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 South Carolina’s public records law?
The South Carolina Freedom of Information Act guarantees the public the right to access public records held by government bodies in South Carolina. The law defines public records as all records, regardless of physical form, that are produced or possessed by a public body in the state.
Under the law, anyone can make a public records request in the state without declaring a statement of purpose. However, there are select restrictions on the use of public records in South Carolina, including a ban on the use of employment information or police reports for commercial purposes. Public bodies in South Carolina have a 15-day time limit to respond to a public records request.
Examples of South Carolina Public Records
South Carolina public records include, but are not limited to:
- Criminal record information
- Birth certificates
- Court case information
- Marriage records
- Divorce records
- Licensing records
- Business records
- Historical records
- Government contracts
- Voting records
The following are NOT public records in South Carolina:
- Death certificates
- Investigative records
- Library records
- Medical records
- Student transcripts
- Social welfare information
- Sealed records
- Tax returns
- Unpublished research and commercial data
Where can I access South Carolina public records?
- South Carolina Secretary of State: Business Name Search – Search a South Carolina-based company by name to view its business profile and learn key information about it, including its formation date, entity type, principal address, current status, and more.
- South Carolina Judicial Branch: Case Records Search – A searchable online database containing court records from all the counties in South Carolina. Individuals can also pay traffic tickets and other fines through the site.
- South Carolina Judicial Branch: Public Access to Appellate Case Management System – Access limited information about South Carolina Supreme Court and Court of Appeals court cases and judgments.
- SLED CATCH (Citizens Access to Criminal Histories) – An online tool allowing the public to view and print the criminal history information of anyone in the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division online database. One criminal record check costs $25 and is non-refundable.
- South Carolina Department of Archives and History – The SC state agency that presides over a large collection of historical public records and other relevant historical material. Remote access to records in digital form is available via email request.
Sex Offender Information
- South Carolina Public Sex Offender Registry – Search the official database of registered sex offenders residing in South Carolina by name or geographical location. You can also sign up for community notifications for when a sex offender moves into or leaves a particular area.
- South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control: Vital Records – South Carolina birth certificates, marriage certificates, and divorce reports are all public records and can be obtained through the SCDHEC or through the approved 3rd party vendor, VitalChek. However, death certificates are considered confidential and are only available to authorized persons in the state.