On April 13, Montana Governor Steve Bullock signed HB 168, which gives Montana courts the power to “expunge” the records of misdemeanor convictions after completion of sentence, effective October 1 of this year. Montana is now the 30th state since 2012 to enact some form of record-closing law, or to expand an existing one. HB 168 is particularly broad compared to many other expungement statutes across the country in that is does not exclude certain types of minor offenses (e.g., Missouri‘s new expungement law excludes violent, sex, and driving offenses) or offer only limited relief (e.g., New York’s new sealing statute allows access for a variety of purposes), Montana’s law gives anyone convicted of misdemeanors, no matter how many or how serious, a one-time opportunity to clear their record entirely. The new law provides that expungement means “to permanently destroy, delete, or erase a record of an offense from the criminal history record information system maintained by the department of justice in a manner that is appropriate for the record’s physical or electronic form.” There is no exception for law enforcement, much less for licensing or employment, and only a person’s fingerprints remain “for investigative purposes.”
For all but certain specified serious crimes, expungement is “presumed” unless “the interests of public safety demand otherwise” — if five crime-free years have passed since completion of sentence, or if the petitioner is seeking opportunities for military service that are otherwise closed to him and is not currently charged with a crime. The presumption in favor of relief absent a public safety finding is similar to the new Missouri and Indiana expungement laws.