Montana Misdemeanor Crimes by Class & Sentences

Learn how misdemeanor sentencing works in Montana, how previous convictions affect sentences, and when you can get probation instead of jail.

By , Legal Editor
Updated October 13, 2023

In Montana, as in most states, a misdemeanor is generally a crime that carries a potential sentence of a year or less in jail. In contrast, a felony in Montana is a more-serious crime that's punishable by more than a year in state prison. This article will review misdemeanor penalties and sentences in Montana.

How Montana Classifies Misdemeanor Crimes

Unlike many states, Montana doesn't group misdemeanors into different classes for purposes of sentencing. Rather, the laws for each crime state the maximum sentence for that offense (and occasionally the minimum sentence), as well as where a sentence of incarceration should be served (jail or prison). The crime is considered a misdemeanor if the maximum sentence is incarceration for one year or less, a fine, or both. (Mont. Code §§ 45-1-201, 45-2-101 (2023).)

What Are the Penalties for Misdemeanors in Montana?

The most common punishments for misdemeanors in Montana are maximum jail sentences of 10 days, 6 months, or 1 year, plus fines. A few misdemeanors have minimum sentences.

Examples of Misdemeanor Penalties in Montana

Examples of misdemeanor in Montana and their penalties include:

  • disorderly conduct—punishable by up to 10 days in jail and a $100 fine
  • simple assault—punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a $500 fine
  • criminal trespass—punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a $500 fine
  • hunting wild game over the limit—punishable by up to 6 months in jail and fines of $100 to $2,000 (plus forfeiture of hunting and fishing privileges)
  • possessing a sawed-off firearm—punishable by 5 days to 6 months in jail and a $200 to $500 fine
  • partner or family member assault—punishable by up to 1 year in jail and a fine of $100 to $1,000, and
  • cruelty to animals—punishable by up to 1 year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

(Mont. Code §§ 45-5-201, 45-5-206, 45-6-203, 45-8-211, 45-8-101, 45-8-340, 87-6-413 (2023).)

Enhanced Penalties for Repeat Misdemeanors in Montana

Montana law requires stiffer penalties when the defendant has one or more previous convictions for the same crime. For instance:

  • Petty theft of property worth $1,500 or less carries a maximum penalty of a $500 fine for a first offense. For a second offense, it's up to 6 months in jail and a $500 fine. For a third offense, there's a mandatory minimum of 5 days in jail, up to a maximum of 1 year, plus a fine of up to $500.
  • Violating an order of protection carries a maximum 6-month jail sentence and up to a $500 fine for a first offense. For a second offense, the law imposes minimum sentences of 24 hours. Subsequent offenses require a minimum 10-day jail sentence.

Sometimes, the second or third offense turns a misdemeanor into a felony, with the possibility of a prison sentence. For example:

  • Stalking is punished as a misdemeanor for a first offense (up to one year in jail and a maximum $1,000 fine) but a felony for a second offense committed within 20 years of the first one (up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine).
  • Sexual assault, which in Montana is defined as nonconsensual sexual contact, is a misdemeanor for the first offense (up to six months in jail and a $500 fine), and the second offense (up to one year and $1,000 fine), but it becomes a felony on a third conviction for the same crime.

(Mont. Code §§ 45-5-220, 45-5-502, 45-5-626, 45-6-301 (2023).)

How Misdemeanor Sentencing Works in Montana

Within the limits set by the relevant criminal statutes, it's up to the judge to decide the appropriate sentence in any criminal case.

Jail, Fines, and Restitution

For most misdemeanors, judges may impose fines as penalties, either alone or along with a sentence of incarceration. If the victim suffered a financial loss, the judge must also order the defendant to pay restitution, along with any other penalties. (Mont. Code § 46-18-201 (2023).)

Alternatives to Jail for Misdemeanor Sentences

Instead of sending you to jail or imposing a fine for a misdemeanor, the judge may impose one of the sentencing alternatives available in Montana, such as:

(Mont. Code § 46-18-201 (2023).)

Statute of Limitations for Misdemeanor Charges in Montana

As in almost all states, prosecutors in Montana must bring charges for most crimes within a certain period of time after the crime was allegedly committed. Known as a criminal statute of limitations, this time limit for most misdemeanors is one year, but there are several exceptions.

For instance, the limitations period for fish and wildlife violations is three years; for theft, it's generally five years, or longer if the defendant still has the stolen property. The statute of limitations may also be extended under certain circumstances.

(Mont. Code § 45-1-205 (2023).)

Getting Help With Misdemeanor Charges

Even though a misdemeanor is less serious than a felony, a misdemeanor conviction can still have long-term negative consequences in your life—such as making it hard to get a job or housing. Any time you're facing criminal charges, you should speak to a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. A lawyer who is familiar with the local criminal system and cases like yours can determine whether you have grounds to get the charges dismissed, negotiate a favorable plea bargain if that's appropriate, represent you at trial if it comes to that, and protect your rights throughout the proceedings.

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