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 Missouri’s public records law?
The Missouri Sunshine Law was passed in 1973. The law guarantees the public the right to access public records produced or held by government bodies at the state and local levels.
The Missouri Sunshine Law defines public records as, “any record, whether written or electronically stored, retained by or of any public governmental body including any report, survey, memorandum, or other document or study prepared for the public governmental body by a consultant or other professional service paid for in whole or in part by public funds, including records created or maintained by private contractors under an agreement with a public governmental body or on behalf of a public governmental body.”
Under the law, anyone can request public records in the state without declaring their intended use, and there are no restrictions placed on the use of records. A response to a record request should be given within three business days.
Examples of Missouri Public Records
Missouri public records include, but are not limited to:
- Criminal records
- Court case records
- Meeting transcripts
- Licensing records
- Business records
- Historical records
- Government contracts
- Voting records
The following are NOT public records in Missouri:
- 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 Missouri public records?
- Missouri Secretary of State: Search for a Business Entity – Search a Missouri business to access key information about it, including its formation date, entity type, registered agent, principal address, and current status.
- Your Missouri Courts: Case.net – A majority of Missouri courts have made their court records available through this free-to-use search tool, including the Missouri Supreme Court, appellate courts, and district courts. Users can search for records by litigant name, filing date, or case number. Registration is not required to use Case.net.
- Missouri Courts: Find a Court – A directory with links to the websites of every Missouri court and judicial office, where you’ll find their contact information. If a specific court record cannot be found online, the next step is to contact the court clerk of the court where the case originated and making a public records request.
- Missouri Automated Criminal History Site (MACHS) – A fee-based criminal history information search tool provided by the Missouri State Highway Patrol Criminal Justice Information Services Division. One name-based search costs $14 plus a possible processing fee. The database includes Missouri convictions, pending charges, and arrests from the past 30 days.
- Missouri State Archives – The state’s official repository for historical public records, genealogical records, and audiovisual material. While the building is located in Jefferson City, many collections can be accessed online in digital form.
Sex Offender Information
- Missouri Sex Offender Registry – The Missouri Sex Offender Registry is maintained by the Missouri State Patrol, which makes the registry available online to be searched by members of the general public. Users can search the database by name or perform an area/city-based search.
- Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services: Bureau of Vital Records – Access to vital records in Missouri is tightly controlled, and only authorized persons are entitled to copies of birth, death, marriage, and divorce records. Missouri birth & death certificates can be requested by mail or ordered online through VitalChek. However, marriage licenses must be obtained by contacting the County Recorder of Deeds, and divorce decrees must be obtained by contacting the County Circuit Clerk.