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 are the Texas laws governing public records?
Texas’ public records law is the Texas Public Information Act, which is actually a series of laws that guarantees the publics’ right to request and access public records held by state and local governmental agencies. The right to access public records is not only limited to citizens of Texas, and in fact, anyone can request records from Texas governmental agencies.
The law states that information is public when it “is collected, assembled, or maintained under a law or ordinance or in connection with the transaction of official business” by or for a governmental body.
The Texas Public Information Act: Texas Government Code 552
Examples of Texas Public Records
Texas public records include, but are not limited to:
- Conviction records
- Adjudication records
- Birth certificates (over 75 years old)
- Death certificates (over 25 years old)
- Court cases
- Marriage records
- Divorce records
- Licensing records
- Business records
- Historical records
- Government contracts
- Voting records
The following are NOT public records in Texas:
- Juvenile criminal and court records
- Birth certificates (less than 75 years old)
- Death certificates (less than 25 years old)
- Library information
- Medical records
- Student transcripts
- Social welfare information
- Sealed records
- Tax returns
- Unpublished research and commercial data
Where can I access Texas public records?
- Texas Secretary of State: SOSDirect Business Filings Search – Search for business filings made with the Texas SOS. Each search costs $1 and records can be accessed for a fee as low as $5.
- Texas Judicial Branch: Open Record Policy – Make a request to view a Texas judicial record.
- Texas Judicial Branch: Judicial Directory – A directory with the contact information of all Texas courts. In order to view detailed court case information in Texas, one must contact the court clerk of the court where the case originated and make a records request.
- Texas Department of Public Safety: Criminal History Name Search – A fee-based search tool provided by the Texas DPS that can be used to find criminal history record information of anyone on file. A single search costs $3 plus a possible transaction fee depending on the payment method.
- The Texas State Library and Archives Commission – A collection of over 200 million pages of historical public records is maintained by the Archives and Information Services Division. Many of these records can be accessed online or viewed in person at the Texas State Library and Archives located in the state capital Austin.
Sex Offender Information
- Texas Sex Offender Registry – The state sex offender registry is maintained by the Texas Department of Safety. The agency makes the registry available online to members of the general public, who may search by name, area, or institute of higher education.
- Texas Department of Health Services: Vital Statistics – While ordering copies of vital records such as birth and death records is restricted to authorized persons, individuals can order certified copies of their own records or the records of close family members through the Vital Statistics Section or a recommended 3rd-party vendor.