Illinois

There are many reasons for seeking public records. Citizens may want to know how their elected officials voted on a particular issue or a crime victim may want to know when the perpetrator will be released. Each state has different laws and navigating them can be tough, especially if you don’t know where to look or how to request information. Here is some information to help you seek public records in Illinois.

What does the Illinois public records law say?

When you submit a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, government agencies have five business days to respond. Anyone from any state may request public information found in Illinois.  Requests can be made in person, verbally, by email or mail. Some agencies have specific requirements. There is a detailed list of reasons for denial and any denials for information must cite one of those reasons. All branches of the state government are subject to open records but there are more than 25 categories of broad, detailed exemptions. 

To learn more about the Freedom of Information Act in the Illinois Constitution, visit the secretary of state website.

How can a person access public records in Illinois?

For public records access in Illinois, some records are available online while others might require a formal request. If a request is necessary, it can be delivered by mail, email, or by phone to the record-holding department. 

Every department is different, so expect some variation to the rules if you’re accessing records from multiple places. 

In general, a public records 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

Due to COVID-19, some public offices may have limited hours of operation. As a result, online requests are best, but if you want to go in person you should call ahead.

Illinois criminal records

Criminal records are accessible in Illinois but may be in a variety of places. Those seeking a criminal background check are commonly employers looking to hire a specific person. Below is some information to make the search easier.

What’s on a criminal record?

A criminal record is a list of times where a person had some dealings with law enforcement or the courts. This combines information from several places including local law enforcement, courts and the state prison system. It can include times, dates and charges in arrests, how the case was settled in court and any prison time served.

  • There are four things all criminal records in every state will contain:
  • Personal information such as their nationality, birthday and legal name.
  • Fingerprints and a mugshot
  • Distinguishing features such as tattoos, body piercings or other noticeable attributes
  • The listing of the offense with a description of the crime

Where can a person find Illinois criminal records?

Those wanting to run a background check, like an employer who’d like to look into an applicant’s background, can get a statewide history transcript from the Illinois State Police, Bureau of Investigation.

For a thorough report, you will need to submit fingerprints, which you can have done in person at the ISP at 260 N. Chicago St., Joliet, IL, Monday through Friday or you can also go to any licensed live scan fingerprint vendor.

There are also name-based inquiries for quicker background checks through the Criminal History Response Process (CHIRP). You can register and link directly with CHIRP from the ISP website. While a fingerprint inquiry requires consent of the person, a name search does not.

There are fees for both services. It costs $20 to get state records with fingerprints on paper and $15 to get them sent electronically. If you include both the state and FBI records, the cost is $33.25 and $28.25, respectively.

Name-based inquiries are $16 for paper documents and $10 for electronic documents.

Illinois inmate records

Illinois typically has more than 52,000 prisoners in its prison system across the state. However, the governor decided to release at least 4,000 of them because of the fear of COVID-19 spreading through the prison. Accessing inmate records can provide information on who has been released and who remains behind bars.

What’s on an inmate record?

Inmate record information can be different from state to state, but Illinois records typically have both personal information and details of the person’s prison sentence. That would include information such as:

  • Their name, gender and birthdate
  • A mug shot
  • Where they are being incarcerated
  • The inmate registration number
  • Jail transfer information
  • Custody status

Where can a person find Illinois inmate records?

The Illinois State Department of Corrections has an inmate locator where you can search the state. You can search by last name, their IDOC number of birthdate. It also links to the Federal Bureau of Prisons Inmate Locator. 

Illinois court records

There is a lot of information you can obtain from court records in Illinois. There are several resources where you can get court records. Remember that court records are often held in various courts across the state and that can make them harder to obtain than most records. 

What’s on a court record?

Court records can be extensive and include a lot of many types of documents. These documents can include things like:

  • Case files
  • Dockets
  • Court orders
  • Court minutes
  • Documents ordering judgement
  • Jury files
  • Witness documentation

Where can a person find Illinois court records?

Those seeking Illinois court records must obtain them from the local court handling the case. The Illinois Association of Court Clerks makes it easier by listing all the county links on their page. Those seeking information should contact the county clerk listed to find out how to obtain court records. Be prepared to place a formal request for records involving court cases and have case information and a case number handy, if possible. 

The largest Illinois court circuit is the Cook County Circuit Court. There is no online access to court records. You must physically go to the Cook County Courthouse and use a public-access terminal to access records as the system doesn’t publish criminal records online. Also, Cook County does not keep dispositions for arrests or charges where they didn’t go to court.

In Illinois courts, the clerk can charge you a certified disposition fee to process your request. The fee is $9 in Cook County. 

The process to access court records remains the same no matter where the case was heard. Whether it was heard by the Illinois Supreme Court or elsewhere in the judicial circuit, your point of contact should be the clerk of court at the specific courthouse.  

Illinois vital records

Illinois, like all states, has an office that maintains all vital records. Vital records is documentation of life events such as births, deaths, marriages, and divorces. People need these records for passports, genealogy and sometimes to prove their identity.

What information is needed to request a vital record?

Those seeking a vital record in Illinois will be required to submit information to help find the document. This can include:

  • The event date and location
  • The full name of the person, including maiden names
  • A case file number for divorce cases or a license number for a marriage record

Where can a person find Illinois vital records?

The State of Illinois has strict rules on accessing vital records and only certain people with interest can obtain them. Illinois does not list birth records as public, so only a few can receive copies of them. Death records are only available to those with a personal or property right interest in the decedent. Adoption files are sealed once the adoption is complete because Illinois is a closed state.

However, those seeking uncertified copies of birth and death records for genealogical purposes may have better luck. The state does allow public access to birth certificates that are more than 75 years old and death certificates that are more than 20 years old.

Marriage, divorce and civil union records are only available by speaking with the clerk of the circuit court in the county where the event took place. Certifications can be obtained in person in the clerk’s office. 

The state public health office can verify they exist but requesters must go to the local courts to obtain certified copies. All vital records requests must be made in writing.

Frequently asked questions about Illinois records

Can a request be submitted by non-residents of the state?

Yes, anyone in the United States can submit an open records request regardless of the state they reside in. 

Is there a records custodian in Illinois?

Yes, there is a state official in charge of records. However, the Attorney General’s Office has a division called the Public Access Counselor to help resolve disputes between those requesting and agencies refusing to honor the request. All agencies must notify the Public Access Counselor of any denials along with reasons for denial.

What exemptions exist?

While no agency is exempted from FOIA requests, there are exemptions with detailed language for each category and listing ways where a request could be exempted. Exemptions in the federal freedom of information law can also be used to exempt certain state documents.

Illinois exemptions are broad, so anyone seeking information should read the exact law. Some of things exempted are:

  • Private information
  • Personal information
  • Law enforcement information in active or ongoing investigations
  • Law enforcement information that could lead to a biased trial or mistrial
  • Trade secrets
  • Grant or proposal documents
  • Educational Examination Data Architectural or engineering data on facilities
  • Communications with attorneys or auditors
  • Closed meeting minutes until released under the Open Meetings Act
  • Public employee grievances or disciplinary action
  • Real estate proprietary insurance data
  • Security threats

How long does that state have to respond?

The agency has five business days to respond.

Is there an appeals process in place?

Those who don’t receive a response from the agency within the time required or who disagree with the denial of a request for information can file a complaint with the Public Access Counselor’s office. Agencies found guilty of wrongdoing incur significant penalties of between $2,500 and $5000.

If the requester feels the Public Access Counselor didn’t make the right decision in their FOIA request, the one requesting information can file appeal the decision by filing a lawsuit in circuit court. 

What fees are associated with requesting public records?

Fees to obtain public records in Illinois are specified in the law. Agencies can’t charge search fees and must charge only the actual cost of labor to copy them. Also, if they don’t respond within five business days, they could dismiss the fee.

There are no fees for requests totaling less than 50 black and white pages and those in color can only be charged the cost of copying them. The copying fee is $.15 per page. With electronic records, the cost can only include the cost of the medium that the record is copied onto such as a flash drive. The Illinois Vehicle Code sets the fee for driving records.

  • Updated November 16, 2020
  • States

North Carolina

Whether you live in Raleigh or New York City, you can request public records that are held in the state of North Carolina. The state has an open policy, but if you’re trying to request documents of any kind it’s important to understand the system.

As you might expect, requesting public records can be difficult. Records are held at different agencies. Some require a request form, others are searchable online. Navigating the state’s world of public records requires some direction. 

To help, we’ve created this guide, which is specific to the state North Carolina, to help those looking specifically for criminal, inmate, court, and vital records. 

What does the North Carolina public records law say?

North Carolina’s Public Records Law can be defined as expansive, but without any real form of enforcement. Agencies cannot ask a requester why they are searching for certain records, and there is a separate office that negotiates fees based on requests to maintain minimal costs. 

There is no time limit on when requests must be completed and there is currently no formal appeal system process, so requesters must deal with good faith agencies that have the support of the law on their side. 

Under the public records law in North Carolina, individuals are entitled to public inspection of records held by all public agencies. The term ‘public agency’ is defined as any agency of North Carolina government or any of its subdivisions, including every public officer and public office, board, commission, institution, bureau, department, council, unit, or authority of the state government or a subdivision of government. 

Public information includes all public meetings and also includes: Both paper and electronic files, mail, emails, letters, maps, photographs, books, sound recordings, films, magnetic tapes, artifacts, and documentary material. Also, drafts that have been received by an agency of the government become state property and thus, are classified as property of the people.

More information can be found on the state website, NorthCarolina.gov.

How can a person access public records in North Carolina?

In some cases, accessing public records in North Carolina requires a physical form to request the document. In other cases, there are online databases that can provide 24/7 access to information; no form required.  

If a physical form is required, it can be sent by mail, email, or by phone to the corresponding department. 

Note that state agencies and employees are not required to create and/or compile a government record if one does not currently exist. 

With each department different, expect some slight variations to the rules if you’re accessing records from multiple locations. 

In general, a public records 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

Due to COVID-19, some public offices require masks and others may have limited hours of operation. As a result, online requests are best, but if you want to go in person you should call ahead. 

North Carolina criminal records

The criminal records within the state of North Carolina are classified as official documents that detail all criminal activities committed in the state. All of these documents are prepared and maintained by local and state law enforcement groups, courts, agencies, detention, and correctional facilities. 

Criminal records describe felonies and misdemeanors of alleged and convicted criminals as well as records of arrest, indictment, and conviction. 

What’s on a criminal record?

A criminal record provides a detailed record of a person’s history with law enforcement. These records are taken from various sources and include a person’s arrest records, prior convictions, and incarcerations within the state’s prisons. 

More specifically, a criminal record or a background check will provide the following information: 

  • Personal information like a person’s name, birth date, nationality, etc.
  • A mugshot, plus a full set of fingerprints
  • A list of distinguishing features like tattoos, birthmarks, or other identifying marks
  • Type of offense (misdemeanor or felony) and description of the crime

Where can a person find North Carolina criminal records?

The North Carolina Department of Public Safety works with the state’s court system to provide criminal background checks. How expansive criminal records are in the state of North Carolina vary from county to county. 

Using the link above, you can request background checks that are fingerprint-based, also known within the state of North Carolina as the ‘Right to Review’ record. The processing fee for requests for criminal records is $14. 

North Carolina inmate records

The state of North Carolina has approximately 31,000 inmates within its corrections system. Inmate records can provide information on current inmates that are housed within any correctional facility within the state. 

What’s on an inmate record?

The information on inmate records varies from state to state; in Maine the records usually contain a combination of personal information and specific details about a person’s incarceration situation. Public access to inmate records can provide the following information when accessed: 

  • Personal information (first/last name, birthdate, gender)
  • Identifying information (tatoos, birthmarks, etc.)
  • A mug shot
  • Inmate location
  • Inmate registration number
  • Jail transfer information
  • Custody status

Where can a person find North Carolina inmate records?

Information can be accessed by visiting the North Carolina Department of Public Safety page and entering in the inmate’s first/last name, gender, race, date of birth, or incarceration identification number. From there, a requester will have access to all of the inmates matching the criteria. 

The same system can provide information on parolees. The search function allows you to search for active inmates or active parolees. 

North Carolina court records

North Carolina citizens have the authority to search for, obtain, and utilize public records that are held by the state government, county government, municipality, or city. Under the Freedom of Information Law, requesters have the tools necessary to acquire records easily and more efficiently. 

What’s on a court record?

In most cases, court records are quite extensive and come with several various documents. Most people find these documents to be the most helpful: 

  • Court minutes
  • Case files
  • Dockets
  • Orders of the court
  • Judgement documentation
  • Jury records and files
  • Witness documentation

Where can a person find North Carolina court records?

In order to access court records, a request can be made at a clerk’s court office in any county. To find a case, you can use the court terminals to search using the defendant name, case number, and/or victim/witness name. Copies of any paper documents can be processed for a nominal fee. 

An individual can access information about civil, estate cases, or special proceedings in the North Carolina state court system on self-service public terminals located in the clerk of court’s office in any county.  View the user’s manual for the system where the information is stored. Paper copies can be prepared by staff for a small fee. 

North Carolina vital records

In the state of North Carolina, there are offices that contain all of the birth records, marriage records, and death certificates. Records that mark milestones are known as vital records. 

What information is needed to request a vital record?

To obtain vital records in North Carolina, like a birth certificate or a death record, a person must provide certain information to aid in the search. The information includes the following: 

  • the location of the event
  • the approximate date of the event
  • the full name of the person, including maiden names 
  • a case file number for divorce records
  • the license number for a marriage record

Where can a person find North Carolina vital records?

A subsidiary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, North Carolina Vital Records houses the birth, death, and marriage certificates of the state and they can be obtained at the Register of Deeds (ROD) office in whichever county the event took place. 

Through the State Archives of North Carolina, a person has access to several holdings that include:

  • Death certificates (1939-1979)
  • Microfilmed indexes for births and deaths
  • Cohabitation records (1866-1867)
  • Microfilmed marriage registers and indexes

Currently, North Carolina’s vital records department has suspended its walk-in service temporarily, so all services must be done via online or by mail. Also, services in the department will be delayed and delivery times will fluctuate. 

Frequently asked questions about North Carolina records

To further assist North Carolina citizens in the pursuit of public records, here is a list of FAQs to help: 

Can a request be submitted by non-residents of the state?

Yes. Anyone can request and receive records that pertain to public business. 

Is there a records custodian in North Carolina?

No. The state’s public records policy doesn’t list a records custodian. Records are available with each state department.

What exemptions exist?

An agency in North Carolina may refuse to disclose requested records if one or more of the following exemptions apply:

  • Communication between attorneys and government clients made within the scope of the attorney-client relationship
  • Local and state tax information
  • Public enterprise billing information
  • Personally identifiable admissions information for North Carolina public universities
  • Trade secrets
  • Specific government lawsuit settlements
  • Criminal investigation records
  • Criminal intelligence information records
  • Information obtained via a 911 database
  • Emergency response plans
  • Photographs and/or recordings of autopsies

This is an abbreviated list as there are numerous other exceptions that can be applied under the state’s public records law. 

How long does that state have to respond?

There is no general statute in the state of North Carolina that specifies a time. 

Is there an appeals process in place?

There is no official appeals process in the state of North Carolina, so if a request is denied for any reason, you can ask for a reason for the denial. Non-exempt portions of the record can be released or the exempt portions can be redacted. 

Are estate records available?

Yes. North Carolina considers all real estate records public. 

What fees are associated with requesting public records?

Agencies in the state of North Carolina only have the power to be able to charge for copies, unless an ‘extensive amount of labor’ is involved in providing the public records. In some instances, the State Chief Information Office can mediate fees by a requester. 

  • Updated October 26, 2020
  • States

Texas

The Texas Public Records Act allows people to access records from state, city, county, and government agencies. Whether you need to run a criminal background check or you want to see the minutes from the county board meeting, the information we have provided here will be extremely helpful. We layout how you can find criminal, inmate, court, and vital records. 

What does the Texas public records law say?

Under the act, you do not have to be a resident to receive records. The records must be produced for you within 10 days, or a written response should be mailed to you explaining when the records will be available. 

If the agency is going to deny your request, they need to send a written exemption to the attorney general. This is a benefit because it means the agency will not just automatically deny records requests. The attorney general makes the final decision on the release of the records but this step will also slow down the acquisition of records. That attorney general has 45 days to respond to the denial. There is no appeal option in Texas, but you can file a lawsuit to obtain the records.  

There are exemptions within the Texas Public Records Act. The judicial system is exempt although you can obtain records from the executive and state agencies. You can be refused records on audits, confidential records, personnel files, records that are an invasion of privacy, crime or abuse victims records, and certain law enforcement procedures due to security. 

The fee associated with copying records in Texas is $.10 per page. If a search is required for your request, you can be charged $15.00 per hour. You may be charged more if the records you request are in different agencies. If an employee needs to redact confidential information, you can be charged for that work.

For more information, visit Texas.gov.

How can a person access public records in Texas?

Some Texas records are available online and some must be requested through a physical form. If a form is required, it can be sent via mail, email, or by phone to the record-holding department. 

Every department is different, so expect some variation to the rules if you’re accessing records from multiple places. 

In general, a public records 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

Due to COVID-19, some public offices may have limited hours of operation. As a result, online requests are best, but if you want to go in person you should call ahead.

Texas criminal records

A criminal record from Texas provides arrest information, prosecutions, and dispositions for a Class B misdemeanor or greater violation. It will include specific information on the person’s interactions with law enforcement.  

What’s on a criminal record?

A criminal record or background check from Texas will contain the following information:

  • Criminal history
  • A tracking ID number
  • Personal information like name and birthdate
  • A mugshot
  • Fingerprints
  • A physical description
  • The type of offense 

Where can a person find Texas criminal records?

The Texas Department of Public Safety can provide background checks via an online portal. If a person has been convicted of a crime, arrested, or prosecuted, it will show up in the report. This information is considered public information as is a sex offender registry.

You will need to set up an account and supply your name, address, email, phone number and credit card information. You will not receive a refund if there are no records found. 

Texas inmate records

Texas has 700 prisons and jails that in 2017 housed 1435,341 inmates. This can make a search for an inmate’s records difficult. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice online search will help you find the information you seek. We have provided you information to help you complete that search. 

What’s on an inmate record? 

Each state varies in what information it will provide on an inmate’s record. Usually it contains personal details and where the person is incarcerated. Conducting a public records search can provide the following information on an inmate:

  • An inmate’s name, date of birth, and gender
  • A mug shot
  • Inmate registration number
  • Inmate location
  • Jail transfer information
  • Custody status
  • Parole information

Where can a person find Texas inmate records?

The state of Texas provides an easy-to-use online database to access inmate records.

To request an inmate’s records, visit the website listed above and enter the last name and the first initial of the person, or the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) number or the state identification (SID)  number. You can enter a gender and a race if you know them. 

Texas court records

The courts in Texas are numerous and each court has a specific function. We provide information here so that you can gain an understanding of the court system. Because of its large number of courts, it can be hard to track down records.

Texas courts can be broken down into levels by what type of case they manage. The Supreme Court helps the whole judicial system in Texas run efficiently and creates the rules pertaining to the other courts. The majority of the cases are an appeal from an appellate ruling. 

The Court of Criminal Appeals is for criminal matters. Texas has fourteen Courts of Appeals which deal in both civil and criminal cases. 

Texas has four levels of trial or district courts, which include civil court, family law, criminal court, and juvenile cases. The Trial Court system uses either a jury trial or a decision by a judge. They handle both criminal cases where the defendant may be sent to prison if a crime has been committed or a civil case where a decision is made on a lawsuit.  

Appellate Courts make decisions on appeals that were filed on trials that were previously tried in the state. 

Probate Courts rule on court cases involving estates of the deceased, wills, guardianship, mental health and incapacitated persons. 

Texas requires each of its 254 counties to have a judge and a county court. There are also 254 justice courts.  

What’s on a court record?

Since cases can take a long time to come to trail, court records can be large and unwieldy.

These documents will be the most helpful:

  • Case files
  • Dockets
  • Court minutes
  • Orders of the court
  • Judgement documentation
  • Jury records and files
  • Witness documentation

Where can a person find Texas court records?

In order to receive court documents from Texas, you need to complete an application. The form is short and easy to complete. You must supply your name, address, phone and email. Be specific on the records you want to request. 

Typically, the request is sent to the county clerk or county clerk’s office, who maintain records. 

Texas vital records

The Vital Statistics Section (VSS) of Texas does provide vital records when you are in need of that missing marriage or birth certificate. The state maintains birth and death certificates, divorce records and marriage applications for its citizens. 

What information is needed to request a vital record?

To receive vital records, you must provide specific information to aid in the process. The information for the application form vary by different types of records but includes the following:

  • Full name of the person and previous names 
  • Location of the event
  • Date of the event
  • A license number for marriage records
  • A case file for divorce records

Where can a person find Texas vital records?

You can request your own records. If you want a different person’s records you must be immediate family (or adoptive), a legal guardian or a legal agent or a representative. 

To obtain death records or marriage license, you need to complete the application and have a valid photo ID. The application must be notarized. Enclose a check or money order made out to DSHS Vital Statistics. 

You can mail the request to Texas Vital Statistics, Department of State Health Services, P.O. Box 12040, Austin, TX 78711-2040  

Due to COVID-19, requesting official public records is taking longer than usual.

Frequently asked questions about Texas records

We have compiled a list of the most common questions about Texas Public Records to provide additional information.

Can a request be submitted by non-residents of the state?

Yes. You can request public records if you are a non-resident. 

Is there a records custodian in Texas?

No. Each government official in a county is in custody of the records.

What exemptions exist?

The records of the judicial branch are exempt from the law in Texas. Other records that are exempt often deal with invasion of privacy or confidentiality laws. You cannot receive personnel files, mental health files, trade secrets, academic files, credit card information, or crime and abuse victim records. 

How long does that state have to respond?

The agency is supposed to produce records for you within 10 days. If they cannot get you the records within 10 days, the Public Information Act says they must send you a letter stating when the records will be available. 

Is there an appeals process in place?

You may file a lawsuit, but there is no appeals process in Texas. If the agency is going to refuse your records, they must send a letter to the attorney general who will either agree with the agency or recommend that the documents are released. The attorney general has up to 45 days to respond to the letter. 

What fees are associated with requesting public records?

Texas is required to charge reasonable fees for copying and labor for a record request. If the request is under 50 pages, they are allowed to only charge for photocopying the pages at $0.10 a page. If the pages are over 50, the charge for labor is $15.00 an hour. If the records are housed in two separate buildings, they are allowed to charge for labor. 

  • Updated November 18, 2020
  • States

California

Anyone that has ever tried to get public records in the state of California knows that it can be a challenging process. Records are maintained across several departments within the state, but all Californians have the right to access public records housed by both a local agency and state government agencies, including those held at the Department of Justice. This includes millions of criminal records, court records, inmate records, and vital records across all 58 counties in the state of California.

The state of California has a fairly specific public records law, with specified response times and exemptions to few records. The California constitution actually has few exemptions in its public records law. While many states exclude some records created by the legislature, California does not. If a records request is denied, however, there is no appeals process in place to gain access to the records. 

To assist people in acquiring the records, we have compiled this guide for the state of California that will enable people to better understand the laws within the state and provide instructions on how to access criminal, court, inmate, and vital records. 

What does the California public records law say?

The public records law in the state of California says it’s the necessary right of every person to “access to records that relate to the conduct of the people” yet exempts information that is deemed solely personal that happens to be included on a public account. 

Under California law, responses must be met within 10 days and applies to both executive and state agencies. Residency within the state is not required, however, there is no appeal option if a request is denied. 

How can a person access public records in California?

For a public records act request, a person must submit a public records request. The request is sent via mail, email, mail, or by phone to the record-holding department. Sometimes, a physical form must be submitted to the public agency. 

Every department is different, so expect some variation to the rules if you’re accessing government records from multiple places. 

In general, a public records request should include: 

  • Your name and contact information, including an email or phone number where you can be reached during office hours
  • 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

COVID-19 has created some unusual circumstances, which has resulted in some public offices limiting hours of operation. As a result, online requests or utilizing electronic formats are best, but it can not stop you from accessing records “concerning the conduct of people’s business.” 

California criminal records

In California, criminal records – also known as rap sheets – are typically used by employers that want to check the backgrounds of potential employees. In order to assist in searching for a person’s criminal records, we have provided the following information and resources below. 

What’s on a criminal record?

A person’s criminal record includes a thorough overview of their interaction with law enforcement and is pulled from several sources. These records consist of any arrests, convictions, and incarcerations throughout the state’s 35 prisons. 

Specifically, a criminal record or background check includes the following information:

  • Personal information (name, birth date, nationality)
  • Mugshot plus fingerprints
  • Comprehensive list of distinguishing physical features (tattoos, scars, moles)
  • Any misdemeanors or felonies, including a description of the crime

Where can a person find California criminal records?

Criminal records in California are administered by the Office of the Attorney General. The OAG provides background checks that can be accessed through law enforcement offices and through the official California State Records Online Database. 

Manual fingerprints are required as part of the government code to initiate a background search as criminal records are not provided without a person’s knowledge, although an individual can give consent to initiate one. 

Criminal inmate records

The state of California has approximately 115,000 inmates within its corrections system. Inmate records provide information on inmates that are currently incarcerated. 

What’s on an inmate record?

The information listed on an inmate can vary, but in California records typically contain a combination of personal information along with specific details about a person’s incarceration situation. The following information can be acquired when public access is provided to inmate records:

  • Name, birth date, gender
  • Mugshot
  • Inmate location
  • Inmate registration number
  • Custody status
  • Jail transfer information

Where can a person find California inmate records?

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation provides information and links that allow you to locate offenders and provide information for victims and advocates.  

Use the site www.ca.gov with an inmate’s first and last name or offender ID to do a search. If you cannot locate the inmate through these means, contact the Department’s Identification Unit at 916-445-6713. 

California court records

Court records are able to provide extensive information from court hearings and for those that are seeking access, there are resources listed below. Note that it is often a difficult process to procure court records as they can be held across different courts. 

What’s on a court record?

The information on a court record can vary, but in California, most people are looking for these specific documents within a court record:

  • Court minutes
  • Case files
  • Dockets
  • Orders of the court
  • Judgment documentation
  • Jury records and files
  • Witness documentation

Where can a person find California court records?

In California, court records for background checks are served via the California Judicial Branch, although the state imposes restrictions on employers that request them. These restrictions can are found in the following:

  1. California’s ‘ban the box’ law
  2. The Los Angeles and San Francisco ‘Fair Chance Ordinances’ (FCO
  3. Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)
  4. California Information Privacy Act (CIPA)
  5. Anti-discrimination laws

Court records can also be obtained in the following ways:

  • Go to the courthouse and request to look at physical records
  • Go to the courthouse and request access to electronic court records
  • Access electronic records via the internet

If you plan to go to the courthouse to request records, having an understanding of how the state court system works is helpful. In California, the supreme court is the highest authority. The California Supreme Court oversees decisions made by the court of appeal, which oversees decisions made by superior courts. Most court cases are heard by a superior court or trial court.

California vital records

California, like most states, has an office that maintains its vital records. Vital records are maintained for milestone moments and include birth records, marriage records, and death certificates. 

What information is needed to request a vital record?

To request a vital record, you must provide some information upfront to facilitate the search. You’ll need to provide the following: 

  • Full names before the first marriage of both spouses
  • Date of marriage
  • California county where the 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 California vital records?

The California Department of Public Health – Vital Records (CDPH-VR) keeps birth, death, deaths, marriage, and divorce records on file for the state of California. The department also issues certified copies of California vital records as well as registers and amends vital records as authorized by law. 

Because California receives a large volume of requests on the state level, it is quicker to request vital records directly from the county office, with many accepting requests by phone, fax, online, and with credit card payment. 

Frequently asked questions about California records

In your quest to access public records in California, you may have additional questions. To further assist California citizens in their pursuit for public records, here’s a list of commonly asked questions: 

Can a request be submitted by non-residents of the state?

The law states that only California residents can request public records. However, other agencies and the United States citizens residing in other states have made requests and received the requested records.

Is there a records custodian in California?

No. The public records law in the state specifically tells people to contact individual agencies to gain access to records. 

What exemptions exist?

While some states have a specific list of records that can’t be accessed or are exempt from public viewing, California doesn’t. The state does grant exemptions to “any records that are not in the best public interest to be released.” 

In these particular cases, public information that pertains to safety protocols, building layouts, medical records, and records of that nature fall into this exemption category.

How long does that state have to respond?

California has 10 days to respond to a request. California does specify a specific response time. Other states do not. 

Is there an appeal process in place?

The California Public Records Act (CPRA) does not establish any type of administrative appeal. However, the law does leave room for individual agencies to create their own appeals process, though we did not find any.

What fees are associated with requesting public records?

Once a request for records has been made, the staff creates copies for a fee of 10 cents per page for standard documents. Additional fees can be incurred for postage charges, and the retrieval/return of records held off-site in archives. These direct costs may be waived if deemed appropriate in some instances. 

  • Updated December 3, 2020
  • States

Minnesota

Minnesota is a little different in how it handles its public records because of various amendments to the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (MGDPA) since the law was first adopted. The intent was to make most everything publicly accessible, but lobbying efforts and lawmakers have added more than a few exemptions. It can be confusing as some offices don’t allow walk-in requests and require you to mail, email, or fax. 

Yet, other things most states typically list as private, such as government employee salary, are listed as public. Those needing to access records have a right to submit a request through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). We’ve created a state-specific guide to help a United States citizen understand how to find and request specific records. This guide provides direction on how to obtain criminal, court, inmate, and vital records.

What does the Minnesota public records law say?

The Minnesota law doesn’t have a citizenship requirement to request documents, so you can make a request from anywhere. However, there isn’t a specific response time either so you can be left waiting a while before your request is answered.

There are a myriad of exemptions in the legislative and judicial branches. Records from the legislature are exempt in many cases and many judicial records, such as domestic abuse records, judicial work product and court service records are exempt. The executive branch has no exemptions. 

You can make your FOIA request in person, in writing and online, depending on the agency involved.  Like other states, Minnesota can’t ask why you want records.

To learn more about conducting a public records search, you can visit Minnesota.gov.

How can a person access public records in Minnesota?

For public records access in Minnesota, a person must submit a public records request. The request is sent via mail, email, mail, or by phone to the record-holding department. 

Every department is different, so expect some variation to the rules if you’re accessing records from multiple places. 

In general, a public records 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

Due to COVID-19, some public offices may have limited hours of operation. As a result, online requests are best, but if you want to go in person you should call ahead.

Minnesota criminal records

Some criminal records are available in Minnesota, although there are some specific exemptions. The most common need for a criminal records search is to get a job as many employers require it. There may be other reasons a background check is necessary including verifying some information before volunteering for certain charities or to implement a business contract or transact business with a particular vendor. 

What’s on a criminal record?

A criminal record details a person’s history with law enforcement. Details are extracted from several sources including local police departments for arrests, courts for trials and convictions and the state prison system for information about incarceration.

There are five basic things on a person’s criminal record. It will include basic personal information such as their name, birthday, and nationality. It will also have a mugshot and a full set of fingerprints. A criminal record will include specific distinguishing features like tattoos. It will also include listing of misdemeanor and felony offenses and a description of the crime. 

Where can a person find Minnesota criminal records?

Minnesota has a free online service offered by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA). Available information includes public data maintained by BCA with criminal conviction data available to the public for 15 years following the completion of a sentence. Available information includes:

  • Offenses
  • Courts of conviction
  • Dates of conviction
  • Sentencing information

The website doesn’t include information on arrests, juveniles, criminal history from other states, federal crime information, or data deemed private.

Minnesota inmate records

There are an estimated 9,849 inmates in the Minnesota prison system. Inmate records can be helpful if you are an employer and seek specific information about a person’s conviction and sentence. They can also be useful if you are a crime victim and want to know when the offender will be released or are involved in other court action with the inmate.

What’s on an inmate record?

Minnesota is like many states and has a variety of basic information available on its inmate records. Gaining access to these records will provide the following information:

  • Basic information including a name, a birthdate and gender
  • A mug shot and inmate location
  • Inmate registration number and jail transfer information
  • Custody status

Where can a person find Minnesota inmate records?

Minnesota has an online search site for people to look up offender information. Those seeking information will need the offender’s name or the inmate identification number to do an online search. It can take several business days to get a newly sentenced inmate into the online system, so be aware of the extra time required.

Minnesota court records

Court records contain valuable information that can be used for several different reasons. Employers may want to know details of a case involving a job applicant or others involved in a separate case may want details of other court action involving the individual. Some look up court cases to find out information about their parent’s past or other family members. 

What’s on a court record?

Court records are typically large files of information and can include documents from several courts, depending on the case. It can contain all court transcripts as well as information on all action in a case. Some of the documents requesters find in court files include dockets, court minutes, case files, court orders, sentencing or judgement documentation, jury records and files and witness documentation.

Where can a person find Minnesota court records?

The State of Minnesota has online access to its judicial branch case records through a public access site. On the site, you can access records from Minnesota District Courts, the Minnesota Appellate Courts, the Minnesota Court of Appeals, and the Minnesota Supreme Court records. 

You can also find court records by going to the court where the case was heard and talking to the court clerk. In some cases, requesters feel it’s easier to call or visit a courthouse, especially if it’s to request district court records. 

Minnesota vital records

Vital records are some of the most commonly requested records. People need them for a variety of reasons such as getting a new driver’s license, a passport, getting married and getting a clearance check for a new job. Vital records include documents of life’s milestone events, so birth records, death records, marriage records and divorce records are all considered vital. 

Some older records related to genealogy make it more challenging to find as they may be archived.

What information is needed to request a vital record?

There are some privacy issues involving vital records so any requester will need some basic information to obtain these records. Information required includes:

  • The approximate date and location of the event
  • The full name of the person, including maiden names
  • A case file number for divorce records and a license number for marriage records. 

Where can a person find Minnesota vital records?

You can obtain vital records from the Minnesota Department of Public Health Office of Vital Records. There is no walk-in service at the Office of Vital Records and it only accepts applications by mail or fax. Applications for vital records are available on their website and include birth certificates and death certificates.

Marriage records can be accessed in the Minnesota Official Marriage System database and copies are available from the county issuing the marriage license. Divorce decrees are available for the county district court office. Be aware that not all court district offices accept credit or debit cards for payment of fees. Fees for these records are changing regularly and are not posted on Minnesota’s government website.

Frequently asked questions about Minnesota records

To further assist your search for public records, here are answers to frequently asked questions:

Can a request be submitted by non-residents of the state?

Yes, whether you live in St. Paul, Minneapolis, or Los Angeles, you can request records in Minnesota. 

Is there a records custodian in Minnesota?

No, there is no records custodian in Minnesota.

What exemptions exist?

There are many specific exemptions within the legislative and judicial branches even though neither are considered exempt branches. Documents related to the legislature are exempt in many cases and judicial documents related to domestic abuse records, judicial work product, and court service records are exempt. Administrative records relating to security, employees, and applicant records are also exempt. Requesters would need to look at the law to determine if a specific document is exempt.

How long does that state have to respond?

There is no specific time limit for the state to respond to a FOIA request.

Is there an appeals process in place?

Yes, you can appeal to the Commissioner of Administration. A requester can file an appeal up to two years after receiving a denial. 

What fees are associated with requesting public records?

Fees charged for various records in Minnesota can be a bit murky. There isn’t a charge to inspect records in person. There are charges for government employees to search and duplicate records electronically, but the agency can’t charge additionally for redacting records or spending time legally reviewing them before release. Fees are increasing all the time in the state, especially relating to search time and labor costs. There are no fee waivers for the media or those requests made in the public interest. 

  • Updated November 26, 2020
  • States

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Church Background Checks for Volunteers


Any sort of organization that has constant interaction with children is going to require some sort of background check or screening. In Churches, where there is so much focus on the youth ministry and schools, screening is required of all volunteers.

Here are the following steps you need to take to protect your ministry from those who wish to do harm to children

Establish a Background Check Process in Your Ministry

Your state may have specific requirements for your church, including fingerprinting. Check with your attorney or State Police before you begin the process.

  1. Establish who must undergo a background check
  2. Figure out what type of background check you are going to run.
  3. Determine how you will deal with matches on the background check.

What Type of Checks Should You Run on Church Volunteers?

At a minimum, you should run a national sex offender search and multistate criminal database search for your church. On a higher level, you should also run county level criminal felony and misdemeanor searches.

For church employees and those who deal with money, an employment credit report should also be ordered. Additionally, church employees should have every county of residence searched in the last 5 years.

 

 

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