Public Records in Washington

Table of Contents

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 Washington’s public records law?

The Washington Public Records Act guarantees the public the right to access public records held or produced by government agencies at all levels in Washington. 

Anyone can make a public records request in the state without declaring a statement of purpose, and there are no restrictions placed on the use of records. Furthermore, public bodies in Washington are given a 5-day time limit to respond to a written public records request.  

Examples of Washington public records

Washington public records include, but are not limited to:

  • Criminal records
  • Birth certificates
  • Death 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 Washington:

  • Employee files
  • Select investigative records
  • Library records
  • Medical records
  • Student transcripts
  • Social welfare information
  • Sealed records
  • Tax returns
  • Unpublished research and commercial data

Where can I access Washington public records?

Business Records

  • Washington Office of the Secretary of State: Business Search – Search a Washington business to learn its initial filing date, principal address, entity type, current status, and more. There’s also a Charity/Fundraiser/Trust Search that can be used to research non-profit organizations based in Washington. 

Court Records

Criminal Records

Historical Records

  • Washington State Archives – The State Archives are located in Olympia and house extensive collections of historical legislative records, genealogical records, maps, photographs, manuscripts, and other artifacts with historical value.  
  • Washington State Archives: Digital Archives – Perform a search of the Washington State Archives’ vast digital collection of historical records and audiovisual material. Users can search the collection by name or keyword, or limit their search to a specific collection. 

Sex Offender Information

  • Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs: Sex Offender Information – Those convicted of sexual crimes or certain crimes against minors are required to register as sex offenders in the state of Washington. Members of the general public can run a search of the Washington State Sex Offender Registry by name, city, or geographical radius. There’s also a non-compliant offenders search option. 

Vital Records