What is a DUI in Montana?
A DUI in Montana is a legal term for driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, prohibited substances, or any combination of drugs or alcohol. Each US jurisdiction has a defined legal blood-alcohol content (BAC) limit, and persons who violate the legal limits violate the state's Motor Vehicle and Traffic regulations.
In Montana, law enforcement agencies, in collaboration with the courts, ensure the enforcement of traffic rules and penalize motorists in violation of the rules. Typical DUI penalties include fines, imprisonment, revocation or restricted driving privileges, and other administrative penalties. Additionally, DUI offenses are included in the Montana criminal record of offenders, making them ineligible for selected social or financial benefits from public offices.
What is the Difference Between a DUI and a DWI in Montana?
In Montana, there is no difference between a DUI and a DWI. The terms DUI, an acronym for "Driving Under the Influence," and DWI, an acronym for "Driving While Intoxicated," refers to a motorist's impairment or inebriation due to alcohol, drugs, or illegal substance consumption. Some states differentiate between both terms, and in those states, A DWI is a slightly more serious offense than a DUI. However, Montana legally uses the term DUI.
In states where there is a difference between a DUI and a DWI, the testing methods and alcohol concentration requirements may differ slightly. However, since Montana only uses the term DUI, persons who drive under the influence of alcohol or exceed the legal blood alcohol content (BAC) limit are charged with DUIs. Law enforcement officers conduct preliminary testing using breathalyzers.
Montana DUI Laws
Montana's DUI laws, listed in MCA 61-8-401, provide guidelines for acceptable behavior where alcohol and vehicle operations are concerned. In Montana, it is illegal for a motorist to:
- Drive or control a vehicle on public highways while under the influence of alcohol
- Drive or control a vehicle within the state while under the influence of dangerous drugs
- Drive or physically control a vehicle within the state while under the influence of any other drug.
When law enforcement agents arrest a motorist on suspicion of a DUI, the arresting officers may conduct breath or blood alcohol content tests. Analysis of these tests is admissible in court as evidence of a DUI offense. A person can be said to have committed a DUI if any of the following is true:
- The motorist has an alcohol concentration of 0.04% while operating a commercial vehicle
- The motorist's BAC is more than 0.04% but less than 0.08%, and there is other reasonable evidence to prove that the motorist may be guilty.
- The motorist's BAC is 0.08% while operating or physically controlling a private vehicle.
DUI Penalties in Montana
DUI penalties in Montana depend on the offender's criminal history, the nature of the offense, and the presence of aggravating factors. The penalties for a first-time misdemeanor DUI are less severe than those applicable to felony DUIs or repeated offenses. Montana's DUI penalties are highlighted in MCA 61-8-714, and they include:
- Fines: The minimum payable fine for a DUI in Montana is $600, and the maximum is $10,000. Specific fine amounts depend on the offender's criminal history and aggravating factors
- License suspension/revocation
- Imprisonment: The minimum jail term for DUIs in Montana is 24 consecutive hours, while the maximum is one (1) year.
- Ignition interlock device installation
- Substance abuse or alcohol dependency treatment programs
Montana has an implied consent law, which states that anyone who drives or controls vehicles in the state is assumed to have given consent to tests required to determine the person's alcohol content. A refusal to submit to testing results in an immediate license seizure and suspension for up to six (6) months. For drivers of commercial vehicles, the suspension period is one (1) year. The arresting officer may also obtain a search warrant to enable the officer to collect the offender's blood samples for testing (MCA 61-8-402). Motorists who refuse to submit to testing must pay a $300 administrative fee to the Department of Justice.
What Happens When You Get a DWI in Montana?
In Montana, a DWI is the same as a DUI. The legal term that the state employs in describing offenses that involve alcohol, drugs, and the operation of vehicles, is DUI. State laws describe penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol in MCA 61-8-714. Typically, persons charged with or convicted of DUIs can expect to pay fines, have their driver's licenses revoked, and even face imprisonment. Apart from fines and imprisonment, DUIs have other consequences and implications. Montana motorists facing DUI charges may employ DUI attorneys to help navigate the case and reduce their chances of getting convicted.
What Happens When You Get a DUI for the First Time in Montana?
A first DUI conviction in Montana is punishable by imprisonment for a minimum of 24 consecutive hours and a maximum of six (6) months. If there are aggravating factors, such as the presence of a minor less than 16 years old in the vehicle at the time of the offense, the minimum jail term is 48 consecutive hours, and the maximum is one (1) year. Offenders cannot serve the minimum mandatory sentence under house arrest.
The court only suspends the minimum sentence if the jail term will affect offenders' physical or mental well-being. If the court suspends an offender's sentence, the offender must complete a chemical-dependency treatment or assessment. The minimum fine payable for a first DUI conviction is $600, and the maximum fine is $1,000. If there is a minor less than 16 years old in the vehicle at the time of the offense, the minimum fine is $1,200, and the maximum is $2,000 (MCA 61-8-714).
In Montana, the Motor Vehicle Department suspends first-time DUI offenders' licenses for up to six (6) months. After serving 45 days of suspension, the offender may become eligible to apply for a probationary license. Offenders are also expected to have ignition interlock devices installed for at least six (6) months. All DUI offenders in Montana undergo evaluations to determine the educational classes or treatments that may be applicable in each case.
What is the Penalty for a Second DUI in Montana?
In Montana, a second DUI is punishable by a fine of no less than $1,200 and no more than $2,000 (MCA 61-8-714). The jail term for this offense is a minimum of seven (7) days and a maximum of one (1) year. However, if a minor less than 16 years old is a passenger in the vehicle at the time of the offense, the minimum fine is $2,400, and the maximum is $4,000. The minimum jail term for this aggravated offense is 14 days.
Offenders may not serve the mandatory minimum jail term under home arrest. Additionally, the court will only suspend the mandatory minimum sentence if the court finds that imprisonment will affect the offender's physical or mental well-being. In this case, the court may suspend the sentence for up to one (1) year until the offender completes a chemical dependency treatment program. Second-time DUI offenders must participate in sobriety programs.
During the program, offenders may be required to take up to two (2) breath tests every day. Alternatively, offenders may be required to wear alcohol-monitoring bracelets. After completing the program, offenders are subject to monthly monitoring for one year after the program. Such persons also have their licenses suspended for up to one (1) year and must install ignition interlock devices for the same period. In Montana, a second DUI offense can lead to forfeiture; the court may seize and sell the defendant's vehicles.
What Happens After a Third DUI in Montana?
According to MCA 61-8-714, a third DUI offense is punishable by imprisonment for at least 30 days and no more than one (1) year. Third-time DUI offenders may also pay fines of between $2,500 and $5,000. If there is a minor in the vehicle at the point of arrest or time of the offense, the minimum jail term is 60 days, and the fine is between $5,000 and $10,000.
The court may not suspend the minimum sentence for a third DUI offense unless the sentence will affect the offender's mental or physical well-being. In this case, the court may suspend the rest of the sentence for up to one (1) year until the offender completes a drug or alcohol dependency program. The Motor Vehicle Department may suspend third-time DUI offenders' records for up to one (1) year, and such persons may be required to install ignition interlock devices on their vehicles.
A third DUI conviction for a juvenile offender typically results in minimum fines of $200 and a maximum of $500. Juvenile DUI offenders must complete a one-year sobriety program and have their licenses suspended for one (1) year.
How Long Does a DUI Stay on Your Record in Montana?
DUIs stay on an offender's record for at least five (5) years in Montana. Points accumulated from DUI convictions remain on the offender's driving records for three (3) years from the conviction date. The points are removed after three (3) years, but the conviction permanently stays on the offender's record. It is also important to know that if a Montana motorist is convicted of a DUI in another state, the DUI will appear on the motorist's Montana driving record.
The Motor Vehicle Department maintains driving records in Montana. Only authorized persons can access driving records in the state, including the subject(s) of a record, representatives of the state, local, and federal agencies, law enforcement agencies, authorized representatives of the record subjects, news media representatives for law enforcement purposes.
Even though authorized persons can access Montana driving records, the Motor Vehicle Department only discloses highly personal information on driving records such as social security numbers when the law specifically requires it (MCA 61-11-506). In Montana, DUIs stay on the offender's criminal record until the person applies to have the record sealed or expunged.
DUI Expungement in Montana
DUI expungement destroys records of DUI offenses. It clears all records of the offense and grants the record subject a fresh start. Misdemeanors were not eligible for expungement in Montana until recently. MCA 46-18-1104 makes it possible for interested persons to petition the court for misdemeanor DUI expungements. It is not possible to expunge felony crimes in Montana. To be eligible for a DUI expungement, the offender must meet the following requirements:
- At least five (5) years must have passed since the conviction or sentence.
- The record subject must have had no other convictions in any other jurisdiction in the last five (5) years.
- The record subject does not have any pending charges or is not in detention for any offense at the time of the petition.
Persons interested in expunging misdemeanor DUI records may petition the District Court in the jurisdiction where the DUI event or arrest occurred for an order to expunge eligible misdemeanors. The petitioner's legal representative must notify the prosecution office about the expungement petition. If there are any victims, the prosecution office must then try to notify such persons. If the District Court grants the expungement order, the petitioner must proceed to local law enforcement agencies to submit fingerprints.
Upon submitting fingerprints, the petitioner gains access to the expungement form. The petitioner may then submit the form and fingerprints to the Criminal Records and Identification Services Section (CRISS). Petitioners may only expunge criminal records once. Therefore, CRISS verifies that petitioners have not previously petitioned the court for expungement. CRISS also verifies the petitioner's fingerprints and identity. If the department determines that the petitioner is eligible, CRISS removes the DUI record from the relevant database within 30 days of the request.
How Likely is Jail Time After a First DUI in Montana?
Jail time is very likely after a first DUI in Montana. Typically, first DUI offenses are penalized with fines and other administrative penalties. Some courts sentence first-time offenders to probation in place of jail time. However, Montana's drunk-driving laws are stringent, and first-time offenders can expect to spend between 24 hours and six (6) months in jail.
What is the Average Cost of DUI in Montana?
DUIs cost the offender more than fines. There are other costs and consequences associated with the offense, and these can get as high as $10,000 and more. Apart from DUI fines, which range from $1,000 to $50,000, depending on the nature of the offense and the offender's criminal history, DUI offenders in Montana must also pay court fees. Motorists who have their cars towed must pay the towing and/impoundment fees, and persons kept in detention may be required to pay jail booking fees and post bail.
Other fees to consider include attorney fees, which range between $1,500 to $10,000; license reinstatement fee, which is $200 with a $300 administrative fee; the installation and maintenance of ignition interlock devices; and all required driving education fees.
How Much is Bail for a DUI in Montana?
When a person is arrested for a DUI, the person may be kept in jail overnight. Depending on the severity of the offense, the offender may need to post bail. In cases of simple DUIs, the offender may not need to post bail. However, if the offense is serious, involves injury or bodily damage to another person, the offender may be required to post bail. Local courts decide bail amounts for offenses in Montana. To determine a bail amount, the court may consider the defendant's flight risk, criminal history, and the nature of the offense. Typically, bail can range from $100 to $2500.
How to Get My License Back After a DUI in Montana?
Montana's Motor Vehicle Division suspends or revokes licenses of road users who violate traffic laws, including persons charged with or convicted of DUIs. Some other reasons why the Motor Vehicle Division may revoke or suspend driver's licenses in Montana include:
- Driving without insurance
- Driving without a license or when the license is revoked/suspended
- Refusing to take a BAC test
Persons whose licenses are suspended may have the licenses reinstated when the sentence is over and when such persons meet the Motor Vehicle Division and the court's requirements, including any tests, treatments, fines, and community service. A revocation, however, means that the offender's driving credential is terminated. Road users with revoked licenses must apply for new licenses after such persons satisfy necessary conditions.
To reinstate a suspended license in Montana, offending motorists must do the following:
- Pay restoration or reinstatement fees
- Complete required suspension or revocation period
- Provide proof of liability coverage (SR-22 insurance)
- Complete required treatment programs
- Pay court fees or fines
Persons with revoked licenses must complete driving tests and pay required fees to obtain new driving credentials.
How Does a DUI Affect Your Life in Montana?
DUIs have legal and administrative consequences. In Montana, DUIs come with hefty fines, jail terms, driver's license suspensions, court costs, and other financial expenses that depend primarily on the nature of the offense. Apart from these consequences, DUIs can also result in:
- A job or professional license loss, especially if the DUI directly impairs the offender's ability to perform at their job
- Increased auto insurance premiums for the offender and the offender's spouse
- For commercial driver's a permanent driver's license suspension
- Harsher penalties for subsequent offenses
Can You Get Fired for a DUI in Montana?
Yes, it is possible to get fired for a DUI in Montana. The at-will law does not apply in Montana as the state has a Wrongful Termination Act. This means that in Montana, employers may not fire employees at will. However, depending on the nature of the offense, the offender's criminal history, nature of employment, and employer policies, it may still be possible for a person to get fired for a DUI in the state.
If the offender's employment requires licensing, such as jobs in teaching and healthcare, there is a higher chance of getting dismissed or losing a practice license. Montana's employment act mandates employers to establish specific probationary periods before firing an employee. Still, either party may terminate the employment at will during the probationary period, as long as the terminating party notifies the other party.
How Do I Find DUI Checkpoints in Montana?
DUI checkpoints are roadblocks that law enforcement agents set up to reduce the risk of drunk-driving offenses, particularly in areas with high DUI offense rates. Law enforcement agents stop motorists randomly and observe the motorists for any signs of inebriation. Law enforcement agents are more likely to stop motorists that portray intoxication or impairment in any way.
Law enforcement agents typically ask such motorists questions and proceed to conduct field sobriety tests if there are reasons to believe that the driver is operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or any controlled substance. Signs that law enforcement agents look out for include slurred speech and erratic movements.
In Montana, DUI checkpoints are illegal. Although state laws grant law enforcement agencies authority to establish temporary roadblocks (MCA § 46-5-510), the roadblocks may only be established in response to an emergency or to ease conditions known to cause injuries, accidents, etc. other violations of state traffic laws.
Which is Worse, DUI vs. DWI?
A DUI and DWI are illegal acts; they both involve driving or operating a vehicle while impaired or under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or any combination of both. Some jurisdictions classify the offenses separately; in those jurisdictions, a DWI is worse as a DUI involves a lesser degree of intoxication or impairment. These jurisdictions determine the degree of impairment by the motorist's BAC. It may be possible to reduce a DWI to a DUI if the motorist meets set criteria.
Montana does not distinguish a DWI from a DUI. The legal term adopted by the state is DUI. Montana is a low-tolerance state, which means that BAC regulations are strict, and going even a little over the limit (0.08%) may be considered a crime. The state has an implied consent law; therefore, all drivers must submit to testing. Montana penalizes DUIs with fines, imprisonment, IID installations, and other penalties laid out in the state's motor vehicle and traffic regulations. IN MONTANA, a DUI conviction stays on the driver's record for at least five (5) years.