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 is Louisiana’s public records law?
The Louisiana Public Records Act, aka Louisiana’s Sunshine Law, was passed in 1940.
The law includes this expansive definition of public records: “All books, records, writings, accounts, letters and letter books, maps, drawings, photographs, cards, tapes, recordings, memorandum, and papers, and all copies, duplicates, photographs, including microfilm, or other reproductions thereof, or any other documentary materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics, including information contained in electronic data processing equipment, having been used, being in use, or prepared, possessed, or retained for use in the conduct, transaction, or performance of any business, transaction, work, duty, or function which was conducted, transacted, or performed by or under the authority of the constitution or laws of this state, or by or under the authority of any ordinance, regulation, mandate, or order of any public body or concerning the receipt or payment of any money received or paid by or under the authority of the constitution or the laws of this state, are “public records”, except as otherwise provided in this Chapter or the Constitution of Louisiana.”
In Louisiana, anyone can make a public records request without stating their intended use for the record, and there are no restrictions on the use of public records. Government bodies are given a three-day time limit to respond to a records request.
Examples of Louisiana Public Records
Louisiana public records include, but are not limited to:
- Court records
- Birth certificates (100 years after filing date)
- Death certificates (50 years after filing date)
- Marriage records (50 years after filing date)
- Divorce records (50 years after filing date)
- Licensing records
- Business records
- Historical records
- Government contracts
- Voting records
The following are NOT public records in Louisiana:
- Criminal records
- Juvenile criminal and court records
- Birth certificates (less than 100 years after filing date)
- Death certificates (less than 50 years after filing date)
- Marriage records (less than 50 years after filing date)
- Divorce records (less than 50 years after filing date)
- Library records
- Medical records
- Student transcripts
- Social welfare information
- Sealed records
- Tax returns
- Unpublished research and commercial data
Where can I access Louisiana public records?
- Louisiana Secretary of State: Search for Louisiana Business Filings – Search a Louisiana business to learn its formation date, entity type, principal address, and current status. The search will yield both active and inactive businesses in the state.
- Louisiana Supreme Court Case Search – Search a database of cases brought before the Louisiana Supreme Court.
- Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Search – Although there’s no official search tool covering all Louisiana courts, many individual courts in the state have their own search tools. This one is for the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
- Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Docket Master Search – Search court records of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court by party name.
- Louisiana Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Case Search
- Louisiana Courts Directory – A site with links to all Louisiana courts where you’ll find their contact information. For court records that cannot be found online, making a records request to the court clerk in the parish where the case originated is the best way to access specific case information.
- Louisiana State Police: Technical Support – As Louisiana is a closed record state, there’s no search tool for criminal history record information that’s available to the public. However, one may request a copy of their own criminal record by completing and submitting the appropriate forms found on this page.
- Louisiana Secretary of State: State Archives – The official repository for historical public records from throughout the state’s lively history. The Archives is located in Baton Rouge, but many collections are available online in digital form.
Sex Offender Information
- Louisiana Sex Offender Registry – The Louisiana Sex Offender Registry is maintained by the Louisiana State Police and made available online to be searched by members of the general public. Users can search by name, city, area, or email address/internet name.
- Louisiana Department of Health: State Registrar & Vital Records – Although most Louisiana vital records are not public, authorized persons can order certified copies of records from this state agency.