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 Minnesota’s public records law?
The Minnesota Data Practices Act guarantees the public’s right to access records held by state and local government bodies in Minnesota.
Anyone is allowed to request public records without a statement of purpose, and if they don’t understand the data on the record, they may ask for an explanation from the custodian of the record. There is no restriction on the use of public records in the state, but a requester may have to pay a fee if they intend to use the record for commercial purposes.
The Minnesota Data Practices Act does not set a time limit for a government body to respond to a public records request.
Examples of Minnesota Public Records
Minnesota 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 Minnesota:
- 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- Unpublished research and commercial data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 Minnesota public records?
- Minnesota Secretary of State: Search Business Filings – Search a Minnesota business to learn its filing date, principal address, entity type, and current standing/status.
- Minnesota Appellate Courts: P-MACS Case Management System – Search for Minnesota Court of Appeals and Supreme Court case records. Registration is not required and the search tool is free to use.
- Minnesota Judicial Branch: District (Trial) Court Case Search – Search the database of Minnesota District Court criminal and civil case records and judgments.
- Minnesota Public Criminal History Search – A free-to-use search tool provided by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension that anyone can use to look up Minnesota criminal history information. However, arrest data, juvenile data, federal data, and criminal history data from other states is not available through the search.
- Minnesota State Archives – Located in St. Paul, the Minnesota Archives is the state’s central repository of historical public records and audiovisual material. A large number of collections are available online in digital form.
Sex Offender Information
- Minnesota Sex Offender Registry – Maintained by the Minnesota Department of Corrections, the Minnesota Sex Offender Registry is available online and can be searched by anyone. Users can search by name or MNDOC Offender ID.
- Minnesota Department of Health: Certificates and Records – A page with information on how to request and obtain birth, death, marriage and divorce records in the State of Minnesota. Birth and death certificates can be ordered through the Minnesota Office of Vital Records, but marriage certificates and divorce decrees must be obtained through a county district court office.