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 Georgia laws governing public records?
The Georgia Open Records Act is Georgia’s public records law. The law declares the public’s right to access the records of just about every state and local governmental body, as well as those of nonprofit organizations that receive over a third of its funds from a “direct allocation of tax funds from the governing authority of an agency.”
However, certain records, such as those of the Senate Research Office and the House Research Office, are exempt and cannot be requested by the public.
Any Georgia citizen is entitled to request public records without declaring their intent, and there is no restriction on how records are used. Government agencies are given a three-day time limit to respond to a public records request.
Examples of Georgia Public Records
Georgia public records include, but are not limited to:
- Felony conviction records
- Birth certificates
- 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 Georgia:
- Criminal records (without written consent)
- Juvenile criminal and court records
- Library records
- Medical records
- Student transcripts
- Social welfare information
- Sealed records
- Tax returns
- Unpublished research and commercial data
Where can I access Georgia public records?
- Georgia Corporations Division: Business Search – Search a Georgia-based business to learn its formation date, principal address, current status, and other pertinent information.
- Judicial Council of Georgia: Find a Court Case – Search the court records of dozens of Georgia courts. There’s no way to search the entire database, and instead, users must select a single court from the list. Using the service requires one to register a PeachCourt account, which is open to the public.
- Supreme Court of Georgia: Computerized Docketing System – Search briefs, appeals, and motions presented before the Georgia Supreme Court. Users can search by docket number, attorney name, or by entering part of the style.
- Georgia Bureau of Investigation: Obtaining Criminal History Record Information Frequently Asked Questions – A FAQ page that explains how to access criminal history record information in Georgia. The agency recommends that individuals visit their local sheriff’s office or police department in order to make a criminal record request.
- Georgia Felon Search – Search a person to find out if they have a felony conviction in Georgia. All that’s necessary for a search is a name and a date of birth. One search costs $15.
- Georgia Archives – Located in Morrow, the Georgia Archives presides over a huge collection of historical public records, including legislative documents, genealogical records, and manuscripts. A large number of records are available online in digital form.
Sex Offender Information
- Georgia Sex Offender Registry – The state sex offender registry is maintained by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and can be searched by anyone.
- Georgia Department of Public Health: State Office of Vital Records – Maintains vital records created from 1919 to the present. Individuals may request certified copies of birth, death, marriage, and divorce records from the Office, or order them online through an approved 3rd-party vendor such as Go Certificates or VitalChek.