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 North Carolina’s public records law?
The North Carolina Public Records Law guarantees the public’s right to access public records held by government bodies at all levels in the state. The law covers all documents created or held by government bodies, regardless of their form.
Under the law, anyone can request public records without stating their purpose for the record. However, there is no set limit that the custodian of a record must follow when responding to a public records request.
Examples of North Carolina Public Records
North Carolina public records include, but are not limited to:
- Criminal records
- Birth certificates
- Death certificates
- Court records
- Marriage records
- Divorce records
- Licensing records
- Business records
- Meeting transcripts
- Historical records
- Government contracts
- Voting records
The following are NOT public records in North Carolina:
- 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- Unpublished research and commercial data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 North Carolina public records?
- North Carolina Secretary of State: Business Search – Search a North Carolina business to learn its formation date, principal address, entity type, senior officers, and current status. The database includes both active and inactive businesses.
- North Carolina Judicial Branch: Directory – A page with links providing the contact information of every court and judicial office in the state. North Carolina does not have a search tool for court records that can be accessed remotely. In order to access specific case information, one must visit a court clerk’s office and use a self-service public access terminal, which allows users to search cases by case number, victim or witness name, and defendant name. After you find the record you are looking for, you can request a paper copy from the court clerk.
- North Carolina Department of Public Safety Offender Public Information – A free-to-use search tool for looking up information on North Carolina state prison inmates and parolees. Search results will yield an individual’s entire state incarceration history.
- Request for Certified Criminal Record Search Application – This application must be completed and submitted to a Clerk of Superior Court in order to perform a complete criminal record search on an individual in North Carolina.
- State Archives of North Carolina – Located in Raleigh, the State Archives of North Carolina houses a vast collection of historical public records, newspapers, manuscripts, and audiovisual material. Additionally, over 100,000 documents and photographs are available in the Digital Collections.
Sex Offender Information
- North Carolina Sex Offender Registry – Maintained by the NC State Bureau of Investigation, the state’s sex offender registry is made available online and can be searched by anyone. Users can search by name, location, latitude/longitude, or sex registration number.
- NCDHHS: Vital Records – Vital records are generally considered public records in North Carolina, and anyone can order uncertified copies of birth, death, and marriage certificates, and divorce records from the state’s Vital Records Office. These copies may omit sensitive information such as a person’s social security number. Ordering certified copies of vital records is limited to subject(s) of the record and those whose relationship to the requestor is named on the document.