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 Dakota’s public records law?
The South Dakota Sunshine Law guarantees the public the right to access public records held by government agencies at all levels in the state. The law defines public records as any documents possessed or produced by public bodies, regardless of form.
Under the law, anyone can make a public records request without a statement of purpose, and there are no restrictions placed on the use of public records in South Dakota.
Examples of South Dakota Public Records
South Dakota public records include, but are not limited to:
- Criminal records
- Meeting transcripts
- Court case information
- Licensing records
- Business records
- Historical records
- Government contracts
- Voting records
The following are NOT public records in South Dakota:
- Juvenile court records
- Adoption records
- Vital records
- Library records
- Medical records
- Student transcripts
- Social welfare information
- Sealed records
- Tax returns
- Unpublished research and commercial data
Where can I access South Dakota public records?
- South Dakota Secretary of State: Business Information Search – Lookup a South Dakota-based business by name or Business ID to learn key facts about it, including its initial filing date, business type, principal office location, and more. You can also download and view PDF copies of filings the business has made with the South Dakota Secretary of State.
- South Dakota Unified Judicial System: PARS (Public Access Record Search) – A fee-based search tool for looking up criminal, stalking protection orders, and domestic protection orders in the SD Judicial System’s docket entry database. There is a $20 fee per search.
- South Dakota Legal Self-Help: Record Search – Forms and instructions for performing civil and criminal record searches.
- South Dakota UJS: Clerk of Courts Directory – A directory with the contact information of the court clerk of every South Dakota county court. Often, the most effective means of accessing a specific court document is by directly contacting the court clerk of the county where the case originated.
- South Dakota UJS: Supreme Court Opinions – An index of South Dakota Supreme Court Opinions in PDF format.
- Office of the South Dakota Attorney General: Background Check Requirements – Information on how to perform both types of criminal background checks in South Dakota: the State Only background check and the State of South Dakota/FBI background check.
- Open SD – A South Dakota State Government website offering open access to thousands of government financial records in numerous categories, including state employee payroll information, government contracts, budget sheets, and more.
- State Archives of the South Dakota State Historical Society – The State Archives maintains a vast collection of over 12,000 cubic feet of historical public records, manuscript collections, maps, photographs, and other relevant historical material. A large portion of the collection is available for online viewing.
Sex Offender Information
- South Dakota Sex Offender Registry – Maintained by the SD Division of Criminal Investigation, the state’s sex offender registry is online and available to the public. Users can search the database of offenders by name or geographical location.
- South Dakota Department of Health: Office of Vital Records – Although birth certificates, death certificates, marriage records, and divorce records are all confidential in South Dakota, authorized persons can order certified copies of records through this state agency.
- SD Dept. of Health: Birth Record Search Site – Search for South Dakota birth records over 100 years old, which are available to the public.