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 Maine’s public records law?
The Maine Freedom of Access Act guarantees the public access to public records held by state and local government bodies in the state.
Anyone–not just Maine can make a public records request in the state without stating their intended use of the record. Additionally, there is no restriction on the use of public records. While the Act does not set a specific time limit that agencies must follow in responding to a public records request, a rejection must be sent within five days.
Examples of Maine Public Records
Maine public records include, but are not limited to:
- Criminal records
- Court records
- Birth certificates (75 years after filing date)
- Death certificates (25 years after filing date)
- Marriage records (50 years after filing date)
- Divorce records
- Licensing records
- Business records
- Historical records
- Government contracts
- Voting records
The following are NOT public records in Maine:
- Juvenile criminal and court records
- Birth certificates (less than 75 years after filing date)
- Death certificates (less than 25 years after filing date)
- Marriage 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 Maine public records?
- Maine Department of the Secretary of State: Corporations Name Search – Search a Maine business to learn its filing date, entity type, registered agent, and current status. Business filings are available in PDF format.
- Maine State Courts: Request for Record Search – Unfortunately, Maine does not have a searchable online database of court records, but individuals can complete and submit this form to the court holding the record to access the record one is looking for. There is a $20 record fee that can be paid with a credit card.
- Maine Judicial Branch: Superior Courthouse Directory – Contact information for all Maine Superior Courts. Making an in-person records request to a court clerk is an effective means of accessing court records.
- Maine Judicial Branch: District Courthouse Directory – A directory with the contact information of every Maine District Court.
- Maine.gov: Maine Criminal History Record and Juvenile Crime Information Request Service – Anyone can use this service to look up the criminal history information of a person in the Maine database. However, each search costs $31, or $21 for InforME subscribers.
- Maine State Archives – Located in Augusta, The Maine State Archives houses a vast collection of historical public records and audiovisual materials dating back to colonial times. Many collections are available online in digital form.
Sex Offender Information
- Maine Sex Offender Registry – The Maine State Police maintain the Maine Sex Offender Registry, which is available online to be searched by the general public. Users can search by name, city, area, or internet name/email address.
- Maine Division of Public Health Systems: Vital Records – While Maine is a closed record state, authorized persons may request a certified copy of a vital record through this state agency.