When people know you have a criminal record, they are often unwilling to take a chance on hiring you or renting an apartment to you. Sometimes you can have those records expunged or sealed so they do not show up on a background check and you do not have to admit they exist. Montana only allows these procedures in very limited circumstances, but if you qualify, it can make your life a bit easier.
What Are Expungement and Record Sealing?
These procedures legally destroy or block from public view records related to criminal charges against you. By definition, expungement destroys the records and they are no longer accessible to anyone, while sealing merely removes them from public access. Under certain circumstances sealed records may be reopened or law enforcement agencies may be able to view them.
Montana uses both procedures, depending on the situation and the records involved.
What Montana Criminal Records Are Eligible?
The state has several laws related to expunging or sealing various types of records under different circumstances.
Fingerprint and photograph records may be returned to you if:
- You were released without being charged.
- You were found not guilty.
- Your conviction was overturned.
If you were convicted, but received a deferred sentence and successfully completed the conditions of that sentence, you may request that your guilty plea or verdict be removed from the records and the charges dismissed. At this point, the public should not be able to access the records without a court order.
If your conviction on a violent or sexual offense was overturned on appeal, all records must be expunged. DNA records related to overturned felony offenses or youth sexual or violent offenses must also be expunged.
How Do You Get Records Sealed or Expunged?
The laws on expungement and sealing are mandatory as long as you meet the requirements. This means the court does not have discretion to decide whether or not to grant the procedure.
For many situations, sealing or expungement should be automatic:
- When charges are dismissed after a deferred sentence, the court must send copies of the dismissal order to the prosecutor and department of justice. The records are then confidential information.
- Eligible DNA evidence should be expunged after the department of justice receives notice of the reversal from the county attorney.
- When a court orders reversal of sexual or violent offenses, it should also order expungement of all related records held by the court and law enforcement or government agencies.
The court may also order photographs and fingerprint records returned to you if your case is eligible. If it does not do so, you may file a request to have them returned.
These records can have a far-reaching effect on your life, so make sure your eligible criminal records have in fact been expunged or sealed. If you find they are still available to the public, you can file a motion with the court requesting they be expunged or sealed, whichever procedure is appropriate. Include all supporting documents, such as the court's order of reversal.
Getting Legal Advice from a Montana Lawyer
Montana's laws on eligibility for expungement or sealing can be confusing, as can the procedure for obtaining them. For advice about your specific case, consider speaking with a Montana criminal attorney who can help you understand if you are eligible and can file the necessary motions.