Public records are documents that are made available to the general public under the Freedom of Information Act. The information contained within these documents is commonly utilized for making assessment of an individual or affairs of the state.
Theoretically speaking, any document that is covered by taxpayer funds should be made available to the public. However this is not always the case, as some states have specific laws that dictate which records are open and which have restrictions imposed for particular reasons. These reasons often include the cases where the file in question will jeopardize national security, infringe on an individual’s privacy or interfere with a trial.
Types of records
There are quite a few types of records that are made accessible to everyone by the laws governing the states. The most common types are listed below.
- Criminal – not all criminal files are public but those that fall under this category shows details pertaining to an individual’s arrest and subsequent acquittal or sentencing. If the latter is served by the court, the document will further include particulars surrounding the terms of sentencing whether it is prison time or restitution. Criminal public records may also extend to include warrants and sex offender registry information.
- Licensing – in every state a permit is required prior to advancing in certain fields such as new businesses, medical professions and real estate. These documents reveal the credibility of a professional or an entity as well as any complaint or disciplinary actions taking against them.
- Vital statistics – these include information regarding birth, death, census, marriage and divorce that are classified as government property. The health department within a specific state is usually the depository for these types of files. However marriage and divorce public records are more likely to be found at the local courthouse since that is where the event had occurred.
- Property – these include documents that details information regarding a specific location such as deeds, land permits, property tax payments and foreclosures. Such information is useful when researching ancestry or searching for a property to purchase.
How to get access
The way in which records are handled varies by the different states’ jurisdictions. Therefore it is important to understand the type of document being sought. Having such knowledge can save valuable time that would otherwise be spent doing unnecessary search.
Records that are classified as public are often available from local, state and federal government agencies in the country. Viewing them requires a trip to the appropriate locations where they are stored. There is also the option to obtain these documents online. Through this means, a “public records” search will produce various websites from which the files are obtainable for a fee. These websites often times include both governmental and private entities that are trying to make the task of locating and searching for files easier for those individuals who may not have the requisite time. Even though the information will be in the digital form it still contains all the details that are available in the physical copy.
Despite the fact that these documents are made available to everyone, there may be instances where viable reasons will have to be supplied before access can be granted. This might not prove to be an issue for individuals who are keen on acquiring access.
Information provided in public documents is very beneficial in making future decisions and judgments. Regardless of the purpose, the ability to easily access public records now is the most common reason for the dependency seen. The government also benefits from such files as they are able to improve sectors that require attention. For example birth records can be used to calculate birth rates which can be utilized to create better health systems.
However there are some individuals who argue against having these documents open to everyone. The reason behind their view is that an individual incident with the government such as divorce is rather sensitive and should be of a confidential matter. This especially applies to those instances where there are absolutely no restrictions for gaining access.
In general, public records are those documents that are made available to individuals in an open manner. Such publicity is guided by the Freedom of Information Act implemented by the states of the country.