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Washington Public Records

The Washington Public Disclosure Act allows the examination of public records so that citizens remain informed of the government’s day-to-day business. 

Public records are not always the easiest to acquire. Some documents may need more than one form completed, to secure other records all you may need is the fee and your government ID. To help you understand the public records you can obtain in Washington, we have created this informative guide. Details in this guide will show you how to access criminal, inmate, court, and vital records. 

What does the Washington public records law say?

Washington’s public records act will allow non-citizens to request public records, which is a plus especially if you are seeking information on a potential employee. They do deny access to the legislative and judicial branches and have 46 other exemptions. Washington does have a records ombudsman, also known as a public records officer, to aid any requestor’s issue. 

Washington’s Public Disclosure Act exemptions include documents that are personal such as health records, salaries of employees, financial and proprietary information, law enforcement training and investigations, victims of abuse, employment licensing, guardianships for minors, and specific education records.

Fees for your copies will be $.15 per page but they do not charge for the search. They have five days to respond to a records request. Denials must be in writing with specific reasons for the denial. If you are denied the records you can appeal to the Superior Court of the county within one year of your request. You have one year to appeal the denial and you can recover attorney’s fees. 

To learn more about requested records, visit Washington.gov.

How can a person access public records in Washington?

Access to some public records can be done online while others require a more formal request form. If you need to send a request form to a records center, it can be mailed, emailed or delivered over the phone. 

Every government agency 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.

Washington criminal records

The public may receive limited criminal history records from the Washington State Patrol. The limited records deal with conviction history and arrested less than one year old, and sex/kidnapping records. Criminal justice agencies have unrestricted access. 

What’s on a criminal record?

The criminal record you receive  will have details on the person’s exchanges with law enforcement. The records contain documents from arrests, convictions and incarcerations from Washington State’s ten male and two female prisons. 

A background check will furnish the following details:

  • A mugshot
  • Fingerprints
  • Personal information such as the person’s name, birthdate and ethnicity
  • A detailed description of physical attributes like scars or tattoos. 
  • The type of felony or misdemeanor and crime description

Where can a person find Washington criminal records?

The search will cost $11.00 per record and $10.00 extra if you require a notary. A fingerprint search will cost $58.00. Payment can be made with a debit or credit card and you will need to set up an account to use a card. 

If you want to send a request through mail, please send an application to WASHINGTON STATE PATROL, Identification and Background Check Station, PO Box 42633, Olympia, WA 98504-2633 with a $32.00 fee. 

Washington inmate records

The Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) holds the records and information about incarcerated person(s) at the state prisons. You can request the records by using the state’s DOC website. 

What’s on an inmate record

Criminal records are most commonly requested by employers who want to be aware of the background of a potential employee. To help employees find a person’s criminal records, we’ve provided some information and resources for you. Besides providing the inmate name, DOC number and facility where the inmate is imprisoned, the following information is provided:

  • Name, age and date of birth
  • Prison of confinement and relocations
  • Supervision conditions
  • Fines
  • Parole date
  • Release date
  • Good time

Where can a person find Washington inmate records?

You will need to set up a credit card account. You will input the first and last name of the offender and/or the DOC number. 

Washington court records

If you are searching for records from court cases in Washington, it is important to understand the courts in order to narrow your search. Washington state courts are the Supreme Court which focuses on appeals from the Court of Appeals and supervises the state court system. The Court of Appeals hears the appeals from the lower courts. The Superior Court caseload  includes civil suits, domestic cases, felony charges and juvenile matters. Misdemeanor, traffic and civil cases are tried in the Courts of Limited Jurisdiction. This court also deals with small claims up to $5,000. 

What’s on a court record?

Depending on the length of the trial, documents you request can be numerous. These are the typical documents you will receive when you complete a court record search:

  • Case files
  • Dockets
  • Court minutes
  • Orders of the court
  • Judgement documentation
  • Jury records and files
  • Witness documentation

Where can a person find Washington court records?

You must enter the first and the last name of the person involved in the case you are seeking.

Washington vital records

The Washington Public Disclosure Act will provide you with vital records when you are in need of that missing marriage license or birth certificate. Birth records, death certificates, and marriage certificates are available as well as divorce records. 

You may need a certified birth certificate for a passport application, social security, school registration or to obtain your driver’s license. Heirloom birth certificates can be ordered to celebrate someone’s special day. Washington has birth records from July 1, 1907 to the present. 

Marriage certificates cost $25.00 and are available from 1968 to the present. 

What information is needed to request a vital record?

To prevent the invasion of an individual’s privacy, only family individuals with a specific relationship may request a copy of a vital record in Washington. Included in this list is the person listed in the record, spouse, parent, children, sibling (s), grandparents, and legal representatives. Identity with a government issued ID will be required and well as proof to the relationship. To receive these documents the following information will be required:

  • Full name of the person and any previous names 
  • Location of the event
  • Date of the marriage or birth
  • A license number for marriage records
  • A divorce case file number

Where can a person find Washington vital records?

Vitalchek is an online website that allows you to order your documents or certificates. The turnaround time for processing and shipping is three days. You will need a credit card to order online. If you mail in an order it can take up to three weeks for delivery. The majority of the fees will be $25.00. There is an online processing fee of $8.50

Frequently asked questions about Washington records

We have compiled a list of the FAQs regarding Washington public records to provide you with additional information.

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

Yes. You do not need to be a resident to request records in the state of Washington.  

Is there a records custodian in Washington?

There is no appointed records custodian in Washington. There is a records ombudsman who facilitates requests and will aid when there are questions or confusion. This person cannot rule on requests. 

What exemptions exist?

The Washington Public Disclosure Act does not open all records in the state for searches or photocopying.The Washington legislature and judicial branch are exempt. The other 46 exemptions pertain to various personal information for example physical and mental health records, financial accounts, and tax files. Law enforcement training and investigations, along with victims of abuse records are not shared. There are specific  exemptions for records for minor children, employment licensing, guardianships, and salaries of employees. 

How long does that state have to respond?

Washington state agencies have five business days to respond to your records request. If the request is unclear they may contact the requestor to determine what documents they need. Agencies that have records available online will encourage the requestor to use this option for immediate access. 

Is there an appeals process in place? 

If your request is denied, the denial must be in writing. When this occurs, you have the option to ask for the attorney general to review the denial. The attorney general will make a ruling on whether the records you requested are exempt or not. You have one year to file an appeal with the attorney general. It is possible to collect your attorney’s fees if the case is decided in your favor. 

What fees are associated with requesting public records?

Fees for searching for your records is not charged in Washington. But the agency will charge $.15 a page for photocopying, $.10 a page for scanning, and $.05 per four electronic files. Some agencies will charge a flat $2.00 fee for specific records. A customized fee can be charged if the records require technological assistance to prepare data. 

  • Updated December 3, 2020
  • States

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