Montana Pardon Information
The Montana Constitution says that the Governor “may grant reprieves, commutations and pardons, restore citizenship, and suspend and remit fines and forfeitures.” However, the Legislature gets to decide the process or procedures on how one can apply for a pardon.
The Legislature has created a Board of Pardons and Parole to receive, investigate, and make recommendations to the Governor on all pardon applications. The Governor is not bound by a recommendation of the Board but he must consider it carefully. The Board is made up of seven members (three regular members and four auxiliary members) who are appointed by the Governor and serve staggering four-year terms.
Because the focus of this site is on pardons, we will not discuss reprieves, commutations, respites, amnesties, remission of fines and forfeitures, parole, or other types of clemency that may be available in Montana here. We will also not discuss judicial alternatives such as record expungement, record sealing, setting aside or dismissal of convictions. You should talk to an attorney if you think any of these alternative remedies may be more appropriate for you.
You do not need to “exhaust judicial or administrative remedies” before applying; this simply means you do not need to first appeal your conviction with a higher court or administrative agency before you can apply. You can apply as soon as you are convicted of the crime. There is one exception to this rule: if you have been sentenced to death, you cannot apply for clemency while you are still appealing your sentence to the Montana Supreme Court.
Your application can only be filed by you (the person convicted of the crime), by your attorney or another representative with your consent, or by a court-appointed person such as a guardian or conservator acting on your behalf.
Also, the Governor can only grant a pardon for a Montana State conviction. If you want a pardon for a federal conviction, you must do that through the United States Department of Justice, Office of the Pardon Attorney (see our page on this site on federal pardons). If you want to pardon for an out-of-state conviction, you should find the appropriate page on this site dealing with pardons in that particular state.
Finally, keep in mind that the vast majority of pardon applications are denied in Montana. For example, between 1999 and 2001, only one application was granted. In 2002, the Governor granted only 3 pardons and denied 16. In 2003, the Governor granted 5 pardons and denied 21. In 2004, the Governor granted 4 pardons and denied 16. In 2012, 60 applications were received. 1 pardon was granted and 23 applications were denied.
Your chance of getting a pardon largely depends on your individual circumstances. Naturally, the older and less serious your conviction, and the more compelling your life story, the higher your chance of getting a pardon. Your chance of getting a pardon can also depend on who is serving as Governor at the time your application is reviewed; some Governors are simply more lenient than others in handing out pardons.
The Application Process
There are no fees to apply for a pardon in Montana.
Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, the Board of Pardons and Parole has not made its application form available on the Internet. Therefore, you will need to obtain one by calling (406) 846-1404. You can also write to:
Montana Board of Pardons and Parole
300 Maryland Avenue
Deer Lodge, MT 59722
If you dig deep enough, you may be able to find sample Montana pardon/clemency application forms that other individuals or organizations have placed on the Internet. However, we highly advise you to contact the Board itself at the above number or address so that you can receive the official, most updated form. Using an unofficial or outdated application form can cause your application to be rejected.
The application form you get from the Board should be quite simple and self-explanatory, as it was created for the non-lawyer to use. The form will ask for basic information such as your name, address, aliases (if any), date of birth, social security, and employment history.
You will also be asked to list information about all the offenses which you are seeking a pardon for, such as the name/nature of the offense, the sentence you received, the county where you were convicted, the judge who convicted you, the plea you entered (if any), and the circumstances surrounding the offense. If you are missing information about any of your offenses, you should contact the law enforcement agency involved in the case and/or the court where you were convicted. The Board will want a certified copy of the sentencing order issued by the court.
If you do not remember all of the convictions you have received, you can obtain your criminal history report by contacting Criminal Records and Identification Services in Helena at (406) 444-3625 or log onto its website at www.doj.state.mt.us/enforcement/backgroundchecks.asp. Your criminal history report should list all arrests, charges, and convictions you have ever received in Montana.
If you have convictions in other states, you can obtain a more comprehensive, nationwide criminal report for yourself from the FBI. You can find out how to do this by calling the FBI’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., at (202) 324-3000, or logging onto its website at http://www.fbi.gov. The FBI’s website also has a list of local FBI offices you can call.
Alternatively, you can contact the criminal history record repository (which keeps a record of all criminal activity in a state) in each state where you have arrests/convictions. Listed on Criminal History Record Repositories is a list of criminal history record repositories for all 50 states.
The Board will also give you an opportunity to indicate on the application form your reasons for applying and your social history and accomplishments which you think make you deserving of a pardon. This is perhaps the most important part of your application. We highly suggest that you submit, on a separate sheet of paper, a detailed and genuine personal statement explaining why you need a pardon. Simply saying that you want a clean criminal record again is not enough.
Tell the Board/Governor how your conviction has negatively affected you and/or your family. For example, explain how you have been denied housing or employment opportunities because of your conviction, and how this has prevented you from providing your family and you an adequate standard of living. Attach any proof you may have (such as denial letters) to support your claims.
If you are facing deportation because of a conviction, explain how being separated from your family will negatively affect you as well as them. If you are pursuing a career in a field that requires you to obtain a pardon, submit documents, letters, or other proof from a prospective employer, licensing agency, or attorney verifying this necessity.
If you need to regain your gun rights, explain why you need this—for example, you are pursuing a career that requires the use of firearms, or you want to take part in your family hunting traditions, or you simply want to feel more secure and able to defend yourself and/or your family after a recent traumatic event.
Also indicate in your personal statement all the positive things that have occurred in your life—for example, educational achievements, new or stable employment, marriage and children, community involvement, charitable services or donations, law-abiding behavior, etc. Submit copies of your college transcript, high school diploma or GED, military certificates, marriage certificate, honors and awards, and other proof of your rehabilitation and good character. Explain what your future plans are and how a pardon would help you.
In writing your personal statement, keep in mind that the Board/Governor will not be retrying you for the offense. Although you may feel the need to explain the facts of the crime from your perspective, avoid trying to make excessive excuses for your crime and arguing away your guilt. However you feel about the crime, you have already been found guilty. Unless you now have conclusive proof that you were innocent of the crime (e.g., DNA evidence), the Board/Governor is probably more interested in seeing your remorse for the crime, and your understanding of its effects on the victim and society, than anything else.
These are the things the Board expects to see if it is to recommend you for a pardon/clemency:
- If you can prove you were innocent of the crime you were convicted of (such as through DNA evidence).
- If you have demonstrated “exemplary performance” while in prison or out in society.
- If you submit newly discovered evidence that show you were either completely justified in committing the crime or you were not guilty of the crime.
- If you are suffering a terminal illness or chronic disability.
- If you can show that further incarceration would be grossly unfair.
- If you can give the Board a good reason why the death penalty on you should be avoided. OR
- If you can show that other extraordinary mitigating or extenuating circumstances exist.
You will also be required to submit 3 letters of recommendation from reputable people who know you, such as your pastor, employer, a teacher, a judge, the mayor, etc. These letters should not come from a family member or relative. They must be submitted along with your application form.
Finally, your application form needs to be notarized. Which means it must be signed in front of notary public. You can find a notary public in most banks. They may charge a small fee, usually depending on whether you have an account with the bank.
Make sure you keep a copy of everything you send for you records. Your application form, along with all supporting documents and letters of recommendation, must be sent to:
Montana Board of Pardons and Parole
Attn: Executive Director
300 Maryland Avenue
Deer Lodge, Montana 59722
Keep in mind that if you are applying for a pardon on a capital case, the Board must receive your application at least thirty days before your execution, although the Board may waive this requirement.
After receiving your application, the Board will conduct an investigation into your case. You should be upfront and cooperative with the Board and its agents at all times. The Board will consider such things as the circumstances surrounded the particular crime, your individual social circumstances before you committed the offense, at the time you committed the offense, and at the time you apply for the pardon.
The Board may, by majority vote, hold a hearing on your case, although it is required to a hold a hearing in all capital cases. If the Board decides to hold a hearing in your case, it will publish a notice in a major newspaper in the county where you committed the offense. Anyone from the public who is interested may attend the hearing and voice their opinions on your application.
The Board will also notify the judge, county attorney, and sheriff of the county where you committed the offense. The victim will also be notified. These individuals will all have an opportunity to comment on your application and/or attend the hearing.
You must attend the hearing. You should look and act your best at the hearing; dress in the way you would if you were going to court for a trial. This means, for men, a suit a tie. Have friends, family members, your pastor, church members, employer, co-workers or others in your community there to support you and perhaps even speak out for you. The hearing is an excellent opportunity for you to put a human face onto your application; it lets the Board not only see you in person but also see the amount of support you have in your community.
Keep in mind that the Board puts public safety above everything else in making its decision whether or not to recommend you for a pardon. Therefore, you should be prepared to show the Board that you no longer pose a threat to the public.
If the Board decides to not recommend you for a pardon, your application will not be sent to the Governor. This means you are denied. However, in capital cases, the Board must submit your application to the Governor even if it makes a recommendation to the Governor that the application should be denied.
If the Board decides to recommend you for a pardon, it will immediately send your entire application along with its recommendation to the Governor, who then has the final say on whether or not you receive a pardon. You will be notified of the Governor’s final decision. The Governor’s decision typically cannot be appealed to a court. However, in most cases you can re-apply in a few years after you are denied.
A pardon in Montana is an official declaration that you are forgiven of the crime and are relieved of all legal consequences of the crime. However, this does not necessarily mean that your conviction is automatically erased or “expunged” from your criminal history record; it may still be viewable by the general public.
A few months after you receive your conviction, you may want to conduct a criminal background check on yourself to see if your conviction still shows up. If it does, then you may have to apply to a court for an order sealing or expunging your conviction so that the general public cannot view it. Luckily, a pardon is grounds to get a judicial expungement. You should talk to an attorney knowledgeable about record expungements if this is what you need to do.
If you were convicted of the offense after July 1, 1973, you will automatically have all of your basic citizenship rights restored after your state supervision has been terminated (which basically means after you have completed your sentence). The rights restored include your rights to vote, to hold public office, and to possess a gun. Therefore, if you are only interested in restoring these rights and nothing more, a pardon is probably not necessary. However, Montana law does explicitly state that if you lost any citizenship rights as a result of a conviction, a pardon will restore them all, as if the conviction had never occurred.
If you are pardoned on the grounds of innocence (meaning the Governor found you innocent of the conviction you received, because of DNA evidence for example), the conviction cannot be used against you under Montana’s “Persistent Offender Statute” to enhance your sentence for a future felony conviction you receive within 5 years of the first felony. If you are pardoned for some other reason (e.g. the Governor found you rehabilitated), then the pardon conviction can still be used to enhance your sentence for a second felony you receive within five years of the fist felony.
If you plan on obtaining a license to enter a particular trade, occupation, or profession (e.g. a teaching or nursing license), the state licensing agency cannot deny you the license solely on the basis of the conviction, unless the agency determines that the offense is directly related to that particular trade, occupation, or profession, and that you have not been sufficiently rehabilitated. If you find yourself in this situation, you may want to send the licensing agency a copy of the pardon, which is, after all, a strong official statement from the highest executive officer in your State forgiving you of the crime and essentially declaring you a rehabilitated person.
Under federal law, if you have received a pardon from any state, the pardoned conviction cannot be used by federal authorities to prosecute you for “unlawful possession of a firearm” under federal law, unless the pardon specifically says you cannot possess a gun. However, just because you cannot be prosecuted under federal law does not mean you cannot be prosecuted under state law. Some states have stricter gun laws than federal law. If regaining your gun rights is important to you, make sure you make you desire known during the application process.
In most cases, federal immigration authorities cannot rely solely on a conviction that has been subject to a pardon for the purpose of deporting you from the country. If immigration is not an issue for you, this benefit is obviously irrelevant.
Finally, keep in mind that the effects of a pardon can vary from one state to the next. For example, if you receive a pardon in Montana and then move to another state, that other state might take away your gun rights or require you to register as a sex offender again even if the pardon lifted these restrictions from you while you were living in Hawaii. Thus, you should always check with the laws of the state you move to rather than just assume that the benefits of the pardon moves with you across state lines. Fortunately, states tend and honor each other’s pardons.
- Montana on Wikipedia
- Montana State Bar
- ApplyForPardon .com - Pardon form completion service. Enter your information and get a neat and clean looking form sent to you.
- Record Clearing .org - post conviction information
- Mont. Const. art. VI, § 12.
- Mont. Code § 46-23-301.
- Mont. Code § 2-15-2302.
- The Sentencing Project, Montana, Margaret Colgate Love, http://www.sentencingproject.org/PublicationDetails.aspx?PublicationID=486
- The Sentencing Project, Montana, Margaret Colgate Love, http://www.sentencingproject.org/tmp/File/Collateral%20Consequences/Montana.pdf
- Montana Board of Pardons and Parole Monthly Statistical Data
- Mont. Admin. R. 20-25-901.
- Mont. Admin. R. 20-25-901A(5).
- Mont. Code § 46-23-301.
- Mont. Code § 46-23-302.
- Mont. Code § 46-23-303.
- Mont. Admin. R. 20-25-901A(6).
- Mont. Code § 46-23-301.
- Mont. Code § 46-23-307.
- Mont. Admin. R. 20-25-901A(4); Mont. Code § 48-18-801.
- Mont. Const. art. II, § 28.
- Mont. Code § 48-18-801.
- Mont. Code § 46-18-501.
- Mont. Code § 37-1-203.
- 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(20) & (33).