonment of less than a year, or by a term of probation. An individual convicted of a misdemeanor is more likely to serve time in a county or local jail than in a federal or state prison. Examples of misdemeanors include driving under the influence, most drug abuse violations, and petty theft.
- Felony – A felony is the most severe type of crime, often characterized by the use of a weapon during a crime, serious injury to a victim, and/or holding a person against their will. Felony convictions typically result in a term of imprisonment of more than one year in a state or federal prison. Examples of felonies include rape, murder, and grand theft.
What is the difference between a Montana arrest record and a Montana criminal record?
While an arrest record is an official document including the details of a specific arrest, a criminal record is a more comprehensive document that includes a person’s entire criminal background known to law enforcement agencies.
How do I search for a Montana criminal record?
Montana criminal records can be searched using the Criminal History Online Public Record Search (CHOPRS) web portal provided by the Montana Department of Justice. With CHOPRS, users can access any criminal history information maintained in the state’s central repository that has not been sealed to the general public.
Here are some facts about CHOPRS:
- One search request costs $20, which is payable by debit or credit card.
- A search may be performed as a Public User (no registration necessary) or a Registered User. Registration is available for an annual fee of $100. Registered users are granted passwords for up to ten individual users in an organization, as well as unlimited access to all Montana state eGovernment (Mt.gov) services.
- There are three required fields for a criminal record search to be completed: Last Name, First Name, and Date of Birth.
- Results may be viewed for 14 days following the completion of a search.
How do I complete a fingerprint-based background check in Montana to obtain a criminal record?
- Obtain an applicant fingerprint card from a local law enforcement office or print one from Montana Criminal Records.
- Fill out the information on the fingerprint card.
- Mail the completed fingerprint card in a self-addressed stamped envelope to Montana Criminal Records along with a $10 processing fee paid by check or money order.
How do I obtain a physical copy of a Montana criminal record?
A physical copy of a Montana Criminal Record can be obtained by printing the results of a CHOPRS search or by making an in-person request to the Montana Department of Justice — Criminal Records and Identification Services Section at the following address:
2225 11th Avenue
Helena, MT 59601
The office is open Monday thru Friday, 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM, although hours and available services may be affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Why can’t I access a Montana criminal record?
Nearly all Montana criminal history information is available to the public, so in the case of a specific criminal record not being inaccessible, it may have been sealed or expunged according to the official procedure, contain out-of-state criminal history information, or be filed under a different name.
How do I search for Montana criminal case court records?
The State of Montana provides a number of online databases of court records that are accessible to the public. If a Montana court record can not be found online, the next step is to make a records request to a court clerk of the court where a case was processed.
- Montana Supreme Court: Case Search – Search and obtain court record information on closed and active cases brought to the Montana Supreme Court. Users can search by case number, party name, or perform an advanced search.
- Montana Supreme Court: Public View Docket Search – Access information on active and closed Montana Supreme Court dockets. Users can search by case party, attorney, or case number.
- Montana Judicial Branch Court Locator – Find the contact information, including addresses and phone numbers, of specific Montana district courts in order to make a request to view court records of a particular case.
Does Montana allow criminal records to be sealed or expunged?
Under Montana law, both convictions and non-convictions may be sealed or expunged from a criminal record if certain requirements are met. Having a criminal charge sealed means that the public cannot access it, while expungement means permanent removal of the record.
- If charges on your record are dismissed, deferred prosecution-dismissed, acquitted, or dropped, they can be removed from a criminal record by submitting a Record Removal Form to Montana Criminal Records & Identification Services Section (CRISS). A removal request may take up to 30 days.
According to MCA Title 46, Chapter 18, Part 11, in order to have a Montana misdemeanor conviction expunged from one’s record, the following requirements must be met:
- The person must not be convicted of another offense in Montana, Federal court, or any other state for five years once completing the terms of the sentence for the original offense.
- The person must not be currently detained or charged with the commission of a new offense.
- If the person has applied to a United States military academy or has enlisted/ is currently serving in the armed forces, the above requirements may be waived.
To request an expungement, a person must mail a completed expungement form, blue applicant fingerprint card (may be obtained from a local law enforcement agency), and order from the court to CRISS at PO Box 201403, Helena, MT 59620. The process may take up to 30 days.
How can I have false information on a Montana criminal record corrected?
MCA 44-5-215 outlines the procedure for challenging information on a Montana criminal record.
If you believe your criminal record contains incorrect information, contact Montana Criminal Records at (406) 444-3625.
How long are Montana criminal records kept on file?
In most situations, Montana criminal history records are maintained indefinitely, unless a person meets certain requirements to have their criminal record expunged (see above section).
Additionally, Montana Annotated Law 44-5202(8) states that fingerprints and photographs can be removed from a criminal record barring a notification from the court of jurisdiction if a charge doesn’t end in a conviction or if the conviction is stricken from the record at a later date.