A second chance after doing something stupid

Dwight Harriman


At some point, everyone does something really stupid in life.

If you haven’t, you will.

Unfortunately, some of those stupid things become misdemeanor legal matters. And those matters can follow folks the rest of their lives, dogging their steps and preventing them from realizing opportunities long after they have paid their debt to society.

A new bill passed by the Montana Legislature in the last session and set to go into effect next month offers hope for those who stumble. It provides for the complete expungement of criminal records for misdemeanor offenses in certain defined cases.

The bill’s main sponsor was Rep. Zach Brown, D-Bozeman, and it was co-sponsored by Rep. Dale Mortenson-R-Billings and Park County’s own Sen. Nels Swandal, R-Wilsall.

The measure carries added weight with the involvement of Swandal, who, as a former Park County District Court judge, knows a thing or two about crime and punishment and their effects on people’s futures.

According to the bill, in broad terms, people with misdemeanor convictions qualify to have their record expunged if:

• They have completed the terms of their sentence.

• Unless public safety demands otherwise, they have not been convicted of any other offense for five years, or they are applying to serve in the military.

Expungement “may not be presumed” for assault, partner or family member assault, stalking, protective order violations and driving under the influence crimes, the bill says. The courts must take certain factors into account in considering expungement of these misdemeanors.

Also the expungement can be done only once during a lifetime.

Montana should be proud of this law. Everyone should have a second chance for the scope of the crimes it covers. It is senseless to have one misdemeanor mistake define the rest of someone’s life.

This law is not radical – it is not opening the door for people convicted of extremely serious or violent crimes or who are a danger to the public to slip unnoticed back into society. Rather it is a common-sense way for the law to be used not just for punishment but also for rehabilitation.

A fresh start for doing something really stupid.


Dwight Harriman is the editor for the Livingston Enterprise out of Livingston, Montana.


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