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 Maryland’s public records law?
The Maryland Public Information Act guarantees members of the general public access to public records held by state and local government bodies in Maine. Public records are defined as any documents created or received by a government body which relate to government business.
Anyone can make a public records request in the state without stating their intended use, yet the holder of the record is entitled to deny the request for up to ten days if they believe the release of the record runs counter to the public interest. Government agencies have a 30-day time limit to respond to a public records request.
Examples of Maryland Public Records
Maryland public records include, but are not limited to:
- Criminal records
- Court records
- Licensing records
- Business records
- Historical records
- Government contracts
- Voting records
The following are NOT public records in Maryland:
- Juvenile criminal and court records
- Library records
- Medical records
- Birth certificates
- Death certificates
- Marriage records
- Divorce records
- Student transcripts
- Social welfare information
- Sealed records
- Tax returns
- Unpublished research and commercial data
Where can I access Maryland public records?
- Maryland.gov: Business Entity Search – Search a Maryland business to learn its formation date, principal address, entity type, and current status. Both active and inactive businesses are yielded by a search.
- Maryland Judiciary Case Search – A free-to-use search tool that anyone can use to search Maryland district and circuit court criminal, civil, and traffic case records.
- Maryland Courts: Directory – A directory with the contact information of all Maryland appellate, district, and circuit courts. Making a public records request to the court clerk of the court where a case originated is the best way to access court case information that cannot be found online.
- Maryland Department of Safety: Background Checks – As Maryland does not have an online search tool for criminal history information, individuals must follow one of the procedures detailed on this page to obtain criminal history information in the state.
- Maryland State Archives – Located in Annapolis, the Maryland State Archives houses an extensive collection of historical public records, genealogical information, and audiovisual materials dating back to the Colonial Era. Many records are available online in digital form.
Sex Offender Information
- Maryland Sex Offender Registry – Maintained by the Maryland Department of Safety and Correctional Services, the registry is available online and can be searched by members of the general public. Users can search by name, city, area, or internet name/email address.
- Maryland Department of Health: Vital Statistics Administration – Although vital records aren’t public records in Maryland, authorized persons, including the subject(s) of a record, immediate family members, and legal representatives, may order certified copies of vital records through this agency.