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 Florida laws governing public records?
Chapter 119 of the Florida Statutes, also known as the “Public Records Law”, was enacted in 1909. The law declares that any records made by a public agency should be made available to members of the general public for viewing unless they fall under a specific exemption.
Additional Florida legislation on public records was passed in 1967 with the Government-in-the-Sunshine Law, which guarantees the public the right to access documents of meetings of commissions, boards, and other state and local agencies.
Finally, an amendment was added to the Florida Constitution in 1992 that further guarantees the general public’s right of access to the three branches of the state government.
Examples of Florida Public Records
Florida public records include, but are not limited to:
- Criminal records
- Death certificates
- Court cases
- Marriage records
- Divorce records
- Licensing records
- Business records
- Historical records
- Government contracts
- Voting records
The following are NOT public records in Florida:
- Juvenile criminal and court records
- Birth certificates (less than 100 years old)
- Library information
- Medical records
- Student transcripts
- Social welfare information
- Sealed records
- Tax returns
- Unpublished research and commercial data
Where can I access Florida public records?
- Florida Division of Corporations: Business Search – Search a Florida business to learn its entity type, formation date, current status, principal address, and more. The database also includes businesses that are no longer active.
- Florida Courts Online Public Docket – Contains links to six online public dockets, including those of the Florida Supreme Court, the First District Court of Appeal, the Second District Court of Appeal, the Third District Court of Appeal, the Fourth District Court of Appeal, and the Fifth District Court of Appeal.
- Florida Courts: Trial Courts – Circuit – A directory with the contact information of all circuit trial courts in Florida. Often the best way of accessing a specific court case record that cannot be found online is by making a records request to the court clerk of the court where the case originated.
- Florida Department of Law Enforcement: Criminal History Information – Allows individuals to search the State of Florida Computerized Criminal History (CCH) files. Each search costs $25.
- The State Archives of Florida – The State Archives is located in the R.A. Gray Building in Tallahassee. The archive contains a large number of historical, genealogical, and legislative records as well as tens of thousands of photographs and other media. However, the Archives is currently closed until further notice due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sex Offender Information
- Florida Sex Offenders and Predators Search – The Flordia Department of Law Enforcement oversees the state’s sex offender registry, which is searchable by members of the general public. Users can search by name, area, and more. Additionally, individuals can set up text or email alerts if a member of the registry changes addresses or becomes non-compliant.
- The Florida Department of Health: Bureau of Vital Statistics – Florida citizens can order birth and death records in-person or by mail through the Bureau of Vital Statistics. The agency maintains more than 25 million vital records in their database.