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North Dakota Public Records

Public records are a valuable piece of a transparent government. While the Freedom of Information Act grants U.S. citizens the right to review records, each state has its own version. 

In North Dakota, searching for public records can be an indirect process. This is primarily because there are potentially records across several agencies in any state. Since the process is not straight-forward, it helps to know exactly where to go to make the process as simple as possible. 

We have compiled this extensive state-specific guide so that people know the rules that pertain to records and how to access them as United States citizens. With this guide, you will have the information necessary to access criminal, inmate, court, and vital records. 

What does the North Dakota public records law say?

North Dakota is one of the few states in America that practices open government in that the general public has the power to inspect any records across any agency, unless exempted by law explicitly. In short, North Dakota Open Records Statute provides no special rules for its executive, legislative, or judicial branches, and extends the law to entities that receive public funding as well. 

The laws in North Dakota state that all government agencies and meetings are open to the general public unless specifically authorized by law. The specifics of these basic laws can be found in the North Dakota Century Code. 

North Dakota state has 7 million government records on file. However, some may contain redacted information. Closed meetings that typically fall under redaction include:

  • Juvenile proceedings
  • Attorney consultations during pending litigation
  • Hiring/firing of college or university personnel
  • Non-renewal hearings between school board and teachers

Both residents and non-residents can submit requests for records in the state of North Dakota. The state law doesn’t specify a response time for requests.

If a request for records is denied, you have 30 days to appeal for an Attorney General’s ruling, and 60 days for a lawsuit. If you don’t receive records in a timely manner, an appeal can be filed through civil courts. 

NorthDakota.gov has more information.

How can a person access public records in North Dakota?

In some cases, you need to submit a formal request for a public document. In other cases, online databases provide 24/7 access without any request necessary.  

If a physical request is needed, it can be mailed, emailed, or you can place an order over the phone to the department holding the records. With each department different, expect some variation to the rules if you’re accessing records from multiple agencies. 

In general, a public records request should include the following: 

  • 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. 

North Dakota criminal records

North Dakota maintains criminal records that are accessible by the general public, no matter how old, including charges that have been dismissed, those that did not end in conviction, those with no court disposition, and jail or prison custody records that are less than three years old.

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: 

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

Where can a person find North Dakota criminal records?

As required by law, state agencies and professional licensing boards require applicants to complete a criminal history record check before employment or licensure. Criminal history checks in North Dakota may be finger-print based or name-based. 

Name-based searches will not identify records if a subject has been arrested under a different name. Fingerprint-based searches will identify arrest records even if the name is under an unknown alias. Fingerprints must be obtained through your local law enforcement agency. 

The following information is needed for a criminal history check:

  • Full name, including maiden name, previous name, and any aliases
  • Date of birth
  • Social security number or fingerprints of the subject
  • Current address of the subject or signed authorization form

North Dakota inmate records

North Dakota’s prison system consists of four prisons, and their inmate records contain official files, data, and information about inmates held, detained, or imprisoned in facilities that are managed by the city, county, state, or any other municipality. 

What’s on an inmate record?

The information listed on inmate records varies a bit from state to state. In North Dakota, 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 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 North Dakota inmate records?

Through the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, interested parties can find inmates houses in the North Dakota Corrections facilities. Simply visit the website, then enter the offender’s last name to begin a search. 

North Dakota court records

The court records are available to the general public in North Dakota and provide full documentation of allegations, sworn affidavits, and all proceedings taken under oath. The information compiled below can assist you in accessing court records that are held across the courts in the state, including the North Dakota Supreme Court.

What’s on a court record?

In the majority of cases, court records are quite large and come with several documents. Most people find these documents 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 Dakota court records?

Searches for court records can be done online at the State of North Dakota Courts. A district court case search provides access to North Dakota District Court Case information for all criminal, traffic, and civil cases, with search results that also include municipal court cases from specific areas. Search results do not include restricted case information, so a complete description of the data and the counties are available here.

The site also provides information on court dates and times. Records can also be accessed via the clerk in the county where a record is located. Court clerks are the custodians of state court records and maintain their integrity and completeness. Although most court records are accessible to the public, there are certain case types that are subject to confidentiality by law or court ruling. 

The case records and calendars are only displayed for the courts currently inputting data into the North Dakota Courts Records Inquiry system (NDCRI), which is limited to case search results civil judgments, registers of civil action, and court calendars for publicly accessible court case records. 

North Dakota vital records

North Dakota, like most states, has an office in charge of maintaining birth records, marriage records, and death records. The North Dakota Department of Health manages all of the birth certificates and death certificates in the state. 

What information is needed to request a vital record?

A request for information can be done via the North Dakota Vital Records site, where interested parties can provide relevant information about a specific record. This information may include:

  • 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 listed on marriage licenses

Where can a person find North Dakota vital records?

Requests for copies of records must be done in writing and made via mail, online forms, or in-person. There is also the possibility to request and purchase records online or receive them through the mail. 

Records are available for purchase from the North Dakota Vital Records State Department of Health or in the County Clerk’s office where the event occurred. The processing time per request is approximately one week, with search and certified copies available for $7 each plus shipping. 

Frequently asked questions about North Dakota records

To further assist your public records search in North Dakota, here’s a list of commonly asked questions: 

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

Yes. You don’t need to live in Bismarck or Grand Forks to request state records. Anyone, including people who live out-of-state, have the right to request records.

Is there a records custodian in North Dakota?

No.

What exemptions exist?

There is a comprehensive list of exemptions for the state of North Dakota, and even routine requests can sometimes lead to an appeal if an officer is so inclined. Exemptions include:

  • Juvenile records
  • Trade secrets
  • Workers compensation
  • Unemployment
  • Public employee medical records
  • Assistance records
  • Law enforcement investigation records
  • Tax information

With records generally available to the public unless exempted, the current list is expansive and can be read here.  

How long does that state have to respond?

There is no prescribed time frame for how long an agency in the state of North Dakota has to produce requested records. In general, a request for records can take approximately a week to process. 

In the worst case scenario, a requester can sue in order to have documents made public. 

Is there an appeals process in place?

There is an appeal process by way of the Attorney General’s office. 

What fees are associated with requesting public records?

Generally, access to public records is free, although some offices may charge $0.25 cents per page for a standard letter or legal size paper. 

  • Updated October 26, 2020
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