Pennsylvania Public Records
Public records are scattered across multiple state agencies and departments, as in most states.
Whether you need a background check on an employee, or you need a copy of a birth certificate so you can get a passport, Pennsylvania makes public records accessible.
While access isn’t restricted, finding and requesting records can be a bit challenging. Records are kept by different branches of government and by various state agencies, so it can be challenging to know where to start looking.
Those needing to access records have a right to submit a request through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Every state has different processes, so it’s essential to know the state’s law before requesting any documents.
Table of Contents
- 1 What does the Pennsylvania public records law say?
- 2 How can I access public records in Pennsylvania?
- 3 Pennsylvania Criminal Records
- 4 Pennsylvania Inmate Records
- 5 Pennsylvania Court Records
- 6 Pennsylvania Vital Records
- 6.1 What information do I need to request a Pennsylvania birth certificate?
- 6.2 Where can I find a Pennsylvania birth certificate?
- 6.3 What information do I need for a death certificate in Pennsylvania?
- 6.4 Where can I find a Pennsylvania death certificate?
- 6.5 What information do I need for a marriage certificate in Pennsylvania?
- 6.6 Where can I find a Pennsylvania marriage certificate?
- 6.7 What information do I need for a divorce certificate in Pennsylvania?
- 6.8 Where can I find a Pennsylvania divorce certificate?
- 7 Pennsylvania Property Records
- 8 FAQs
- 8.1 Can a request be submitted by non-residents of Pennsylvania?
- 8.2 Is there a records custodian in Pennsylvania?
- 8.3 What exemptions exist for public records law in Pennsylvania?
- 8.4 How long does Pennsylvania have to respond to public records requests?
- 8.5 Is there an appeals process in place for public records requests in Pennsylvania?
- 8.6 What fees are associated with requesting public records in Pennsylvania?
What does the Pennsylvania public records law say?
Since it began recording public records in 1775, the state of Pennsylvania has an astounding 100 million public records that the general public has access to. Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law gives all citizens access to public records, but tracking them down can be challenging.
According to the Pennsylvania Right to Know Act, anyone can access the public records in the state, and this act covers all three branches of government with only certain court records exempted.
Additional exemptions are listed for personal records, records that could compromise public safety, and documents that contain trade secrets.
As far as response times from agencies are concerned, the state government must respond within five business days.
If a request is denied, there is an appeals process.
A requester can contact the state’s Office of Open Records, which can issue opinions to other agencies. To force records into disclosure, the requester must file a suit in court.
In Pennsylvania, the fees associated with records requests are limited, with agencies only being able to charge for the actual costs of duplicating a record. This is more conservative than some states, which charge for staff time and resources.
A requester can learn more by visiting pa.gov.
How can I access public records in Pennsylvania?
Public records are available online or through a formal records request. If a request is required, it can be delivered by mail, email, or 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
- Contact information
- The name of the document
- Details about the document
- A time frame that you would like to receive the materials by
- Document delivery method, mail or email
Pennsylvania Criminal Records
In Pennsylvania, criminal records are most commonly accessed by employers who are looking to execute a background check on potential employees.
The Pennsylvania State Police maintains criminal records in the state.
What’s on a Pennsylvania criminal record?
A criminal record provides a detailed history of a person’s interactions with law enforcement. These records are pulled from various sources and include arrest records, convictions, and incarcerations within the state’s four prisons.
The main information you will find on the criminal records is:
- Date of birth
- Driver license number
- Current and past addresses
- Former arrest records
- Current and past warrants
- Sex offender status
Where can I find Pennsylvania criminal records?
Criminal records in Pennsylvania are official documents that contain the details of the illegal activity of a single person and are kept at every level of every jurisdiction – from municipal, county, and state levels.
Criminal records are gathered from all types of criminal courts across the county and state.
The Pennsylvania State Police maintain the records and provide an online database to search. Through the Pennsylvania Access to Criminal History (PATCH), requesters can apply for criminal background checks on an individual.
It is also possible to access dispositions on criminal cases by reviewing court docket sheets located on the Pennsylvania Judiciary web portal.
Pennsylvania Inmate Records
Inmate records in Pennsylvania consist of offenders held across the prisons, correctional inmate facilities, parish jails, and other penal institutions throughout the state.
Inmate records may also include information on sentencing, the class of the offense, the parish where a case was tried, and the facility location of the inmate.
The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections maintains inmate records in the state.
What’s on a Pennsylvania inmate record?
The information listed on an inmate record varies, but in Pennsylvania, the records usually contain personal information and specific details about a person’s incarceration situation.
Public access to inmate records can provide the following information when accessed:
- Name and aliases
- Date of Birth
- Height and weight
- DOC ID
- Booking photo
- Assigned location
- Sentence summary
Where can I find Pennsylvania inmate records?
You will visit the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to access the inmate record.
Pennsylvania criminal records are organized through online record depositories which can be accessed through the courts, law enforcement agency buildings, or government databases.
The Inmate/Parolee Locator serves as the database which contains information on every inmate and parolee within the state that is currently under the jurisdiction of the Department of Corrections (DOC). The site is updated on a daily basis to ensure accuracy.
Pennsylvania Court Records
Court records in Pennsylvania include a multitude of information produced through court proceedings.
It’s important to note that court records can be some of the most challenging documents to procure since they are usually held across several courts in Pennsylvania.
What’s on a Pennsylvania court record?
In most cases, court records are quite large and come with several varying documents.
Most people find these documents the most helpful:
- Court minutes
- Case files
- Court opinions
- Orders of the court
- Judgment documentation
- Jury records and files
- Witness documentation
- Case information
Where can I find Pennsylvania court records?
You will visit the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania website to access the court record.
In this state, a public records search for court documents can return information on civil cases, traffic cases, criminal cases, civil records, landlord-tenant cases, and non-traffic cases.
You can search and view individual court case information free of charge by visiting the portal, where you will be able to find the following records:
- Appellate court case information (Supreme Court, Superior Court, and Commonwealth court);
- Criminal courts of common pleas
- Magisterial district court case information includes:
- civil court cases
- county court
- criminal cases
- misdemeanor cases
- traffic cases
- non-traffic cases
- landlord/tenant cases
Requesters who wish to order paper case records maintained by a Magisterial District Judges’ office need to speak with someone at the courthouse.
The Magisterial District Clerk of Courts may ask you to fill out a request form for complex requests.
Pennsylvania Vital Records
The Bureau of Health Statistics and Registries maintains vital records in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania’s vital records include:
- Birth Certificates
- Death Certificates
- Marriage Licenses
- Divorce Decrees
Public record requests for vital records in Pennsylvania will vary depending on the document you are requesting.
Bureau of Health Statistics and Registries – Division of Vital Records
Division of Vital Records
P.O. Box 1528
New Castle, PA. 16103-1528
Phone number: 724-656-3100
What information do I need to request a Pennsylvania birth certificate?
The Application for a Birth Certificate will ask for specific information when ordering a birth record.
- Full name on the birth record
- Current age
- Date of birth
- Place of birth
Where can I find a Pennsylvania birth certificate?
You can order a Pennsylvania birth certificate online by e-filing using Pennsylvania Online Vital Records Ordering.
Or, you can request a certified copy of a Pennsylvania birth record by completing the Application for a Birth Certificate and submitting it by mail or in person.
The cost of a certified birth certificate in Pennsylvania is $20.
What information do I need for a death certificate in Pennsylvania?
The Application for a Death Certificate will ask for specific information when ordering a death record.
- Full name of the deceased
- Date of death
- Social security number
- Age at death
- Date of birth
- Place of death
- Funeral home
Where can I find a Pennsylvania death certificate?
You can order a Pennsylvania death certificate online using Pennsylvania Online Vital Records Ordering.
Or, you can request a certified copy of a Pennsylvania death record by completing the Application for Death Certificate and submitting it by mail or in person.
The cost of a certified death certificate in Pennsylvania is $20.
What information do I need for a marriage certificate in Pennsylvania?
Marriage records are maintained by Orphan Court Clerks.
Every clerk’s office will have different forms, fees, and office hours.
Where can I find a Pennsylvania marriage certificate?
You must contact the appropriate Clerk’s Office in the judicial district where the marriage license was issued.
What information do I need for a divorce certificate in Pennsylvania?
Divorce records are maintained by Court Clerks.
Every clerk’s office will have different forms, fees, and office hours.
Where can I find a Pennsylvania divorce certificate?
You must contact the appropriate Clerk’s Office in the judicial district where the dissolution of marriage was granted.
Pennsylvania Property Records
The Recorder of Deeds maintains property records in Pennsylvania.
The property records you can access include:
- Land records
- Property deeds
- Real estate information
- Property tax assessment records
- Zoning information
For data, parcel, and tax maps, you will need to contact the Geographic Information System(GIS) to ask about public access.
What information do I need to request property records in Pennsylvania?
You will need basic information to access a public property record in Pennsylvania.
Request forms, fees, and office hours will vary depending on the Recorder of Deeds office.
Where can I find a Pennsylvania property record?
You will need to contact the Recorder of Deed’s Office where the property record is maintained.
Example – Buck’s County Recorder of Deeds
Buck’s County Recorder of Deeds Public Records
Bucks County Administration Building
55 East Court Street
Doylestown, PA 18901
Phone number: 215-348-6000
Can a request be submitted by non-residents of Pennsylvania?
The Freedom of Information Act gives every citizen the right to perform record searches.
Is there a records custodian in Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvania public records laws do not mandate a records custodian.
What exemptions exist for public records law in Pennsylvania?
Currently, there are 30 exemptions in Pennsylvania, with 39 statutory exclusions, making it one of the more specific than most states regarding public records laws.
Some of the exempted files include donor information, employees’ private information, trade secrets, expungement, work files of public servants, records that would potentially compromise computer network security, and more.
How long does Pennsylvania have to respond to public records requests?
The state of Pennsylvania has five days to respond to any requests for documents.
Is there an appeals process in place for public records requests in Pennsylvania?
You must get an opinion from the Office of Open Records before you can file an appeal.
What fees are associated with requesting public records in Pennsylvania?
The fees for requesting public records in Pennsylvania are somewhat limited, with agencies only charging for the price of duplicating records.
There may be no charges for reviewing documents or searching for them. Extensive searches may incur more costs if outside professionals are involved.
As for appeals, they are possible, but only after receiving an opinion from the Office of Open Records.