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Tennessee Public Records

The Tennessee Public Records Act allows for citizens to hold the government accountable by providing access to its public records. While it allows for transparency, there are 583 exemptions in their law. 

Technology today has made it easier for citizens to search public records. Whether you need a background check on an employee, or you need a copy of a birth certificate so you can get a passport, Tennessee Public Records is the place to search.  

This guide will help you find and access criminal, inmate, court and vital records in the state of Tennessee. 

What does the Tennessee public records law say?

As a Tennessee citizen, you have the right to access “Public Records”, such as letters, maps,  paper files, books, photographs, sound recordings, or other materials. The law applies to every governmental entity, however, some records may have redaction if they contain confidential information. 

Tennessee does require you to be a citizen to obtain state records. If you are from out-of-state, a request can be denied immediately. Many of the agencies want to see your state photo ID with a current address before they grant your request.

While Tennessee considers many documents to be “public”, under Tennessee law, 563 exemptions of documents exist. Several types of information exempted are youth records, expungements, medical records, mental health files, trade secrets, social security numbers, or voter information. You can obtain records from all judicial, executive, and legislative branches in Tennessee.

The state law says response time for requests is seven days. There is no appeals process but a lawsuit can be filed to obtain the records.  

To learn more about the state’s public records policy, visit TN.gov.

How can a person access public records in Tennessee?

For copies of public records access in Tennessee, a person must submit a public records request. The request is 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 the coronavirus, some public offices may have limited business hours. As a result, online requests are best, but if you want to go in person you should call ahead.

Tennessee criminal records

To have the most complete information on a potential employee, a background check will be the best bet. If you run your own business, you don’t want to hire someone who will do irreparable harm to your brand name, or cause a lawsuit. To find the most up-to-date information on a person’s criminal record, we’ve provided you with this information.

What’s on a criminal record?

A criminal report will be checked against the 14 prisons in Tennessee. Details on arrests, convictions, and incarcerations will be listed. The Tennessee criminal records are based on fingerprints. 

Specific information provided on a background check will include:

  • Personal information like a person’s name, birthday, nationality, etc.  
  • A mugshot 
  • A physical description including tattoos
  • A set of fingerprints
  • The type of offense (misdemeanor or felony) and description of the crime

Where can a person find Tennessee criminal records?

To access open records on criminals, fill out your information (name, address) on the online request form and include your credit card information. The cost for a criminal history background is $29.00 per request and is non-refundable. Enter the first and last name of the person you are seeking.  

Tennessee inmate records

Tennessee inmate records will provide you with information on the current prisoners in the system.  Records show that in 2018, Tennessee’s 14 state prisons held 22,130 individuals for state felony offenses. 

What’s on an inmate record?

Tennessee inmate records are usually a combination of the inmate’s prison situation including the prisoner’s sentence and a physical description. Citizens who initiate a search for Inmate records can receive the following information:

  • Personal information like a person’s name, birth date, and gender
  • A photo
  • Inmate location
  • Inmate registration number
  • Active sentences
  • Parole eligibility

Where can a person find Tennessee inmate records?

You can begin your public records search by entering the first and last name of the inmate or by the Tennessee Department of Corrections ID number. If you know the inmate has been fingerprinted, that inmate will have a state ID number from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. 

Tennessee court records

Since court trials occur in different jurisdictions in the state it is sometimes difficult to track down the records you desire. We have broken down the state courts by the various trials they perform so you can pinpoint where to search. You can obtain documents from the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, and Court of Criminal Appeals through the Tennessee case management system. The information in the appellate courts is dated after August, 26,2013, and includes motions, order, and judgments.  

The Supreme Court is the highest in Tennessee. The cases here tend to be criminal and court cases that have been appealed from the lower state courts. 

The Intermediate Appellate Court cases are ones that have been appealed from trial courts and include civil and criminal cases. 

Trial courts include a chancery, criminal, circuit, and probate courts. The circuit court will hear criminal and civil trials. In Tennessee, the criminal court takes on cases to lighten the load of the circuit court system and misdemeanor appeals. Probate courts deal in estates, wills, conservatorship, and guardianship. 

What’s on a court record?

The  court records you receive when you request will contain the following:

  • Name of all parties
  • Court orders
  • Events of the trial
  • Disposition and case information
  • Hearing dates
  • Reference numbers of related cases

Where can a person find Tennessee court records?

You will need to enter the record by the case number, the case style (ex. Smith vs Acme), the party name (Fred Smith), or the business name or organization (Acme) for your search. 

Tennessee vital records

Your most valuable certificates should be kept in a place where you can always locate them, such as an at-home safe or bank lockbox. Let’s say you want to purchase a house and the bank asks for your marriage certificate. You can’t find it because you just threw it in a box of papers at home. Don’t worry. The Tennessee Office of Vital Records holds documents such as birth, death, marriage, and divorce certificates. 

The law states that only the person named on the certificate, parent, legal guardian, adult children of the couple, or a present or former spouse can request the records. To run a vital records search we have included information and resources below. 

What information is needed to request a vital record?

When you order by mail, you need to present a valid government ID with a current address and an application form. If you are an authorized representative for a person, you will need to furnish a signed government ID card for both you and the person you represent and a signed statement saying the certificate can be released to you. 

Where can a person find Tennessee vital records?

VitalChek is the only authorized vendor by the state of Tennessee. Each certificate varies on the requirements, but for example, a marriage certificate would require the full name of both persons, the date, month, and year of marriage, the city, state, or county where the license was issued, and the reason for your order. Payment can be made by credit card. Your full address is required as they will not deliver to a PO Box. It will take approximately 3-5 days with express delivery and 7-10 days with regular mail. 

Frequently asked questions about Tennessee records

We have compiled a list of common questions that are asked about Tennessee records.

Accordingly, a request may be denied if it does not sufficiently identify specific records or broadly requires a records custodian to sort through files or compile information.

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

No. Only a citizen of Tennessee can request public records. A valid government-issued ID must be shown. If you are not a citizen of a Tennessee-based city like Nashville or Memphis your request will most likely be denied. 

Is there a records custodian in Tennessee?

Yes. All agencies with public records are required to have a records custodian in that agency. Be specific on your request because the custodian may deny the record search if there is not enough information.

What exemptions exist?

Tennessee has over 500 exemptions which may make it difficult to obtain some documents, but none of the public agencies are exempt. 

How long does that state have to respond?

Tennessee has seven business days to make the records available to you or deny them. A denial must be made in writing and must include the reason why the request was denied. 

Is there an appeals process in place?

While you can appeal to the Supervisor of Public Records, there is no provision for appeals. A lawsuit can be filed to obtain the documents.

Are property records considered public?

Yes. Real estate records are public, along with property tax information. These records can be found by contacting the county assessor. 

What fees are associated with requesting public records?

Tennessee fees are $0.15 per page for a black and white copy. For colored copies expect to pay $0.50 per page. They do not charge for the first hour of record searching or copying. If it takes longer than an hour, Tennessee will charge you a fee based on how much the employee doing the copying makes per hour. If you do not pay for your records if attempting to pick them up, you will be denied access to the records. Online payments are through credit cards.

  • Updated December 3, 2020
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