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 are the New Jersey laws governing public records?
New Jersey’s public records law is called the Open Public Records Act (N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1 et. seq.).
OPRA defines a public record as “one required by law to be kept, or necessary to be kept in the discharge of a duty imposed by law, or directed by law to serve as a memorial and evidence of something written, said, or done, or a written memorial made by a public officer authorized to perform that that function, or a writing filed in a public office.”
The law states that government records are required to be made accessible to the public for whatever purpose they see fit, as long as the record is not protected by a special exemption. In all cases, the public’s “right of access” should be given priority over limitations placed on the accessibility of a record.
Examples of New Jersey Public Records
New Jersey public records include, but are not limited to:
- Court cases
- Government records
- Marriage records
- Divorce records
- Licensing records
- Business records
- Historical records
- Government contracts
- Voting records
The following are NOT public records in New Jersey:
- Juvenile court case proceedings
- Criminal records
- Birth certificates
- Death certificates
- Library records
- Medical records
- Student transcripts
- Social welfare information
- Sealed records
- Tax returns
- Unpublished research and commercial data
Where can I access New Jersey public records?
- New Jersey Department of Revenue and Enterprise Services: Business Entity Name Search – Search a New Jersey business to learn its entity type and formation date. You can also check the availability of a business name in the state.
- New Jersey DOR and Enterprise Services: Business Records Service – Obtain standing certificates and status reports of businesses on file with the State of New Jersey.
- New Jersey Courts: Municipal Court Case Search – Lookup traffic ticket information.
- New Jersey Courts: Civil Case Jacket Public Access – Search New Jersey civil court case information.
- New Jersey Courts: Criminal Case Search – Search and view New Jersey criminal case information.
- New Jersey Courts: Local Courthouses – In order to view detailed information about a court case, you must contact the court where the case originated directly. This direct gives contact information of every court in the state.
- New Jersey State Police: NJ Criminal History Records Information – As New Jersey does not have a searchable online database of criminal history information as many other states do, individuals must follow the instructions on this page to make a criminal record request in the state.
- New Jersey State Archives – The state’s official research center for historical public records, including land documents, vital records, probate records, and military service papers. The records collection dates back to 1664 with the founding of New Jersey as a colony of England. The Archives is located in downtown Trenton.
Sex Offender Information
- New Jersey Sex Offender Registry – The state’s sex offender registry is maintained by the New Jersey State Police and is searchable by members of the general public. Users can search by name, area, city, or internet name/email address.
- NJ Department of Health: Vital Statistics and Registry – The Office of Vital Statistics and Registry maintains birth, death, marriage, adoption, and civil union records. While a majority of these vital records are not available to the public, copies can be ordered by subjects of the record as well as close family members.