Public records refer to documents generated by state and local agencies for general viewing. These are considered public information and may be generated in various ways, such as scientific research, data collection from the population, or an accumulation of previously existing records. Public records may originate from varying sources but must fit specific criteria. For it to be deemed a public record, it must be created by contractors, government agencies, or individuals.
Exemptions mandate it should not contain information about the person which would legally be considered private. Public records come in varying types regarding the information contained and their purpose. Some examples include court, marriage, birth, divorce, death, property, and voting records. In some states, Congress meeting minutes, city council meetings, and criminal records may also be considered public records.
It is assumed that public access is evident for these records though it depends on the state. At the federal level, the Freedom of Information Act feeds the premise the entire population should have access to government operations and documentation. Each state in the United States has a nuance relating to who is eligible to access public records. In most states, local laws ensure that requesters may access public records in a timely manner. That means states have to provide valid reasons for restricting access to records.
Types of Public Records
Public records are generated for different purposes to serve the population’s informational needs. State and local governments also have digital request forms to assist record seekers in obtaining records. Others require the interested party to appear in person. It depends on the type and purpose of the document. Vital records are the most popular because they detail typical population demographics.
These include marriages, deaths, births, and divorce statistics. The government uses data submitted by the population to generate statistics which will be used for planning purposes. It also uses the data for socio-economic assessments, which show the rate at which each state is developing and point out critical issues affecting regional populations. Generally, vital statistics are available to all members of the population in open record states. However, there may be restrictions on which persons can view them in others. Eligible requesters include relatives, spouses, legal representatives, and law enforcement personnel.
Court proceedings are also primarily considered public records. These fall under the freedom of information laws at the federal and state level. If a person is brought before a magistrate, barring some exemptions, the court appearance and charges are a matter of public record. There are cases where the record is restricted to outside access by the judge, if it includes juveniles, child custody cases, or sexual and domestic abuse. Inmate records are also available to all members of the public. These are generated and maintained by state correctional departments or Sheriff’s offices.
Typically, inmate information is provided via an online portal for all interested parties to view, provided they have the person’s name and booking number. It allows record seekers to view the inmate’s physical well-being, charges, the sentence given, and their specific facility.
Evaluation reports are also considered a public record type. Government offices and state auditors continuously assess the efficiency of public programs. The reports they provide show the progress of government programs or lack thereof. They are designed to be objective in issuing oversight and evaluation.
Laws and regulations are considered public records as well. It is because the process of legislating and rule-making is open to scrutiny, where the result would be their publication as laws. Records detailing compliance with these regulations are also deemed public. For example, data collected by the environmental protection agency concerning company compliance with existing laws on pollution are available to the public.
Criminal justice records, in some instances, are also considered part of the public record. Depending on the state’s stance on criminal or arrest records, these may be accessible. Inmate information is available to all, but the processes during booking and criminal investigations may not be considered public. Eligible requesters may access arrest and criminal records via the Sheriff’s office at a specific cost. Criminal justice records also entail sex offender registries. Like inmate searches, all states allow residents to access lists of convicted or released sex offenders within their communities.
Differences Between Public & Private Records
Private records contain confidential information about individuals, cases, or programs. If a record is classified as private, it cannot be accessed by organizations or non-eligible requesters. As public and private records differ in definition, there are distinctions concerning handling, access, and preparation. The first is custody. Certain local authorities keep all public documentation. For example, inmate records are maintained by the Sheriff’s office or corrections department. Private records, though, are kept by citizens. Even if governmental agencies maintain the personal record, access is restricted to specified parties.
Certified public documents may also be issued to any person demanding it at a specified fee. However, it is impossible for any interested party to access certified private documents. That is, they are not open for inspection to any individual. The differences between public and private records are also illustrated in background checks. When employees hire workers, they may access the person’s public records, such as their criminal background and addresses. Private information, though, is not available during background checks. For example, local government agencies and third-party database providers do not offer information on financial spending or credit reports.
There are differences in preparation as well. Public officials generate and maintain public documents when carrying out their duties. Private records, though, are prepared by individuals per their privacy rights or interest. Public documents are admissible as secondary copies in judicial proceedings. According to the Evidence Act, these records may be admissible in court. Though, before issuing private documents, one of the conditions of the same act is they are not admissible in court proceedings. Section 79 of the Evidence Act also binds the court to assume the validity of public records from certified copies. The section does not hold the same presumption of the truth of private records except within specific situations.
Access to Public Records
Local and state government entities provide different ways to access public records and eligibility criteria for restricted information. Depending on the record type, accessing them in person, via mail, or online should be possible. Vital statistics are the most commonly searched records and are usually available to eligible record seekers. These may be accessed from County Vital records, County Clerks, or the Department of Health. Property records which are also part of the vital statistics category, may be obtained from the County Recorder of Deeds.
Each county also has district, superior, or circuit courts handling civil, criminal, family, probate, and small claims cases or crimes. To access court records, interested parties may go to the specific courthouses where the cases were heard. They may contact the County Court clerk, the custodian for most court documents, to get certified copies. Alternatively, they can source the information online. Several counties have web-based platforms which allow record seekers to access case details. Some of the records may be confined to the parties of the case, though, depending on its details. Criminal justice records such as inmate searches, sex offender registries, and arrest records can be accessed at law enforcement agencies or the online search pages they provide.
There is a general presumption of public access to government-generated records in the United States. This is backed by federal, state, and local law. It allows any individual to access records and the agencies they can contact. Most public records can be accessed in person, via mail, or online. The service is provided at a fee though the cost depends on the type of record sought and the agency contacted. For example, criminal records may cost more than vital records. The only free records are inmate and sex offender searches, which are designated rights of all residents. Public records have some access exemptions similar to private records attributes. Some have eligibility requirements for interested parties, such as vital and criminal records. These protect the confidentiality of the records where necessary and as deemed by law.
Most Asked Questions About Public Records Online
How to remove information from public records?
Yes, in many cases, it is possible to request that sensitive information such as social security and phone numbers be redacted or removed from public records by contacting the county Clerk’s office.
However, the specific process for requesting redaction may vary depending on the state and county where the records are located. In some cases, you may need to fill out a specific form or provide additional documentation to support your request.
It is important to note that not all requests for redaction will be granted. Public records laws generally prioritize public access to information, so redaction requests are typically only granted if there is a compelling reason to protect personal privacy or if the information is exempt from public disclosure.
Are Public Records Laws the Same in Each State?
No, the open records act varies depending on the state. In some states, the open records act may encompass arrest or criminal records, while others do not. Each state has its own laws and regulations governing public records, which determine what types of records are considered public, what information is exempt from disclosure, and how requests for public records should be handled.
Some states have more extensive public records laws than others, and some may have more exceptions or limitations on public access to certain types of information. Additionally, the procedures for making a public records request may also differ from state to state, including the required forms and fees.
Are mugshots public records?
Yes, in most states in the United States, mugshots are considered public records and are therefore available to the public. This means that anyone can request and obtain a copy of a mugshot, as well as other information related to an arrest, from the law enforcement agency that made the arrest or the agency responsible for maintaining the records.
However, some states have laws or regulations that limit or restrict public access to mugshots. For example, some states require that a mugshot not be released until a certain amount of time has passed since the arrest, or until the person in the mugshot has been convicted of a crime.
What is not a public record in the states, counties or in general?
In the United States, what constitutes a public record varies depending on the state and jurisdiction. Generally, public records are documents or information that are created or collected by government agencies or officials in the course of their official duties and are made available to the public.
However, there are certain types of information that may be exempt from public disclosure, including:
- Personal information: Information that is considered private, such as social security numbers, medical records, and certain financial information, may be exempt from public disclosure.
- Law enforcement records: Records related to ongoing investigations, undercover operations, and other sensitive law enforcement activities may be exempt from public disclosure.
- Confidential business information: Proprietary information, trade secrets, and other sensitive business information may be exempt from public disclosure.
- Attorney-client privileged communications: Communications between an attorney and their client that are considered privileged may be exempt from public disclosure.
- National security information: Information related to national security, including classified information, may be exempt from public disclosure.
It is important to note that the specific exemptions to public disclosure can vary widely by jurisdiction, and there may be additional categories of information that are exempt from public disclosure beyond those listed above.
Are warrants found in public criminal records?
Warrants may be found in public criminal records, depending on the jurisdiction and the specific circumstances of the case.
In general, arrest warrants and search warrants are court orders that authorize law enforcement officers to arrest a person or search a specific location. These documents are typically filed with the court and become part of the public record in criminal cases. As a result, they may be accessible to the public through court records or online databases.
However, not all warrants may be included in public criminal records. In some cases, sealed or confidential warrants may not be available to the public. Additionally, some law enforcement agencies may not release information about outstanding warrants in order to protect the safety of officers and others involved in the case.
Are criminal records public information?
Criminal records are generally considered public information and can be accessed by members of the public through various channels.
Criminal records typically include information about a person’s criminal history, including arrests, charges, convictions, and sentences. These records are maintained by government agencies, such as law enforcement agencies and courts, and are usually available through online databases or by making a request to the relevant agency.
However, the specific rules and regulations regarding public access to criminal records can vary depending on the state and jurisdiction. Some states have more stringent rules around public access to criminal records, while others are more permissive.
Who can make a request for public records?
Generally anyone can make a request for public records, regardless of their citizenship or residency status. The right to access public records is considered a fundamental principle of democracy and is enshrined in many state and federal laws.
However, the specific procedures and requirements for making a public records request can vary depending on the jurisdiction and the type of record being requested. In general, most government agencies require that public records requests be made in writing, and that they include specific information such as the name and contact information of the person making the request, a description of the record being requested, and any other relevant details.
Some government agencies may also charge fees for processing public records requests, which can vary depending on the type and amount of information being requested. In some cases, certain types of information may be exempt from public disclosure, such as personal information that could be used to identify individuals, trade secrets, or law enforcement records that could compromise an ongoing investigation.
Emily Andrews is the communications manager consulting various privacy and security related organizations by day and community volunteer at night. Compassion and defending the defenseless are key human traits Emily believes in. Emily joined InfoCollective in 2021 to help generate the awareness and solve issues on national scale.