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Montana Public Records

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The following is for informational purposes only

What are Montana Public Records, and How are They Created?

Montana Public Records

Montana's public records law (MCA 2-6-1002) states that "a public record means public information that is fixed in any medium and is retrievable in a usable form for future reference; and designated for retention by the state records committee, judicial branch, legislative branch, or local government records committee." The Montana Secretary of State provides general information about public records and what they are and what records are not accessible by the general public. The Montana FOI Hotline website provides a list of helpful FAQs for individuals needing copies of public records.

Montana public records are created by public agencies. As defined by Montana's public records law a public agency "means the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of Montana state government, a political subdivision of the state, a local government, and any agency, department, board, commission, office, bureau, division, or other public authority of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the state of Montana."

Each Montana government agency creates, collects, stores, and disseminates public records. Each also has its own policy regarding public records requests. The simpler you make your request to "examine" records, the better chance you have of getting them quickly without any delays.

"The 2001 Legislature expanded the definition of a public record to include electronic mail, or e-mail, "sent or received in connection with the transaction of official business." For more information about managing e-mail, see E-Mail Guidelines: A Management Guide for the Retention of E-Mail Records for Montana State Government."

"Montana's National Historical Publications & Records Commission is the government agency in charge of preserving historical public records archives. They have extensive research materials and collections, including historical vital records, court documents, military records, government documents, and more. Much of their collection is stored online for easy access, but you can also visit in person to see the entire vault or order copies online if that is easier for you."


How to Access Montana Public Records?

How to Access Montana Public Records

The Montana FOI hotline website guides users to "When possible, those requesting public records should go in person to the county courthouse or other governmental entity and ask to examine the records they need, making their request as narrow and specific as possible. Then, after looking through the records, a request can be made for copies of just those documents that are needed. Doing so will minimize the risk of the agency delaying access to the records with excuses like "too many records to look through to find yours" or "it will be far too expensive for us to do the search." Remember, your constitutional right is to examine a document."

You may also call or e-mail the Montana Secretary of State with questions or to follow up on a previous request. This office also handles disputes, and public records request denials.


Different Types of Public Records in Montana

Montana Criminal Records

The Montana Department of Justice – Criminal Records and Identification Services Section supplies criminal background checks upon request. However, they do charge between $10 - $30 per criminal history report. They perform both fingerprint and name-based criminal background checks. They do advise that if you need "police reports, court transcripts, warrant information, and probation/parole information," you should contact local law enforcement to provide those items.

Some common types of criminal records in Montana include (but are not limited to):

  • Felony and Misdemeanor Records - some common misdemeanors in Montana are hate crimes, assault, drug possession, domestic abuse, and stalking. Some common felonies in Montana include murder, negligent homicide, arson, bribery, and sexual assault.
  • MT Jail and Inmate Records - both jails and prisons keep inmate records, and those too are public records. The Montana Department of Corrections has an online search tool you can use to locate criminals and their records.
  • Police Records - local police can provide copies of incident reports, police reports, sometimes mugshots, and even crime scene photos upon request.

Montana Court Records

Different Types of Public Records in Montana

Court records in Montana are created, stored, maintained, and issued by the Montana Judicial Branch of government. Their website is modern and easily accessible by the public. They store most case files online so you can search and find what you need. They also offer e-filing, online payments for things like traffic tickets, a court locator feature, and more. Additionally, they have a full law library of resource materials and forms you can download and file.

Some types of court records in Montana include:

  • Civil Court Records - domestic relations cases such as divorces, marriages, paternity lawsuits, custody and child support cases, estates, conservatorships, wills, civil lawsuits, and small claims lawsuits.
  • Criminal Court Records - criminal filings for misdemeanors, felonies, and other citations. These may include things like trial paperwork, sentencing, prison transfers, and evidence related to the court case.
  • Financial Court Records - bankruptcies, liens, tax issues, company stock filings, and corporate financial reports.
  • Other Court Records - such as water court decisions, land deeds, and water rights, bench warrants, arrest warrants, judgments, traffic tickets, and other traffic violations, worker's compensation cases, and name changes.

The Montana court system consists of three levels beginning with the Supreme Court, then the Water Court and Workers' Compensation Court, then the Justice's Court, City Court, and Municipal Court.

Montana Arrest Records

Montana arrest records are easily obtainable. First, you have The Montana Department of Justice – Criminal Records and Identification Services Section that provides full criminal background checks including arrest information. You can contact the local or state police for arrest data. You can also access mugshots and other arrest details from local law enforcement or consult the courts or Montana Department of Corrections for convicted felon's arrest information.

Some different types of arrests records in Montana are:

  • Drug charges.
  • Murder.
  • Shoplifting.
  • DWI.
  • Domestic abuse.
  • Petty theft.
  • DUIs.
  • Sexual abuse.
  • Booking details like fingerprints and mugshots.
  • Arrest warrants granted by a judge.
  • Bench warrants for not appearing in court.
  • Crime scene photos.
  • Witness statements.
  • Property crimes and accompanying paperwork.
  • Vehicle records if one was used during the crime.

Montana Vital Records

Montana's Public Health and Safety Division is the government agency in charge of vital records for the state. They collect, store, preserve and issue copies of birth and death certificates. You can order online through the VitalChek system. They also allow orders through the mail by downloading the form on their website. You have to fill out an application, and you must wait 2-3 weeks before your copies will arrive. You also have to pay the appropriate fees when ordering.


Other Public Records in Montana

Other Public Records in Montana

Along with criminal, court, arrest, and vital records, other types of public records you can find in the state of Montana include, but are not limited to:

  • Government budgets and annual reports.
  • Driving records (without personally identifiable information).
  • Home addresses.
  • Maps, books, and tapes.
  • State health and wellness statistics.
  • Air and water quality (pollution reports).
  • MT property records, real estate deals, and land deeds.
  • Home phone numbers.
  • Police and accident reports.
  • Liens & tax issues.
  • Company incorporation records.
  • Demographics.
  • Library Research.
  • Personnel records for state agencies.
  • Permits, licenses, and certifications.
  • Government employee salaries.

What Information is Not Public Record in Montana?

Not all government documents are public records. According to the Montana FOI Hotline"

"Some government records, such as adoption files and personnel records, are confidential and may not be accessed by the public.

§2-6-1003 MCA guarantees public access to all "public information" except information related to "individual or public safety or the security of public facilities, including public schools, jails, correctional facilities, private correctional facilities, and prisons, if the release of the information jeopardizes the safety of facility personnel, the public, students in a public school, or inmates of a facility."

Maybe. Pursuant to §2-6-1002(1) MCA, "confidential information" may be withheld from public examination. "Confidential information" includes information containing "privacy interests" (which) clearly exceed the merits of public disclosure, is related to judicial deliberations in adversarial cases, is necessary to maintain the security and integrity of secure facilities or information systems owned by or serving the state, and any other information designated as confidential by statute or court decisions. However, there is no operative provision in the law expressly using the definition of "confidential information." In other words, there is no prohibition against disclosure of "confidential information." It probably will take a court decision to tie the definition to an operational bar on disclosure."