Public Records Storage and Acquisition
George W. Bush made changes to the FOIA act via the OPEN Government Act of 2007. This bill focused mainly on lobbying, and the disclosure of lobbyist contributions.
All Americans are granted the right to obtain, study, and copy records created by government bodies. This right extends to every county, city, town, and village in the United States.
What Are Public Records
Public records have many different definitions, but generally speaking, they are documents that are created by a government body to record actions, procedures, and decisions. This can include criminal records, arrest records, inmate records, court records, and public records. They also include minutes from government body meetings, specific law documentation, changes in governmental policy, and more. Simply put, if the government performs an action, there is a record, and outside of confidentiality clauses, these records are available to the public.
Studying these records is common practice in the legal world, but they are also of use to normal citizens. Studying prior cases and events where someone was arrested or charged is a good way to understand prior circumstances and how they affect your rights. They are also useful in a variety of research capacities, and for having concrete evidence of what your representatives are doing while in their positions.
Arrest Records is a term that encompasses many different records pertaining to the criminal justice system. Actual documents named arrest records do not generally exist, so much as they refer to the documentation of a person’s arrest. This means that they usually refer to police reports involving a person’s arrest, but can also extend to inmate records, criminal records, and criminal background checks.
Finding arrest records is typically easy, though they may require some legwork to obtain. The first place to start when looking for an individuals arrest records to contact your local law enforcement agency, or the law enforcement agency that holds jurisdiction in the area where the arrest occurred. Begin by visiting their website, which is easily found with search queries such as “County Sheriff’s Office” or “Springfield City Police Department.” Once on the website, browse through available options to find the records department. This is usually found under categories such as “services” or “records.” They may also be under the 2 b,mv of FOIA request, which stands for Freedom of Information Act. Contacting the sheriff’s department via phone or email is also a good way to find the department you’re looking for, especially if the website proves too complicated.
Once you find the records department, there are instructions to follow to obtain your record. Most records are only available during normal business hours such as between 8:30 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., though these hours may vary. Note that as a government agency, most law enforcement departments will recognize national holidays. It is rare, but occasionally a law enforcement agency will require a search fee that can range from as little as $5, to as much as $70. Usually are also fees for copies of a record or report which cost around 10 cents per page, and a standard upfront charge ranging from between $1 and $10. Digital reports via CD are sometimes available. While their costs are usually larger, no copy fee is required. Be aware that a completed form and picture ID are typically required when obtaining a record.
The easiest way to obtain records, when it is available, is online, though browsable online repositories for records are rare. Still, many law enforcement agencies offer record acquisition through email requests.
Finally, if finding the record you want proves difficult or impossible through your local law enforcement, third party amalgamation websites offer a more user friendly option. There, you can search with just a name and address of an individual to pull criminal or arrest records for about the same cost as obtaining a single record.
Sex Offender Registry
Sex offenders registries are lists of people that were convicted of sexually explicit crimes. These crimes can range from rape to public indecency, but thanks to Megan’s Law, criminals of this nature are required to keep updated public lists of their residences, identifying features, and names. These lists are usually maintained by law enforcement agencies or their superior offices, are categorized by area, and are almost always online. To search for the sex offender registry in your area, simply type in an area you wish to review, followed by “sex offender registry.”
Freedom of Information Laws have been critical to indicting prominent politicians such as Kwame Kilpatrick.
Court records are just that: records filed by a court of law. Whenever a court takes action against an individual, makes a ruling in court, or makes any internal action, there is a record of that action, and it is available to the public. Note that this extends to more than just criminal proceedings. Divorce records, civil action records, and more can be found in courthouses.
Finding court records can be more difficult than finding an arrest record, and this is largely due to the large caseloads that most individual courthouse today face. Just because a person was arrested in one area, county, or municipality does not mean they will be tried there, especially if there is no designated courthouse for that area.
A good place to start when beginning your search for a court record pertaining to an individual’s trial is with the courthouse closest to the law enforcement agency that performed the arrest. This can be done by searching for the area, followed by the search term “courthouse.” From there you can determine the name of the courthouse (usually named after the number district it is in such as 71st District Court) which will help in future searches. Once you have the name of the court, go to that court’s website. When you gain access to your court’s record database, you will typically need a case number, the name of one of the parties involved, and a filled out request form if applicable. Requests are usually delivered via email or by standard mail.
If your court does not offer online record requests, or you prefer to deal with the court directly, you will need to visit the court to make a request. Make sure to have a picture ID, the name of one of the parties involved, the case number, and a check or money order ready for payment. Some courts also accept, credit and debit cards. Most will require a form be filled out at the time of record request. It’s advisable to call the court prior to visiting for additional required information.
Just like criminal records, websites specializing in court record search exist, and are typically more straightforward than dealing directly with the court. Since most of these sites perform their searches with names rather than requiring specific case numbers, they will typically pull every case in which the person in question was involved.
Public Records encompass the essential happenings in the government, and typically include property records, deeds, marriage licenses, birth records, and death records. Unlike court and arrest records, these are documents describing large changes in life rather than breaches of the law. Because of this, they are almost always found at a government center rather than in a courthouse.
To search for records in your county, city, or municipality, search for the record in question followed by the area name. These types of records can sometimes be separated by division within the government center, and because of this, it is often quicker just to search by record type. In certain areas, these divisions are all under one overarching branch called the Clerk of the Courts, Clerk of the Records, or Clerk of the Deeds. Once you found which division holds the record in question, find out if any additional steps are necessary.
Typically, records of these kind are not stored online, and must be requested and acquired physically. That said, your government's website may provide some shortcuts. Typically, there is a form involved, which can be printed from the Clerk’s website. Once the form is filled, include any required fees with the letter (or as instructed by the website), and mail the letter to the correct provided address. Requests often take 7-10 business days to process and return.
Occasionally, requests may be available online. These often require the filing out of an online form, payment via a credit or debit card, and space to formally type out the request. Requests in this way are sometimes faster, but 7-10 business days should still be allowed for return.
Finally, in-person requests are available as well. Payment in person may sometimes be restricted to cash or money order, but often credit and debit cards are accepted. If speed is a factor, in-person requests are usually faster.
Fees for these types of records can range from $1 to 65$ for the first search, with additional searches available for a discounted price. Additionally, these records are usually available online through third parties.
History Of FOIA Laws
The United States of America introduced the Freedom of Information Act in 1966, and since then every state in the union has followed suit with their own sets of legislation. These laws define how records are to be recorded and shared with the public, and guarantees the right of citizens to access and study government-created records.