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 Ohio’s public records law?
The Ohio Open Records Law guarantees the public access to records held of governmental bodies in the state. The 1963 law covers records held by public offices, and both non-profit and for-profit private schools.
Under the law, anyone can make a public records request in the state without stating their purpose with the record. Additionally, there are no restrictions placed on the use of the records in the state.
Examples of Ohio Public Records
Ohio public records include, but are not limited to:
- Criminal records
- Birth certificates
- Death certificates
- Court cases
- Marriage records
- Divorce records
- Licensing records
- Business records
- Historical records
- Government contracts
- Voting records
The following are NOT public records in Ohio:
- Juvenile criminal and court records
- Adoption records
- Bank records
- Select law enforcement investigation records
- Library records
- Medical records
- Student transcripts
- Social welfare information
- Sealed records
- Tax returns
- Unpublished research and commercial data
Where can I access Ohio public records?
- Ohio Secretary of State: Business Search – Search an Ohio-based business by name to learn its filing date, entity type, current status. Additionally, you can download PDF copies of any filings the business has made with the Secretary of State.
- Ohio Supreme Court: Case Search – Search a database of all Ohio Supreme Court cases filed in and after 1985.
- Ohio Court of Claims Public Records Policy – An explanation on how to request copies of public records held by the Ohio Court of Claims. Records can be requested anonymously and do not have to made in writing.
- Cleveland Municipal Court: Public Access – Search the court records of the court system of Ohio’s largest city.
- Franklin County Municipal Court: Records Search – Search records held by the Franklin County Municipal Court system.
- Hamilton County Court of Clerks: Records Search – Search records held by the Hamilton County of Clerks.
- Northern District of Ohio: Court Records – Access documents and docket sheets for pending civil and criminal cases of the Northern District of Ohio Courts.
- Ohio Attorney General: Requesting Your Own Criminal Record – A set of instructions for requesting a copy of your Ohio criminal record. Electronic fingerprint submission is a required step in the process. Unfortunately, a request for a criminal record of an individual other than the requester is not allowed.
- Ohio History Connection: State Archives – Based in Columbus, the State Archives is Ohio’s central repository for historical public records, including founding documents, vital records, and audiovisual material. Many collections are available online as electronic records.
Sex Offender Information
- Ohio.gov: Sex Offender Search – Search the Ohio Sex Offender Registry database by name, city, phone number, or email address/internet name. Users can also perform a search of non-compliant offenders.
- Ohio Department of Health: Bureau of Vital Statistics – Ohio is an “Open Records” state, meaning that anyone can request Ohio birth and death certificates from the Bureau of Vital Statistics. However, copies of records given to non-family members will not include a social security number. Marriage and divorce records can not be obtained by the Bureau, and instead must be requested in the specific county where the marriage/divorce occurred.