Iowa Public Records
Searching for public records isn’t always easy. While the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) gives every United State citizen access to public documents, each state usually has its own rules and the state of Iowa has its own unique laws and regulations.
To request public records, you need to know the ins and outs of the state government and each of its departments.
In order for people to understand what records they can access, we have compiled this state-specific guide that breaks down the law in Iowa, with information on how to access criminal, inmate, court, and other vital records.
Table of Contents
- 1 What does the Iowa public records law say?
- 2 How can a person access public records in Iowa?
- 3 Iowa criminal records
- 4 Iowa inmate records
- 5 Iowa court records
- 6 Iowa vital records
- 7 Frequently asked questions about Iowa records
What does the Iowa public records law say?
The Iowa Open Records Law consists of a series of laws that are designed to guarantee that the general public has access to public records of government bodies at all levels. This law includes all records of government agencies except confidential records.
The state has created the Iowa Public Information Board to enforce the public records law. This group, which is made up of media representatives and government officials, can issue rulings and suggest that a person be removed from a position for not following the law.
Iowa’s public records law gives state officials 20 day to respond to a request. If a request is denied, there is an appeals process. A complaint can be filed with the Iowa Public Information Board or with a district court.
Each state agency within Iowa must allow inspection and provide copies of public records upon request. There are no limitations on who can request records, whether in or out of state, and the agencies include all public offices, elected and appointed officers and officials, staff members, boards, institutions, bureaus, departments, authorities, and other units of government, including county, city, and town governments.
If denied a request, a person can request a rehearing by an agency or can appeal to the Iowa Public Information Board.
If information contains confidential data, an agency may either redact those parts or separate them. If the entire file is classified as confidential, an agency is not required to produce the requested record.
To learn more, visit Iowa.gov.
How can a person access public records in Iowa?
Public records access in Iowa varies. In some cases, a person must submit a public records request. In other cases, the documents are available online to anyone at any time.
If a request 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.
Iowa criminal records
In Iowa, criminal records are most commonly requested by employers who want to run a background check on a potential employee.
What’s on a criminal record?
A criminal record provides a detailed report of a person’s interactions with law enforcement. These records are culled from various sources and include arrest records, convictions, and incarcerations within the state’s nine prisons.
More specifically, a criminal record or a background check will provide the following information:
Arrest records typically feature details of the alleged crime as well as:
- Personal data of the subject: first and last name, birth date, fingerprint, race, etc.)
- Date and place of the arrest
- Name of the arresting officer
- Address of the detention center or jail
- Case status
- Name of the issuer of the arrest warrant
Where can a person find Iowa criminal records?
- Resource: Iowa Department of Public Safety
The Iowa Department of Public Safety provides criminal records for the state. Through its Division of Criminal Investigation, the Iowa DPS makes records available to the public in the form of a criminal background report.
Iowa is currently developing an online database for background checks, but it’s not ready yet. In the meantime, you can request a record by mail, fax, or in-person. You can download a Criminal History Request Form and a Criminal History Billing Form and send them both to the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation in Des Moines. The record will be mailed to you.
Requests made in person won’t be returned the same day either. They are processed and mailed.
Iowa inmate records
The state of Iowa has about 18,000 inmates within its corrections system. Inmate records can provide information on current inmates that are behind bars. Iowa inmate records are maintained and distributed by corrections staff responsible for the management of each facility.
What’s on an inmate record?
The information listed on inmate records vary a bit from state to state; in Iowa the records usually contain a combination of personal information and specific details about a person’s incarceration. Public access to inmate records can provide the following information when accessed:
- Personal information like a person’s name, birthdate, and gender
- A mug shot
- Inmate location
- Inmate registration number
- Jail transfer information
- Custody status
Where can a person find Iowa inmate records?
- Resource: Iowa Department of Public Safety
The Iowa Department of Public Safety has a website that contains information and links to help gather information on an inmate.
Iowa parole records are also available through the Iowa Board of Parole website. Through the site, the public can use an offender search to obtain information on paroled inmates. All offenders are searchable either by name or designated offender number.
Iowa court records
Court records provide full documentation of allegations, sworn affidavits, and proceedings taken under oath.
What’s on a court record?
In the majority of cases, court records are quite large and come with several varying documents. Most people find these documents the most helpful:
- Court minutes
- Case files
- Orders of the court
- Judgement documentation
- Jury records and files
- Witness documentation
Where can a person find Iowa court records?
- Resource: Iowa Judicial Branch
In Iowa, court records must be requested by the clerk of court. If the request is fairly simple, the request can be placed over the phone. If the request is complicated, the clerk will likely ask for a written request.
The request should be directed to the correct department. For district court cases, speak with the clerk in the county where the case was heard. For cases heard in appellate courts, speak with the Clerk of Iowa Supreme Court.
For administrative records, speak with the State Court Administrator.
The records custodian in the state office will provide requesters with estimated fees prior to the requested records being produced or copied. Fees incurred during the response to a request may be required prior to receipt of requested records. Paper copies of records are based on a per page charge, with postage fees based on actual mailing costs.
Iowa vital records
Iowa, like most states, has an office that maintains all of its birth records, marriage records, and death certificates.
What information is needed to request a vital record?
To obtain a vital record in Iowa, a person must provide certain information to aid in the search. The information needed includes:
- 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 Iowa vital records?
- Resource: Iowa Department of Public Health
The Iowa Department of Public Health provides vital records for birth, death, and marriage certificates by telephone, in-person, or through the postal service. In-person requests can be paid in cash, with checks and money orders made out to the Iowa Department of Public Health.
While many states have an online system that can help residents obtain certified copies of birth certificates and death certificates, Iowa does not. All requests must go through county recorders offices.
Frequently asked questions about Iowa records
To further assist Iowa 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?
Is there a records custodian in Iowa?
In Iowa, the records custodian is the government office that initially generated the requested records. A government body must determine who the designated lawful custodian will be and post that information to the public.
What exemptions exist?
No government agency is exempt from the law, but there are more than 50 exemptions in the Iowa Public Records Law. Exemptions include medical reports pertaining personal information, student financial records, trade secrets, prison riot procedural processes, certain financial information, and prospective real estate transactions or appraisals.
The majority of exemptions are to prevent disclosure of confidential information or agencies that need information to remain private in order to execute their jobs efficiently. Police investigative reports and Iowa government personnel records are also restricted in Iowa.
How long does that state have to respond?
The language is rather vague in the state of Iowa, but it is loosely defined as not exceeding 20 calendar days and normally should not exceed 10 business days. There is no set expiration date by which a request is considered denied.
Is there an appeals process in place?
You have 30 days after a denial is issued to file for an appeal in District Court. Requesters have 60 days to file a complaint through the Iowa Public Information Board.
What fees are associated with requesting public records?
Iowa fee practices are also vague, with reproduction fees charged at a ‘reasonable’ amount, with each agency applying their own procedures and fees.