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 Massachusetts’ public records law?
The Massachusetts Public Records Act guarantees the public access to public records held by state and local government bodies. Anyone can make a public records request in the state without stating their intended use for the record, and no restrictions are placed on the use of a record. Custodians of records are given a ten-day time limit to respond to a request.
Examples of Massachusetts Public Records
Massachusetts public records include, but are not limited to:
- Criminal 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 Massachusetts:
- 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- Unpublished research and commercial data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 Massachusetts public records?
- Massachusetts Secretary of State: Search for a business entity – Search a Massachusetts business to learn its formation date, entity type, principal address, current status, and more.
- Massachusetts Trial Court Electronic Case Access – This free-to-use search tool allows individuals to search the court records of Massachusetts district courts, housing courts, the Land Court Department, the Probate and Family Court, the Massachusetts Superior Court, and Boston Municipal Courts. Registration is not required in order to use the search.
- Mass.gov: Court Directory – A comprehensive directory with the contact information of every Massachusetts court, court department, and office. If the case information you’re looking for cannot be found with the Trial Court Electronic Case Access, consider making an in-person public records request to the court clerk of the court where the case originated.
- iCORI – A fee-based search tool allowing users to lookup Massachusetts criminal history information. The database includes all murder, manslaughter and sex offense convictions, felony convictions from the past two years, misdemeanor convictions from the past year, and all felony convictions that are punishable by five or more years in prison. One search costs $25
- Massachusetts Archives – Located in Boston, the Massachusetts Archives houses a massive collection of historical public records dating back to 1629. Many collections are available online in digital form.
Sex Offender Information
- Massachusetts Sex Offender Registry – The state sex offender registry is maintained by the Massachusetts Sex Offender Registry Board, which makes the registry available online to be searched by members of the general public. Users can search by name, city, or neighborhood.
- Mass.gov: Registry of Vital Records and Statistics – Massachusetts is one of the few states that makes nearly all vital records available to the public. Individuals may order certified copies of vital records from this state agency.