What are public records?
Public records are documents held by the government that members the general public has the right to access and view. They may exist as tangible paper copies of records held by in a government repository or as electronic records within an online database.
Common types of public records include criminal records, court records, and vital records such as birth and death certificates. Public records can be accessed by the general public by making a public records request to the appropriate government agency.
Which federal law deals with public records in the United States?
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) of 1967 is the major federal law regarding public records in the United States. The FOIA requires federal government agencies to release documents to the public when they make a records request, as long as the record in question doesn’t fall under one of nine exemptions outlined in the law. However, most people do not take advantage of the FOIA, and most record requests are made by businesses, law firms, and professionals.
Generally, if public records are to be used for a commercial purpose, the requester of the record must notify the agency of their intent while submitting the request.
What are the Alabama laws governing public records?
The Alabama Open Records Act (AL. Code S 36-12-40 et seq.) guarantees anyone the right to view and make copies of public records unless the record is protected by a specific exemption.
Examples of Alabama Public Records
Alabama public records include, but are not limited to:
- Birth certificates (over 125 years after filing date)
- Death certificates (over 25 years after filing date)
- Court cases
- Marriage records
- Divorce records
- Licensing records
- Business records
- Historical records
- Government contracts
- Voting records
The following are NOT public records in Alabama:
- Criminal records
- Birth certificates (less than 125 years after filing date)
- Death certificates (less than 25 years after filing date)
- Juvenile criminal and court records
- Library information
- Medical records
- Student transcripts
- Social welfare information
- Sealed records
- Tax returns
- Unpublished research and commercial data
Where can I access Alabama public records?
- Alabama Secretary of State: Business Entity Records – Search an Alabama business to learn detailed information like its formation date and current standing, or search for business filings made with the Alabama Secretary of State.
- Alacourt – A fee-based subscription service provided by the Alabama trial court system that allows subscribers unlimited access to Alabama court records and case details.
- Alabama Law Enforcement Agency: Criminal Records – Although the ALEA does not offer a search tool that can be used to look up Alabama criminal history record information, they do outline a procedure individuals can follow to request their own Alabama criminal record.
- Alabama Department of Archives and History – Maintains an extensive collection of historic public records from throughout the state’s history. The Archives is located in the city of Montgomery, but much of the collection can be accessed online through the website.
Sex Offender Information
- Alabama Sex Offender Registry – The registry is maintained by the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency and can be searched by anyone. Users can search by name, city, area, or internet name/email address.
- Alabama Department of Public Health: Vital Records – Obtain birth, death, marriage, and divorce certificates from the Center for Health Statistics. Marriage and divorce records can be obtained by anyone, but birth and death records are restricted to the subjects of the record, immediate family members, and legal representatives.