Alabama Public Records
The state of Alabama started keeping records in the early 1900s for all 67 counties. Over the last 30 years or so, most of the records have gone digital, but some paper documents still exist.
The State of Alabama’s Public Records Law gives United States citizens the ability to request public records in an easy and efficient manner without requesting a reason why.
While the premise of the state’s law is well intentioned, as with most states, the language of the law is a bit vague and can lead to some problems. As a result, it’s best to know everything you can about the law to give you the best chance for success.
We’ll explore what the law says and give you tips to access public records, which include criminal, inmate, court, and vital records.
It’s important to keep in mind accessing public records can be time consuming. It takes time to figure out which agency maintains the records you want and it takes time to request and receive the documents from the state.
Table of Contents
- 1 What does the Alabama public records law say?
- 2 How can a person access public records in Alabama?
- 3 Alabama criminal records
- 4 Alabama inmate records
- 5 Alabama court records
- 6 Alabama vital records
- 7 Frequently asked questions about Alabama records
- 7.1 Can a request be submitted by non-residents of the state?
- 7.2 Is there a records custodian in Alabama?
- 7.3 What exemptions exist?
- 7.4 How long does that state have to respond?
- 7.5 What kind of enforcement is in place?
- 7.6 Is there an appeal process in place?
- 7.7 What fees are associated with requesting public records?
What does the Alabama public records law say?
The Public Records code of Alabama says records can be accessed by the public with no state government or agencies off limits. However, the state does have broad safeguards in place to classify records as confidential and has done so with public safety records and public library records.
The state doesn’t have a records custodian or a designated person to manage records. There’s also no response time written in the law. Between the lack of a records custodian and no expressed response time, requesting and receiving records in the State of Alabama can be time consuming.
In addition, there’s no appeals process in Alabama. If a person submits a request for a copy of any public writing of this state and the request is denied, there’s no process in place to fight that decision. To learn more about the state law visit Alabama.gov.
How can a person access public records in Alabama?
For most public records in Alabama, a person must submit a public records request. The request is sent to different agencies, depending on the records you want to access.
For general records, the request is sent via mail, email, mail, or by phone to the Alabama Secretary of State. For criminal, inmate, court, and vital records, there are different agencies to contact.
No matter what agency you contact, a public records request could be needed. The request should include:
- Your name and contact information, including an email, phone number, and mailing address
- The name of the document you want access to with as much detail as possible
- A specific time period that you’d like to receive the materials by
- How to deliver the documents, whether by email or mail
In some cases, it’s best to make requests by email, especially since offices may have different hours to due COVID-19.
There are costs to copy documents. Costs vary by department.
Alabama criminal records
Criminal records are official documents that highlight a person’s past or present criminal activity. The record explains whether a person was arrested, prosecuted, charged, entered a plea, convicted or sentenced in a misdemeanor or a felony.
These records are often accessed by employers who want to conduct a background check on a possible hire.
What’s on a criminal record?
Information listed on a criminal record may vary from county to county, but most records contain:
- First middle and last name of the offender
- Offense(s) committed and law violated
- Physical descriptions such as race, height, eye color, hair color, and so on
- Date of birth
- Pending charges
- Acquitted or dismissed charges
Where can a person find Alabama criminal records?
- Resource: Alabama Law Enforcement Agency
The Alabama Background Check System is a secure online portal that employers can use to run a background check on a particular person. If any criminal record exists, the employer can see information like arrests, charges, and convictions. This information is often factored into a decision to hire a new candidate.
Alabama inmate records
The Alabama Department of Corrections runs 15 major facilities. Records are kept on each inmate, most of which is considered public record. There is a free searchable database online that can provide information. However, information regarding death row inmates held at Holman Correctional Facility or Tutwiler Prison is not searchable, but can be requested.
What’s on an inmate record?
An inmate record can provide the following information:
- An inmate’s full name and aliases
- Date of birth
- Nationality/ethnicity as well as unique identifiers and associations
- Inmate’s criminal data, such as the primary charges, arrest/booking details, current sentence, bail/bond conditions
- Prospective court or release dates
Where can a person find Alabama inmate records?
The Alabama Department of Corrections maintains a searchable online database of current inmates. To conduct a search, you must enter a person’s first and last name or the Alabama Institutional Serial number.
The records can provide information on the 25,000+ inmates in the state prison system, but will not provide any details on youth offenders.
Information on death row inmates must be requested from the Department of Corrections central office in Montgomery.
Alabama court records
Court records can provide an overview of an entire case. Obtaining court records is one of the more complicated requests, usually because each one of the courts like district courts or federal courts keeps its own records. In many states, to request court records from the judicial system, you must do so through the clerk of court. In Alabama, however, there’s an online database for trial court records.
What’s on a court record?
The information on a court record can vary, but in Alabama most people are looking for these specific documents within a court record:
- Court minutes
- Case files
- Orders of the court
- Judgement documentation
- Jury records and files
- Winess docuemtnation
Where can a person find Alabama court records?
- Resource: Just One Look
Alabama maintains a searchable database for court records for trial court records. The website, Just One Look, costs $9.99 to run one search. Through this site, the following records can be accessed:
- Criminal Records
- Civil Records
- Small Claims Records
- State Traffic Records
- Domestic Relations
- Child Support
Supreme court records can be accessed by sending a request to the Supreme Court of Alabama.
Alabama vital records
The Center for Health Statistics files, stores, and issues copies of public records. Records that can be requested include birth, death, marriage, and divorce certificates. The state has an automated system that gives all counties access to records, so requests for public records can be made at the local level.
What information is needed to request a vital record?
To request a vital record, you must provide some information up front to facilitate the search. You’ll need to provide the following:
- Full names before first marriage of both spouses
- Date of marriage
- Alabama county where marriage license was issued
- Your name
- Your signature
- Address where the certificate is to be mailed
- Your daytime phone number
Where can a person find Alabama vital records?
- Resource: Alabama Public Health
The Alabama Public Health official website is the first place to look for information on vital records. The site has links that can facilitate a search for birth certificates, death certificates, marriage certificates, and divorce certificates.
Due to Coronavirus, in-person requests are limited, but records can still be requested through a third-party site, VitalChek Network, Inc, by speaking with someone in your county health department, or by mailing in a request form. A certified copy of these records can be obtained through VitalChek Network, Inc.
Frequently asked questions about Alabama records
Alabama’s public record law can be challenging to understand. To help, here’s a list of frequently asked questions to provide more clarity:
Can a request be submitted by non-residents of the state?
Yes. Requests for public records can come from residents of other states. However, the state law doesn’t specifically grant this right to people outside of Alabama. As a result, record requests can be denied, but it’s uncommon.
Is there a records custodian in Alabama?
No. The State of Alabama does not have a records custodian, ombudsman, or public officer that maintains records. This can make tracking down such records more difficult.
What exemptions exist?
The state law doesn’t list any exemptions, but the state does reserve the right to classify records as confidential or deem them “nonpublic.” Records that include security information or the registration and circulation records of any library in the state are considered confidential.
How long does that state have to respond?
The public records code doesn’t list a specific response time for public officials and since there is no records custodian, response time is usually quite long in Alabama.
What kind of enforcement is in place?
The Public Records Law of Alabama is vague about records enforcement. The law says records can’t be destroyed or changed by a record keeper, and must not be withheld if they’re requested legally. If a person breaks these rules, a punishment of one year in jail is possible but the Attorney General doesn’t enforce the rule, instead it’s self-enforced.
Is there an appeal process in place?
No. If a request for the public disclosure of records is denied, there is no appeals process. Civil action would be the only way to fight the decision.
What fees are associated with requesting public records?
The law says records should be provided for free, but if budget restraints prevent this from happening the agency can charge a small fee to cover costs only. Records can be reviewed, not copied, without any fee as long as it doesn’t take up too much employee time.