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.
Table of Contents
- 1 What does the Minnesota public records law say?
- 2 How can a person access public records in Minnesota?
- 3 Minnesota criminal records
- 4 Minnesota inmate records
- 5 Minnesota court records
- 6 Minnesota vital records
- 7 Frequently asked questions about Minnesota 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?
- Resource: Minnesota Criminal History Search
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:
- 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?
- Resource: Minnesota Judicial Branch
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?
- Resource: Minnesota Department of Health
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.