Montana Public Records
The State of Montana has one of the oldest traditions of freedom of information laws. It first established laws promoting public access to documents in 1895. The state drafted a new constitution in 1972 requiring it to rewrite Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) laws.
While this sounds good, it is challenging to win FOIA cases in Montana because there are no penalties for government agencies that violate the act. There is also no administrative appeal.
Montana also does not have a public record custodian, so there is virtually no way to force agencies to disclose information.
Those needing to access records have a right to submit a request through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Every state has different processes, so it’s essential to know the state’s law before requesting any documents.
Table of Contents
- 1 What does the Montana public records law say?
- 2 How can I access public records in Montana?
- 3 Montana Criminal Records
- 4 Montana Inmate Records
- 5 Montana Court Records
- 6 Montana Vital Records
- 6.1 What information do I need to request a Montana birth certificate?
- 6.2 Where can I find a Montana birth certificate?
- 6.3 What information do I need for a death certificate in Montana?
- 6.4 Where can I find a Montana death record?
- 6.5 What information do I need to request a marriage certificate in Montana?
- 6.6 Where can I find an existing Montana marriage record?
- 6.7 What information do I need to request a divorce certificate in Montana?
- 6.8 Where can I find a Montana divorce record?
- 7 Montana Property Records
- 8 FAQs
- 8.1 Can a request be submitted by non-residents of Montana?
- 8.2 Is there a records custodian in Montana?
- 8.3 What exemptions exist for public records requests in Montana?
- 8.4 How long does Montana have to respond to a public records request?
- 8.5 Is there an appeals process in place for public records requests in Montana?
- 8.6 What fees are associated with requesting public records In Montana?
What does the Montana public records law say?
Any citizen from any state can request public information from government agencies within the State of Montana.
According to Montana Public Records Law, no government departments, branches, or agencies are exempted. However, exemptions are extensive, so many specific items may be exempted.
For instance, private writings and those with privacy issues, such as individual or public safety concerns as well as trade secrets) are the two listed exemptions in the Montana Constitution. These can be interpreted in a variety of ways.
Also, note that there is no enforcement of the freedom of information law in Montana, and there is no administrative appeal.
There is no specified time frame for government officials in Montana to respond to FOIA requests.
No case law equates delaying a response to a request as a denial. All of this makes it incredibly difficult to appeal in court.
To learn more about Montana’s public record rules, visit the state website at mt.gov.
How can I access public records in Montana?
For public records access in Montana, a person must submit a public records request. The request is sent via mail, email, or phone to the record-holding department.
Every department is different, so expect some variation to the rules if you access records from multiple places.
In general, a public records request should include:
- Your name
- Contact information
- The name of the document
- Details about the document
- A time frame that you would like to receive the materials by
- Document delivery method, mail or email
Montana Criminal Records
The public can obtain criminal records in Montana.
The Montana Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation maintains criminal records in the state.
However, it is challenging as most have to go through individual courts to obtain case history. Those who tend to seek out criminal records are employers doing background checks.
Some charity groups and churches also require a background check before approving a volunteer’s application. Those seeking to adopt or foster a child can also be included in a background check.
What’s on a Montana criminal record?
A criminal record is a document that lists all contacts and interactions with law enforcement and the criminal courts.
Depending on the state, it may not include cases where a person was charged but found innocent. It does list convictions and time spent in incarceration.
A background check will not always list motor vehicle violations and misdemeanors.
Depending on the scope, a background check may reveal any/all of the following:
- Date of birth
- Driver’s license number
- Current and past addresses
- Former arrest records
- Current and past warrants
- Sex offender status
- Limited driving records
Where can I find a Montana criminal record?
You will visit the Montana Department of Justice website to access the criminal record.
The service includes only the state’s public criminal history information.
There is a $20 fee per request. You can use the service as a registered user or for public users.
Montana records include information such as:
- Notations of arrests and identifiable descriptions
- Complaints, indictments
- Information filed in court and any related dispositions
- Detentions and sentences
- Correctional status
- Information in the State of Montana includes fingerprints, photos with some exceptions
Montana Inmate Records
Montana has an estimated 1,495 inmates in all of its levels of prisons. Inmate records have a wealth of information that can be helpful on many levels.
Employers find it beneficial to understand a person’s past or where they currently stand in their sentence.
Likewise, reporters also use these services for stories related to either the person’s case or a topic that includes the case.
Crime victims also regularly check the status of offenders to be prepared should they come up for parole or release.
The Montana Department of Corrections maintains inmate records in the state.
What’s on a Montana inmate record?
Public records are available on most Montana inmates who are currently incarcerated or released.
Search results of inmate records will provide the following information:
- Name and aliases
- Date of Birth
- Social security number
- Height and weight
- DOC ID
- Booking photo
- Assigned location
- Sentence summary
Where can a person find Montana inmate records?
You will visit the Correctional Offender Network Search to access the inmate record.
It is a free service, but those seeking information need to have the Department of Corrections identification number and the offender’s first and last name to search.
Those interested can also request the entire Montana Department of Corrections Offender Web database that includes victim’s information, the Board of Pardons and Parole, and the sexual and violent offender registry
Montana Court Records
Some of the most extensive files the public can obtain are court records. Court records typically contain all court transcripts and actions related to a case.
They also include dockets, case files, court minutes, court orders, sentencing and judgment records, and jury and witness documentation.
Because court cases tend to be complicated and involve much testimony, briefs, and evidence, they can be huge files.
What’s on a Montana court record?
Court records are typically large information files and can include documents from several courts, depending on the case. It can contain all court transcripts and information on all actions in a case.
A Montana court record includes the following:
- Court minutes
- Case files
- Orders of the court
- Judgment documentation
- Witness documentation
Where can I find Montana court records?
Montana does not have a fully online system for all court cases.
However, those seeking court records will need to contact the local court or district court where the case was heard to obtain records.
If you are unsure where to start, the local clerk of court for Superior Court is an excellent place to start, although someone seeking records could be referred to another court like probate or magistrate court, depending on where the case was heard.
Montana Vital Records
The Department of Public Health and Human Services maintains vital records in Montana.
Montana’s vital records include:
- Birth Certificates
- Death Certificates
- Marriage Licenses
- Divorce Decrees
Public record requests for vital records will vary depending on the document you are requesting
Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services
Office of Vital Statistics
MT Dept. of Public Health and Human Services
111 N Sanders, Rm. 6
P.O. Box 4210
Helena, MT 59604
Phone number: 406-444-2685
What information do I need to request a Montana birth certificate?
The Montana birth certificate request application will ask for specific information when ordering a birth record.
- Full name on the birth record
- Date of birth
- Place of birth
- Parents’ name
Where can I find a Montana birth certificate?
You can order a Montana birth certificate online by using VitalCheck.
Or, you can request a certified copy of a Montana birth record by completing the birth certificate request form and submitting it by mail or in person.
The cost of a certified birth certificate in Montana is $12.
What information do I need for a death certificate in Montana?
The Montana death record request form will ask for specific details when ordering a death record.
- Full name on the death record
- Date of death
- Place of death
- Place of birth
- Parents’ name
- Spouse’s name
Where can I find a Montana death record?
You can order a Montana death certificate online by using VitalCheck.
Or, you can request a certified copy of a Montana death record by completing the death record request form and submitting it by mail or in person.
The cost of a certified death record is $15 in Montana.
What information do I need to request a marriage certificate in Montana?
The Clerk of District Court maintains marriage records in Montana.
Every Clerk’s office will have different procedures when accessing district court records.
Where can I find an existing Montana marriage record?
You will need to contact the Clerk of District Court that issued the marriage license to inquire about forms, fees, and office hours.
Example – US District Court Great Falls Division
Missouri River Federal Courthouse
125 Central Avenue West Great Falls, MT 59404
Phone number: (406) 727-1922
What information do I need to request a divorce certificate in Montana?
The Clerk of District Court maintains divorce records in Montana.
Every Clerk’s Office will have different procedures when accessing county records.
Where can I find a Montana divorce record?
You will need to contact the Clerk of District Court that granted the divorce to ask about forms, fees, and office hours.
Montana Property Records
The Montana Department of Revenue maintains property records in Montana.
The property records you can access include:
- Land records
- Property deeds
- Property tax assessment records
- Zoning information
For data, parcel, and tax maps, you will need to contact the Geographic Information System(GIS) to ask about public access.
What information do I need to request property records in Montana?
You will need some information to access a Montana public property record.
- Property number
Where can I find a Montana property record?
You will use the Montana Department of Revenue Property Record Card to do a public records search.
Can a request be submitted by non-residents of Montana?
A requester can live anywhere in the United States and get records from Montana.
Is there a records custodian in Montana?
Montana does not have a custodian of public records.
What exemptions exist for public records requests in Montana?
There are broad exemptions to Montana’s Freedom of Information laws.
Two are related to privacy and security issues.
Both can be interpreted extremely broadly, although the strictest interpretation is for trade secrets and personal or state security issues.
How long does Montana have to respond to a public records request?
There is no statute requiring state government agencies within Montana to reply within a specific time frame.
Is there an appeals process in place for public records requests in Montana?
While requesters can take FOIA issues to court, there is no formal appeals process in Montana.
Since there is no public records custodian, there is no agency to appeal a decision. The only answer is to file a lawsuit in court.
You can contact the Montana Attorney General’s Office to report violations of the Freedom of Information Act.
What fees are associated with requesting public records In Montana?
The Montana state law says that fees associated with state agency public records are $.10 a page to cover copying costs and search fees.
Requesters get a half-hour of free search time but are charged $8.50 an hour for labor.
There are no fee waivers.