Frequently Asked Questions

This website provides legal information, tools, and help finding resources to assist victims in the aftermath of a crime.  This is part of the MT Victim Legal Assistance Network, housed within Montana Legal Services Association. 

VLAN, part of Montana Legal Services Association, provides civil legal aid and other support services to crime victims in Montana.  Partners include the Montana Board of Crime Control, Montana Coalition against Domestic and Sexual Violence, Montana Department of Justice - Office for Victim Services, and various crime victim service providers throughout the state.

A crime victim means anyone who has been harmed physically, emotionally, or economically as a result of a crime. A victim also includes family members of a person who was killed as a result of a crime. As the victim of a crime, you may be eligible to receive support and services.

Crime victims in Montana have the following rights - these rights are described in more detail in the Know Your Rights tab:

  • Right to Information and Notification
    • Ask your local Law Enforcement agency for Victim’s rights packet.
    • You have a right to obtain contact information for the investigation officer and the prosecuting attorney. You may obtain certain documents related to the investigation of the crime. You have a right to one free copy of public documents in the court file.
    • You have a right to be notified arrests, the release of the accused, any charges filed, the time and place of hearings, plea negotiations, and information on sentencing.
  • Right to Confidentiality
    • You can request the address, phone number, workplace of you and your family be kept confidential. If the crime was sex offense, your identity can not be disclosed.
  • Right to Fair Treatment
    • Victims and their families cannot be fired for participating in criminal proceedings. You can get help noticing your school or your creditors about your situation.
    • You have the right to have an advocate present during interviews
  • Right to be Present
    • You and your family cannot be excluded from court hearings
  • Right to Consultation with Prosecuting Attorney
    • The prosecutor must consult with you about certain parts of the case
  • Right to be Heard
    • You can tell your story and give your opinion about the offender’s sentence
  • Right to Restitution
    • You can recover money from a convicted offender for damages such as medical bills, damaged property, lost wages.
  • Safety
    • You can apply for a protective order to keep the offender away from you and your family.  

No.  Most services, such as safe shelter and advocacy, are available regardless of whether a crime is reported.  VLAN can provide legal assistance to crime victims regardless of whether they’ve reported to law enforcement.

Some MT programs, such as Crime Victim Compensation, may require victims to report crimes to law enforcement before they are eligible to receive some types of assistance.

Crime victim compensation is money paid by the government to assist victims of crime for many of their un-reimbursed out-of-pocket costs resulting from the commission of a violent crime. Compensation is different from restitution, which is money from the offender that a court may order a defendant to pay at the end of a criminal trial if the defendant is found guilty of the crime.

Find information about Montana’s Crime Victim Compensation Program.

Find information about Restitution in Montana.

The Montana Crime Victims Compensation Act may be able to provide financial assistance to help with crime related medical expenses, loss of wages, and funeral expenses incurred as the result of a crime. To qualify for compensation, you must meet the eligibility requirements:

  • The crime must be reported to law enforcement within 72 hours unless there is good cause for a delay in reporting. There are special rules for people who were sexual assaulted when they were under the age of 18.
  • A claim to the compensation program must be filed within one ear of the date of the crime unless there is good cause for delay in filing.
  • You must fully cooperate with law enforcement and prosecuting attorneys throughout the criminal proceedings.

Benefits may depend on your relationship to the victim. If you are the victim, you are the primary victim. A secondary victim may be an immediate family member to the victim, and may also be eligible for compensation. Benefits may be awarded whether or not the offender was apprehended or prosecuted.

Benefits can be considered for damages such as:

  • Funeral or death benefits
  • Loss of wages
  • Loss of Support for a deceased victim
  • Medical Costs
    • Hospital services
    • Physician expenses
    • Mental health treatment
    • Prescription drugs
    • Ambulance charges
    • Dental treatment
    • Physical therapy
    • Chiropractic services
    • Prosthetics or other approved costs
    • Prosthetics or other approved costs

Mental health counseling benefits are available for primary victims and may be available to secondary victims including:

  • Family members such as parent, spouse, child, or sibling of a victim who is killed as a result of a crime.
  • Parents or siblings of a minor who is the victim of a sexual crime.
  • A step-parent of a minor who is the victim of a sexual crime if the victim resides in the same house as the step-parent.
  • Minor children of a victim of domestic violence who witness the crime at home.

To file a claim with the compensation program, you can obtain forms from any law enforcement agency, hospital, victim assistance program, or the Crime Victim Compensation Program’s office. Their phone number is: 800-498-6455 or 406-444-3653. The claim can be mailed to the program address at:

     Crime Victim Compensation Program

     PO Box 201410, Helena, MT 59620

Or you can file a claim online.

The legal system has two parts: criminal and civil. But as a victim of crime, you may have to interact with both parts of the system to resolve your legal issue.

Criminal legal issues:

Generally, if someone is charged with a crime or a victim of a crime, they are involved a criminal legal issue. A criminal legal issue starts when a crime is committed, whether it was reported to the police or not. Some common examples of crimes are assault, sexual violence, elder abuse, fraud, and property damage or theft. When someone reports a crime, they may become involved in the criminal process and interact with police officers, prosecutors and judges, all of whom are key figures in the criminal process.

If you’re involved in a criminal legal issue, you may encounter the following words: victim of crime, survivor, perpetrator, offender, suspect, defendant, prosecutor, police officer, sheriff, criminal investigation, criminal attorney, judge, plea deal, trial, and sentencing.

VLAN can help victims with their rights during a criminal case.

Civil legal issues:

A civil legal issue is usually a matter between people and/or private organizations or companies. Some common examples of civil legal issues are protection orders, dissolutions of marriage (divorce), parenting actions (child custody cases), eviction lawsuits, and collections lawsuits. It is common for people to describe their civil legal issues as lawsuits.  Victims of crime who file civil cases or lawsuits are not participating directly in the criminal process. There are no prosecutors, police officers, or correctional officers in civil cases.

As a victim of crime, you may be able to seek a civil lawsuit against the person(s) responsible for the crime regardless of whether criminal charges were filed. The civil system cannot determine a perpetrator’s guilt or innocence, but it can help survivors of crime get compensation from respondent/defendants for the harm caused.  Additionally, it’s not uncommon for a crime to affect other parts of a survivor’s life including custody, housing, employment, and financial standing.

If you’re involved in a civil legal issue, you may encounter the following words: petitioner, respondent, defendant, lawsuit, private attorney, tort, and settlement.


Legal Resources:

See if you qualify for free legal help from Montana Legal Services Association.

Find a private attorney in Montana to help with your civil legal needs.

VLAN can help crime victims with their rights within a criminal case, see Know Your Rights for more information on what this means.

VLAN cannot help people who have been charged with a crime with their criminal cases.  If you have been charged with a crime and need help, contact the MT Public Defenders’ Office nearest to you.

There are several ways to find an attorney in Montana. 

  1. The Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA) gives free civil legal help to those who are eligible, including victims of crime and low-income people. Apply for help from MLSA online or call the Helpline at 1-800-666-6899.  Helpline Hours are limited to Monday through Friday, 9am to 1pm.
  2. If you're eligible for MLSA’s services, you may also get legal advice by email from AskKarla, an online resource where you can ask legal questions and get answers from volunteer pro bono attorneys.
  3. You may also be able to find an attorney to help you by calling the State of Montana Bar Lawyer Referral and Information Service (LRIS) at (406) 449-6577. Visit the LRIS online.
  4. You can ask friends and family members, or prosecutors and advocates working on the case, they may be able to provide referrals for attorneys. 
  5. VictimConnect is a national online and telephonic and online chat hotline for victims of crime that exists to connect victims to resources they need. You can contact VictimConnect through their website  http://victimconnect.org/, or by telephone 1–855-4VICTIM (1-855-484-2846) or by online chat.


Before you set up an in-person or phone meeting with an attorney, you should ask if they will charge a consultation fee and what their overall fees entail. It’s important to understand how much you will owe an attorney for the work they do for you. For example, lawyers often charge time for phone calls or emails. You should expect to pay for each interaction you have with an attorney along with all their work on your case. A lawyer may not be able to tell you exactly how much your case will cost, but you can always ask for an estimate or a range of cost.


Ask about the attorney's education and experience. Have they studied your legal issue? Do they work on cases like your own? Have they represented clients in your situation? This is important because you may find an attorney whose rate you can afford but who has little experience dealing with your kind of legal issue. If the lawyer is not able to help you, ask if they can refer you to someone else with the appropriate legal experience.


Ask the attorney about communication. Establish communication norms at the beginning of your attorney-client relationship. Talk about the best way to communicate with your attorney (phone, email, letter) while the criminal and/or civil case is pending. A client may prefer consistent updates about their case, while the attorney usually only provides major updates about cases. Often attorneys work in an office with other people (administrative assistants, legal assistants or paralegals) who may be familiar with your case. You can ask if there is another person in their office to communicate with when they are unavailable. Talk about what you should expect during the case and what to do when you are contacted by the prosecutor or defense attorney.

Other questions to consider asking the attorney:

1) Ask whether the lawyer has malpractice insurance

2) Ask whether the lawyer has ever met with or represented the other party in the case


Consider the following factors:

  • Whether the parties involved (victim and offender) are Indian or non-Indian
  • Whether the crime is a misdemeanor or felony

Montana has seven Indian reservations, each of which make and enforce their own laws. Authority over a criminal case may be belong to tribal, state, or federal court depending on the circumstances. The authority to try and rule on a case is known as jurisdiction

Learn more about crimes committed in Indian Country

You can search the Resource Library on this website for information and supportive services.  If you are having trouble finding what you are looking for, try using our chat feature. Our Navigators can help you find information on the website. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, you may also find resources on VLAN’s partner sites.

Are you worried that someone may be hurting your friend, colleague, or loved one?  Some warning signs of abuse might include:

  • Their partner puts them down in front of other people
  • They are constantly worried about making their partner angry
  • They make excuses for their partner’s behavior
  • Their partner is extremely jealous or possessive
  • They have unexplained marks or injuries
  • They’ve stopped spending time with friends and family
  • They are depressed or anxious, or you notice changes in their personality


There are many ways you can help someone who may be experiencing abuse.

  1. Let them know that the abuse is not their fault.  Tell them that you believe what they are telling you.  Acknowledge that what is happening is scary. Reassure them that there is help available, and that they are not alone.

  2. Don’t judge them.  There are many reasons why a victim may stay in what may be an abusive relationship.  Someone may leave and go back to an abusive relationship many times. They will need support during those times, and when they are ready to leave for good.

  3. Help them find supportive services, such as Crime Victim Advocate, in their area.  An advocate can help them plan for safety and stability.

You can search the Resource Library on this website for information and supportive services.  If you can’t find what you’re looking for, you may also find resources on the following sites:

VLAN can provide training and technical assistance to service providers on issues related to crime victim legal services and information. We can provide training on topics including, but not limited to:

  • The Basics of Domestic & Sexual Violence
  • The Basics of Elder Abuse
  • Fraud, Scams, and Identity Theft – Protection and Recovery
  • Advocate Privilege, Confidentiality, and Mandatory Reporting
  • Trauma Informed Services
  • Vicarious Trauma / Secondary Trauma
  • Addressing Implicit Bias in Victim Services
  • Developing Technology Tools to Help Victims of Crime
  • Montana Legal Services Association – Program Overview and How To Refer Clients to MLSA

Contact vlan@mtlsa.org for more information.

landscape photo of Glacier National Park