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Montana Court Records

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Montana Criminal Court Records

Montana Criminal Court Records are the official documentation generated during criminal court proceedings. They include case-related information such as case files and docket sheets. They may also detail the court’s final verdict regarding each case as well as jail terms, fines and other penalties issued offenders who have been proven guilty. Criminal court records may be preserved in physical or electronic form. In compliance with Montana laws, Montana criminal court records fall under the umbrella of public records and may be viewed or inspected by members of the public, except where prevented by law or court order.

What’s included in a Montana Criminal Court Record?

Montana criminal court records provide an official summary of criminal prosecutions, from the initiation of the charges filed by the state all through the trial to the final decision of the court. While criminal court records typically vary with different cases, most criminal court records exclude inmate record information and feature the following:

  • Information related to the offense
  • Biodata of the offender and plaintiff, including full names and known contact details
  • Issued warrants
  • Information on indictments
  • Related criminal history where available
  • Witness statements, sworn affidavits
  • The testimony of expert witnesses
  • Details of the court’s final judgment
  • Information on penalties ascribed to the defendant
  • Information on any revisions to the original judgment arising from appellate courts (if applicable)

Understanding the Montana Criminal Court system

The state of Montana has a hierarchical judicial system composed of the Supreme Court, district, court, worker’s compensation court, and the water court. It also has several courts of limited jurisdiction, such as the city courts, municipal courts and justice courts.

Supreme Court

The highest court in the state, the Montana Supreme court has original jurisdiction over civil and criminal cases except federal crimes committed within the state’s judicial district. It has supervisory control over state courts and hears appeals originating from the water court, worker’s compensation court, and district courts. All Supreme Court records, including court dockets, transcripts from lower court proceedings, final orders, and briefs on appeal, are maintained and managed by the clerk of the supreme court.

District Court

Organized into 22 judicial districts, Montana district courts serve as the state trial courts. They process felony cases, probate cases, and most civil law cases. Montana district court may also hear appeals from lower courts. In 2020, the state of Montana had 56 district courts organized across its districts.

Water Court

Established in 1979, the Montana Water court presides over all cases involving water right claims. In addition to setline water rights disputes, it oversees all water masters, water court staff and water judges.

Worker’s Compensation Court

Montana’s Worker’s Compensation Court has exclusive jurisdiction over cases related to the Montana Occupational Disease Act and Montana’s Workers Compensation Act. It also reviews orders from the Montana Department of Labor and adjudicates over cases involving violations of worker’s compensation laws.

Justice of the Peace Court

With at least one court per county, Justice of the Peace Courts presides over civil matters involving disputes less than $5,000 but more than $3,000.

City Courts and Municipal Courts

Montana city courts and municipal courts have limited jurisdiction over criminal and civil cases, such as violation of town or city ordinances. City courts preside over cases dealing with amounts of up to $5,000, while Municipal courts preside over disputes that involve up to $7,000.

How to Obtain Records in Person

Step 1. Identify the Right Court

To obtain records in person, interested parties will need to visit the courthouse where the case was filed depending on whether the crime is a felony, misdemeanor or infraction. Like other states, Montana’s criminal court system spreads criminal cases across different courts, depending on the nature of the crime. Some of these include:

  • Felony cases: Most cases are heard at District Courts
  • Felony preliminary hearings: May be heard at district courts, justice courts, city courts or municipal courts,
  • Misdemeanors: Most cases heard at district courts or justice courts
  • Ordinance violations: Most cases heard at city courts, municipal courts, or justice courts
  • Juvenile cases: Most cases filed at the district court
  • Traffic and infraction cases: May be filed at the municipal court, justice court or city court.

Step 2: Gather All Relevant Information

Once the location of the record has been confirmed, inquirers will need to gather case-specific information unique to the case. These include details such as the case number, names of the parties involved in the case, the approximate filing date, the date the case was closed, the appellate case number (if applicable), and the name of the presiding judge.

Step 3: Request the Record

In-person requests must be made to the record custodian during official working hours. Most courthouses provide application forms to simplify the request process. Courthouses may also provide an E-lobby service where requesters can electronically sign in to self serve and further reduce wait time.

Step 4: Provide Identification and Fee Requirements

To obtain copies of a record, requestors may be required to pay a nominal fee to cover the printing costs. Interested parties may also be expected to present a government-issued photo ID in order to prove their eligibility to access a record. In cases where the record is confidential, requestors must present a court order authorizing their access as an authentication requirement.

How to Obtain Records Online

Online access to Montana criminal court records will depend on the type of case and court. For instance, interested parties can search for Supreme Court docket records using an online docket-search platform maintained by the clerk of the Supreme Court. It maintains closed dockets from 1979 to the present. Requesters can search through the platform by case party, case attorney or case number.

Publicly available records are also accessible from some third-party websites. These websites offer the benefit of not being limited by geographical record availability and can often serve as a starting point when researching a specific or multiple records. To find a record using the search engines on these sites, interested parties must provide:

  • The name of someone involved providing it is a not a juvenile
  • The assumed location of the record in question such as a city, county, or state name

Third-party sites are not government-sponsored websites, and record availability may differ from official channels.

Are all Montana’s Criminal Court Records available to the public?

Most criminal court records are open to the public. This means that anyone can have access to them whenever they want. There are however exceptions. Residents of Montana are prevented from viewing any criminal court record sealed by law or existing order. The court at its discretion may close a portion of the proceeding if it involves the testimony of a minor in a non-juvenile court especially in cases where the demerits to disclosing outweigh the merits to disclose or when the court believes disclosing will harm the mental health of the juvenile. Other records that may be blocked from public view include:

  • Records related to involuntary commitment to psychological evaluation and mental health assessments.
  • Selected information pertaining to legal actions in which public offices are involved
  • Guardianships and conservatorships records as well as records related to children in need of supervision proceedings and records from child abuse and neglect proceedings
  • Details of the financial status of the parties involved as well as their credit card numbers, bank account or social security numbers
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