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New York Public Records

New York is one of the most unique states for Freedom of Information laws because it operates two different systems for delivering public information to those requesting it. 

There is New York Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) for New York City and there is the law for the rest of the state. This also means there are different ways that smaller towns deliver public information documents to requesters versus New York City. Also, the cost can be different in the two areas.

Also, the single agency that receives the most FOIL request, the New York Police Department (NYPD) operates in an independent fashion even though they are under the same laws as the rest of the city. Sometimes the NYPD initiates its own arbitrary rules.

With New York having so many differences, getting public information there can be cumbersome and complicated. We have put together a state-specific guide to help requesters in the process for public records. Information about how to properly request information in New York is below.

What does the New York public records law say?

Under State of New York laws, government agencies must acknowledge your request within five days but not longer than 20 days after. All government agencies from the executive, legislative branch as well as state agencies fall under the public information law.

There is now residency requirement to ask for public records, so the requester can live outside the state and still make the request. Requesters have 30 days to file an appeal.

With the NYPD, all requests must be made in writing and they can issue a “neither confirm or deny” response.

To learn more about public access to records, visit NewYork.gov.

How can a person access public records in New York?

Some records are available online while others 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. This can be done by email, mail or by phone depending on the department where the request is submitted. 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.

New York criminal records

New York, like every state, has a vast array of criminal records available. Getting them from New York City versus the rest of the state can result in a vastly different experience. There are many reasons for seeking out criminal records. The primary reason is for employment as most employers require a background check. Other reasons could include to complete a business contract, to volunteer, or to proceed with an adoption.

What’s on a criminal record?

Criminal records contain information regarding a person’s contact with law enforcement and court case outcomes. Details are pulled from places like local police departments, local criminal courts and the state prison system.

  • There are typically five things on a person’s criminal record:
  • Personal information like their name, birthday and nationality
  • A mugshot
  • A full set of fingerprints
  • Distinguishing features such as tattoos
  • A list of all offenses, both misdemeanors and felonies, with details of crimes.

Where can a person find New York criminal records?

The New York State Office of Court Administration (OCA) provides a statewide criminal history search for a flat fee of $95. Requests can be submitted online or by mailing in an application. Search criteria is strict and you must have an exact match of the name and the birth date. Companies can submit requests as part of the program.

Search results relate to open and pending cases and convictions in criminal cases in all of New York’s 62 counties. It excludes sealed records and some data from towns and villages are limited.

Other limitations include:

  • No family, civil or federal cases are included
  • It doesn’t include non-criminal cases or misdemeanor cases.
  • It doesn’t include youth offender cases
  • Criminal cases transferred or removed to family court as not included.

New York inmate records

New York has more than 51,000 inmates incarcerated in its prison system throughout the state. A requester may have several reasons for seeking out inmate information. They could be a victim or a witness in a case and want to know an inmate’s status. They could be a non-profit who helps inmates in certain cases or a lawyer reviewing a case. They could also be an employer wanting to know more about the time served by a potential employee.

What’s on an inmate record?

New York is similar to other states in what it has on an inmate record. Once a requester gets an inmate record, they will have the following information:

  • Basic personal information like the name, a birthdate and the gender
  • A mug shot and inmate location
  • An inmate registration number and jail transfer information
  • Custody status

Where can a person find New York inmate records?

The New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision offers an online search tool for inmate information. Requesters can use solely the name or use a name in combination with a birth year. Requesters can also use the Department identification number of the New York State identification number. However, if you use one of those, do not put in a name or birth years as they are meant to be used alone.

New York court records

New York state court records can be helpful in certain situations as they provide a lot of valuable information about a case. Employers may want to know more about a particular case that involves an employee or job applicant. Others in similar court cases involving the same suspect may want the information. Sometimes, people look into court cases to find out about their parent’s past or other family members as a part of genealogy.

What’s on a court record?

Court records are vast amounts of paperwork as they contain all aspects of the case from the initial arrest or court filing to the final verdict, sentencing or judgement. They can include court transcripts, dockets, case files, court minutes, court orders, sentencing or judgement, jury records and witness documentation.

Court records are not subject to the FOIL in New York. Court records are subject to disclosure under Section 255 of the judiciary law.

Where can a person find New York court records?

Requests for court records in New York go directly to the Clerk of Court or the County Clerk possessing the records. That means requesters will need to contact the local clerk’s office where the case was handled. Most files, including the New York Supreme Court and the County Court, file their records with the county clerk’s office.

Specific police or prosecution records may be maintained by the NYPD if the arrest was made within New York City. They may also be maintained by the local district attorney’s office that prosecuted the case. Requests should be sent to those agencies.

The law allows a court clerk to charge “fees at the rate allowed to a county clerk for similar service.” This includes copying and labor in searching for records.

New York vital records

Vital records are some of the most sought after public records because people need them to verify identity and other legal purposes. They include birth, death, marriage and divorce records.  People need them to start school, get a job, get a social security card, get a driver’s license or passport, even get married. Death certificates are needed to settle estates and debts.

What information is needed to request a vital record?

With concerns over privacy, states have established new protocols for obtaining vital records. Anyone requesting a vital record, like death records or marriage licenses, must submit the approximate date and place of the event, the full name of the person, including maiden names and a case file number for divorce record or a license number for marriage records.

Where can a person find New York vital records?

The New York State Department of Health is in charge of vital records. Because of COVID-19, there are no walk-in services allowed. The Department of Health keeps divoce certificates for both New York State and New York City.

Those seeking records from New York City should contact the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene or the New York City Marriage Bureau.

You can order certificates online for areas outside NYC at the DOH website as well. That includes pre-adoption birth certificate, birth, death, marriage, divorce, fetal death and still born certificates and genealogy records.

Frequently asked questions about New York records

To learn more about public records search in the state of New York, here are answers to frequently asked questions.

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

Yes, there are no resident requirements to obtain public records. Whether you live in Manhattan, Albany, or Minneapolis, any United States citizen can make a request.

Is there a records custodian in New York?

Each agency has procedures relating to those handling records but there isn’t a statewide custodian.

What exemptions exist?

Exemptions include the judiciary and that is governed by a separate law.

How long does that state have to respond?

Those making the request must receive a denial, response or acknowledgement within five days. This should also have a date the request would be fulfilled not to exceed 20 days.

Is there an appeals process in place?

There is an appeals process. Appeals must be made in writing within 30 days of denial. The appeal must be made to the head of the governing body, entity or person designated as head. They then have 10 business days of receiving the appeal to fully explain in writing either the reasons for denial or to be granted access.

What fees are associated with requesting public records?

The first two hours of search time are free and fees may cover search time beyond that. There are also copying costs. There are no provisions for fee waivers.

  • Updated December 3, 2020
  • States

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