Montana Department of Justice

Criminal History Online Public Record Search

Tim Fox, Attorney General

Frequently Asked Questions

What is criminal history record information?
Criminal history records contain information* that is collected by criminal justice agencies. This information may consist of:

  • identifiable descriptions and notations of arrests
  • detentions
  • complaints, indictments or information filed and any related dispositions
  • sentences
  • correctional status
  • release

It also includes identification information such as fingerprint records or photographs, unless the information is obtained for purposes other than the administration of criminal justice. The definition in its entirety is found in Montana Code Annotated 44-5-103(4)(a).

*Not all information is available as public criminal history information.

What laws govern the collection, storage and dissemination of criminal history record information?
The Montana Criminal Justice Information Act of 1979 (Title 44, Chapter 5 of the Montana Code Annotated) and Title 28, Part 20—Criminal Justice Information Systems in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) are the primary laws and regulations governing the collection, storage and dissemination of criminal history record information.

Where does criminal history record information come from?
Most criminal history information originates with local law enforcement and criminal justice agencies such as the courts. These local agencies forward qualifying criminal record information to the state central criminal history repository. This central repository is where criminal history record information is stored and disseminated.

In Montana, the central criminal history repository, managed by the Department of Justice, collects criminal history information on felony, misdemeanor and other offenses that meet the criteria set forth in MCA 44-5-202(3)-(5).

The repository provides qualifying information to the FBI for inclusion in the national identification system.

Who is authorized to receive criminal history information?
Anyone can receive the state of Montana’s public criminal history information in accordance with MCA 44-5-301. The CHOPRS web portal was created to accommodate these public record requests.

Information that is not public criminal justice information can only be disseminated under certain circumstances outlined in MCA 44-5-302. The CHOPRS web portal cannot be utilized for these requests.

How long is criminal history information retained?
Criminal history record information is retained indefinitely in most cases. However, under MCA 44-5-202(8), effective 7/1/2017, fingerprints and photographs must be removed from the repository after notification from the court of jurisdiction that a charge did not result in a conviction or the conviction is later invalidated.

For additional information on expungement procedures related to non-convictions, please go to https://dojmt.gov/enforcement/non-conviction-removal-and-sealing/

For additional information on expungement procedures related to convictions, please go to https://dojmt.gov/enforcement/conviction-expungement-process/

Does the criminal history record include information on protection orders, active warrants or other criminal record information?
The Montana public criminal history record does not include information on protection orders, active warrants, federal offenses (including tribal), intelligence or out-of-state records. The criminal history record does note whether an individual is deceased or is registered as a sexual and/or violent offender in the State of Montana.

How far back do the records go?
As far back as the 1950s, Montana State Prison and the FBI maintained arrest fingerprint cards. In 1979, the Montana State Legislature established the central repository. Records maintained by the prison and the FBI have been transferred to the repository. Per MCA 44-5-212, unless required by federal law, expunging, purging, or destroying of criminal justice information is not required based on the length of time such records are held.

What is the difference between a name-based search and a fingerprint-based search?
Name-based searches look for criminal history records that match a person's name and numeric identifier, such as date of birth and/or Social Security number. Name-based searches have two weaknesses:

  • False-positives - a record is returned on a person with the same name and numeric identifier provided in the request but who is not the subject of inquiry.
  • False-negatives - no match is erroneously returned because the name or numeric identifier in the record does not match the name or numeric identifier used in the inquiry. This can happen when an individual has multiple names or aliases, such as a married, maiden, adopted or goes by an assumed name.

Fingerprint-based searches are more reliable than name-based searches because the criminal record is based on fingerprints cards taken from the individual upon arrest or court order. When fingerprint cards are submitted for a search, they are scanned into the Automated Fingerprint Identification Systems (AFIS), which compares the fingerprint image from the request against a database of fingerprint images from known criminal offenders. The results are positive biometric matches. The fingerprint-based Montana criminal record check is referred to as a WIN Check and this includes criminal history information from Alaska, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming, as well as Montana.

Fingerprint-based requests can be completed on-site or submitted via mail to:

Montana Criminal Records
2225 11th Avenue
PO Box 201403
Helena, MT 59620-1403

Mailed in requests must include:

  • completed applicant fingerprint card
  • a self-addressed stamped envelope
  • payment in the amount of $10.00

More information on name-based and fingerprint-based background results can be found here: https://dojmt.gov/enforcement/background-checks/

How long does it take to obtain public criminal history record information?
You will normally get a response to your CHOPRS inquiry instantly. However, at times the response will indicate that the search is pending. Per MCA 44-5-213(5), when a record is missing a final disposition, the repository must query the court for current information The record may be pending for no more than 3 business days after the initial request.

What options do I have to get criminal history information by other means?
You may submit a request by mail to:

Montana Criminal Records
2225 11th Avenue
PO Box 201403
Helena, MT 59620-1403

Requests must include:

  • the individual's complete name and date of birth and, if available, Social Security number
  • a self-addressed stamped envelope
  • payment in the amount of $15.00

In addition to a name-based criminal history request, you can submit fingerprints to this same address for a search of the Western Identification Network (WIN) database. This includes criminal history information from Alaska, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming, as well as Montana. There is a $10.00 fee for this service and local law enforcement agencies can assist in taking the necessary fingerprints.

What are the differences between the Montana Department of Justice public criminal history record search and other record/background checks offered over the Internet?
The Montana Department of Justice criminal history record check searches only public criminal history information from Montana. This is the official state of Montana public criminal record and our office will notarize it upon request. The information provided is accurate and current as of the day the search was run. Arrest fingerprint cards and court documents are received on a continual basis, so a record could change in an instant.

Prior to using any outside record search, you should research it to determine what the actual product is that is being offered. The federal or state searches that many private background check companies offer is a name-based search. These companies may buy data files about criminal records from courts and compile their own database which they query to provide the record information. These are not necessarily the same as the public criminal record from Montana. When items are expunged or sealed on a Montana public criminal history record, they are no longer available to view by the public. These companies may still provide some of this information as the record was public when they purchased it. Companies offering to conduct record/background checks may go a step further by also conducting credit, driving and other states' criminal history record searches, etc.

How can I challenge information on my criminal history record?
The procedure for challenging and correcting criminal history record information is defined in MCA 44-5-215.

If you believe there is a discrepancy in your criminal history record information, please contact Montana Criminal Records at (406) 444-3625.

How can I obtain an out-of-state criminal history record?
Dissemination laws vary from state to state. For information about other states' laws, fees, etc., please contact the state you would like the criminal history record from.

What is the difference between a 'Public User' and a 'Registered User'?
In addition to normal service fees, registered users pay a $100.00 annual registration fee for:

  • access to all Montana eGovernment services, except where statutorily restricted;
  • individual passwords for up to 10 people in their organizations, and
  • monthly statements for all services.

Public users must provide eCheck or credit card information for each transaction they submit.

How can I obtain further information in regards to this service?
For technical assistance with the Criminal History Online Public Record Search service, please contact Montana Interactive at (406) 449-3468 or via email at helpdesk@egovmt.com.

For informational queries on the criminal record, you may contact Montana Criminal Records at (406) 444-3625 or send a written request to:

Montana Criminal Records
PO Box 201403
Helena, MT 59620-1403