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 Dakota’s public records law?
The North Dakota Open Records Statute guarantees the public the right to access public records produced and held by government bodies in the state. The series of laws include a wide-ranging definition of public records, describing them as any type of recorded information in any form held or recorded by a public entity.
Anyone–not just North Dakota residents–can make a public records request in the state without stating their purpose for the record, and there are no restrictions on the use of records. However, unlike the public records legislation of many other states, there is no specified time limit set for government agencies to respond to a records request.
Examples of North Dakota Public Records
North Dakota public records include, but are not limited to:
- Criminal records
- Court cases
- Marriage records
- Divorce records
- Licensing records
- Business records
- Historical records
- Government contracts
- Voting records
The following are NOT public records in North Dakota:
- Juvenile criminal and court records
- Trade secrets
- Law enforcement investigation records
- Unemployment information
- 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 North Dakota public records?
- North Dakota Secretary of State: Business Records Search – Search the North Dakota registered business database for active business records or those made inactive within the past twelve months. Individuals can learn key information on a North Dakota business, including its formation date, entity type, principal address, and more.
- North Dakota Court Records Inquiry – Search for North Dakota court case records by district or county. Available records include criminal & traffic records, civil, family & probate case records, and court judgments. The records database is updated daily.
- North Dakota Attorney General: Requesting a Criminal History Record Check – A page detailing the procedure for requesting a name-based or fingerprint-based criminal history record check in North Dakota. Requesting the record of an individual other than oneself is allowed, but if the requester does not submit a signed authorization form with their request, a notice will be mailed to the subject of the check informing them of the inquiry.
- North Dakota Courts: Criminal Case Records Searches – A searchable database of North Dakota criminal case records. Users can search by case number, defendant, attorney, date filed, and more.
- State Historical Society of North Dakota: State Archives – The official state repository of historical records in North Dakota. The vast collection of records includes historical government records, genealogical information, audiovisual material, and manuscript collections. Many collections are accessible online in digitized form.
Sex Offender Information
- North Dakota Sex Offender Registry – The state’s sex offender registry is maintained by the Office of the Attorney General and can be searched online by anyone. In addition to searching a list of all offenders, individuals can check a map of high-risk offenders near their location and browse a list of delinquent offenders.
- North Dakota Office of the Attorney General: Links to ND Tribal Offender Websites – North Dakota Offenders living in tribal areas do not belong to the main North Dakota sex offender database. Instead, they can be found in individual tribal registries linked on this page.
- North Dakota Department of Health: Division of Vital Records – Authorized persons may request certified copies of birth and death records through the Division of Vital Records. Marriage and divorce records can be requested by anyone, but they must be obtained by individual counties using the contact information listed on this page.