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 Arkansas laws governing public records?
The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act was enacted in 1967, shortly after the Federal FOIA. The state law guarantees the public’s right to access records kept by state and local governmental bodies, as long as they are not protected by a legal exemption.
The Arkansas FOIA includes the following definition for public records: “writings, recorded sounds, films, tapes, electronic or computer-based information, or data compilations in any medium required by law to be kept.”
The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act: Ark. Code Ann. S25-19-101 et seq.
Examples of Arkansas Public Records
Arkansas public records include, but are not limited to:
- Criminal records
- Birth certificates (100 years after filing date)
- Death certificates (50 years after filing date)
- Marriage records (100 years after filing date)
- Divorce records (100 years after filing date)
- Court cases
- Licensing records
- Business records
- Historical records
- Government contracts
- Voting records
The following are NOT public records in Arkansas:
- Birth certificates (less than 100 years after filing date)
- Death certificates (less than 50 years after filing date)
- Marriage records (less than 100 years after filing date)
- Divorce records (less than 100 years after filing date)
- Juvenile criminal and court records
- Library information
- Medical records
- Adoption records
- Student transcripts
- Social welfare information
- Sealed records
- Tax returns
- Unpublished research and commercial data
Where can I access Arkansas public records?
- Arkansas Secretary of State: Business Search – Search an Arkansas business to access detailed information about it, including its formation date, entity type, current status, and more.
- AOC PUBLIC CourtConnect – Search case information and judgments from dozens of participating Arkansas courts, including the Arkansas Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, and many district and circuit courts in the state.
- Arkansas Judiciary: Directories – A list of directories with the contact information of every Arkansas court. If case information for a specific case cannot be found online, the best way to access it is by making a public records request to the clerk of the court where the case originated.
- Arkansas State Police: Criminal History Search – A fee-based search tool provided by the Arkansas State Police. Individuals can search and access the Arkansas criminal records of anyone on file. The price is $24 for each search performed and $24 for each search result viewed.
- Arkansas State Archives – Located in the state capital Little Rock, the Arkansas State Archives maintains a vast collection of historical public records, photographs, and even a 19th-century herbarium of preserved flora native to Arkansas. Many collections can be accessed online in digital form through the website.
Sex Offender Information
- Arkansas Sex Offender Registry – Maintained by the Arkansas Crime Information Center, the Arkansas Sex Offender Registry is open to be searched by the public. Users can search by name, city, or area.
- Arkansas Department of Health: Certificates & Records – Authorized individuals (i.e. subjects of a record, immediate family members, or legal representatives) may order birth, death, marriage, and divorce certificates from this state agency.