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 New Hampshire’s public records law?
The New Hampshire Right to Know Law guarantees the public access to public records held by state and local government bodies in New Hampshire. Public records are considered to be any information in any form held or produced by a public body.
Under the law, “citizens” (whether this means New Hampshire citizens or all U.S. citizens is not specified) are entitled to request a public record without a statement of purpose unless they are requesting statistical data sets, for which a “request for research” must be declared. The law specifies a five-day time limit for responses to public records requests.
Examples of New Hampshire Public Records
New Hampshire 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 New Hampshire:
- Juvenile criminal and court records
- Library records
- Birth certificates
- Death certificates
- Marriage records
- Divorce records
- Medical records
- Student transcripts
- Social welfare information
- Sealed records
- Tax returns
- Unpublished research and commercial data
Where can I access New Hampshire public records?
- New Hampshire Secretary of State: Business Search – Search a New Hampshire business to learn its filing date, entity type, principal address, registered agent, current status, and more.
- New Hampshire Judicial Branch Case Access Portal – Search the New Hampshire Judicial Branch’s database of Circuit Court and Superior Court civil, criminal, small claims, name change, and estate cases. Registration is required to use the service, but searches are free.
- New Hampshire Judicial Branch: Supreme Court Opinions – An index of New Hampshire Supreme Court opinions by year dating back to 1995.
- New Hampshire Division of State Police: Justice Information Bureau Criminal Records Unit – New Hampshire does not provide a searchable database of criminal history information, but individuals may submit a criminal record request to the Criminal Records Unit by following the procedure outlined on this page.
- New Hampshire Secretary of State: Archives and Records Management – Located in Concord, the Division of Archives & Records Management is the state’s repository of historical public records and other historical material. A large number of records are available online in digital form.
Sex Offender Information
- New Hampshire Sex Offender Registry – The state’s sex offender registry is maintained by the New Hampshire State Police, which makes the registry available online to be searched by anyone. Users can search by name or area.
- New Hampshire Secretary of State: Vital Records Administration – New Hampshire keeps a tight hold on vital records, and only qualified individuals and agencies are authorized to obtain certified copies of birth, death, marriage, and divorce certificates. However, those that are authorized to do so may submit an application by mail to the DVRA, or visit a City Clerk in-person and make a request. The fee per record is $15.