Are Alabama Records Public?
According to the Alabama Open Records Law, most government-generated records are open to the public. Individuals interested in these records can request inspections or physical copies of all non-confidential records at the applicable custodian agencies. Some examples of Alabama public records include:
- Public court records
- Public sex offender information
- Public Alabama divorce records
- Public inmate records
- Public property records
- Public bankruptcy records
Alabama law defines public records as information made or received by public officers as required to transact public business. The definition includes records created by officers of the state, a county, municipality, or other subdivision of government (Ala. Code § 41-13-1).
Members of the Alabama public must note that while all public records are available to requesters, state law does not recommend maintaining public records in perpetuity. According to the law (Ala. Code § 41-13-5), public agencies may destroy or dispose of public records without importance or significance. Alabama allows record custodians to recommend the destruction of such records to the State and Local Government Records Commissions if considered necessary. Records can be obtained by making a public record act request to the concerned record custodian or conducting a public data search using any of the self-service options available at their offices. Third-party sites also offer paid and free public data search options to interested members of the public.
Who Can Access Alabama Public Records?
Everyone can access public records in Alabama. The state’s Public Records Act gives “every citizen” the right to inspect or obtain copies of all non-confidential public records (Ala. Code § 36-12-40). The law does not specify a residential requirement and provides no further qualifications to the citizenship requirement. Although it specifies access for citizens, the Alabama Open Records Law does not require public agencies to deny requests submitted by non-citizens. However, the availability of a record may be impacted by the requestor's intent. For instance, only selected persons are eligible to obtain records for official functions such as employment, housing or credit; this may be regarded as an FCRA-compliant background check.
What is Exempted Under the Alabama Open Records Law?
Although Alabama citizens can exercise their right to access records created by governmental entities, not all records are accessible by the general public. The Alabama Open Records Law provides two categories of records that are not subject to public disclosure (Ala. Code § 36-12-40). These include:
- Registration and circulation records that contain information on the use of public, school, university, college, or public libraries in the state
- Security plans, assessments, systems, procedures, and other related records concerning the safety of lives and property, if public disclosure is not in the public’s best interest.
In addition, the Alabama Code features several exemptions to public disclosure that are not included in the state’s public records law. They include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Accounting records prepared by a public accountant or certified public accountant regarding a practice monitoring or a Board of Public Accountancy peer review. This exemption excludes records pursuant to related investigations or court proceedings.
- Attorney discipline records, including subpoenas, affidavits, disciplinary proceedings and more records pertaining to private or sensitive court rulings
- Personell records including highly personal information about individuals, such as their home address, phone number, email address, and medical history.
- Vital records such as birth and/or death information. However, selected vital data may become public record information after a specific period has elapsed.
- Bank records, including information on acquisitions, licensee records, investigations, applicant information obtained by the Securities and Exchange Commission, and bank examinations conducted by the Alabama Banking Department.
- Certain conservation and environmental control records, including reports on air pollution, hazardous waste management, and water pollution control, if disclosure would divulge information on production, trade secrets, and other competitive information
- Civil court mediation records, grand jury evidence and exhibits, juror lists, and names for juror qualification
- Certain records prepared as part of a criminal investigation, including unexecuted search warrants, grand jury documents, reports created by mental health experts, 911 audio recordings, DNA records, and records that disclose the identity of a confidential informant. However, 911 audio recordings may be released if the court finds that the need for public disclosure outweighs privacy interest, or if the caller or a legal representative requests disclosure by submitting a sworn affidavit
- Information identifying facilities or individuals employed or volunteering with domestic violence centers until the victim dies (Ala. Code § 30-6-8).
- Voter registration applications and written answers, except the applicant provides written consent, or upon a competent court order (Ala. Code § 17-3-52).
- The Department of Human Resources’ case records on persons who receive or have applied for public welfare, including confidential information about their families (Ala. Code § 38-2-6(8))
- Records on tax returns and related details, unless the taxpayer provides written consent
In some cases, records may be selectively available and not totally exempt. For instance, Alabama death records are restricted to certain eligible requesters for 25 years from the date of death. After that, death records are open to the general public.
Where Can I Access Public Criminal Court Records in Alabama?
Public criminal court records are available at several Alabama courts. The state’s judicial system provides Circuit, District, and Municipal Courts with varying degrees of jurisdiction over criminal matters. All criminal records without sensitive or confidential information are available to the public at the respective court locations. Members of the public can submit in-person or mail requests to the courts. Some courts also allow phone, fax, or online requests. Interested persons must note that physical copies may cost varying fees.
Interested persons may also use the searchable online database provided by the Alabama Administrative Office of Courts. This option costs $9.99 per name search or case number search. Images cost $5 for the first 20 pages and 50 cents for each subsequent page. Also, lifetime case monitoring costs $19.99 for District cases and $29.99 for Circuit cases. Courts do not provide public access to free Alabama court records.
How Do I Find Public Records Alabama?
The Public Records law gives citizens the right to obtain public records Alabama agencies generate or maintain by submitting official requests. However, the law does not require government bodies to respond to these requests. Nonetheless, interested record seekers may find public Alabama records by taking the following steps:
- Identify the desired record
Requesters may start by identifying the desired record type by the available information. For instance, persons looking for information on married persons must obtain a marriage license or certificate. Similarly, information on a criminal charge is obtainable by requesting court records from the clerk at the overseeing court and vital records are obtained from the state department of health or county vital records office.
- Determine the applicable agency
Identifying the record helps determine the applicable custodian agency. Alabama arrest records are available at the arresting police department or sheriff’s office, while appraisal and assessment records are at county Department of Revenue offices.
- Create a request
The Public Records Law does not specify that requests must be written or oral. However, record seekers are advised to ensure that requests provide exhaustive descriptions of the desired records. Written requests may also make it easier for the custodian to find the requested record. Regardless of the agency, requests for public Alabama records should contain the record type, the information on the record, the requester’s name, and the requester’s contact information.
- Review and submit the request
Record seekers must review requests to ensure that the provided information is accurate. After the review, requests should be submitted using methods allowed by the organization. In most cases, public agencies allow in-person, mail, phone, fax, and online submissions.
Requests may also cost varying fees depending on the submission or expected delivery method. For instance, online payments may require additional processing fees that may not apply to mail requests. Furthermore, mail requests may have longer processing times, making it the least-preferred option for urgent requests.
Using Third-Party Sites to Find Alabama Public Records
Public city records may also be accessible from third-party websites. These non-government platforms come with intuitive tools that allow for expansive searches. Record seekers may either opt to use these tools to search for a specific record or multiple records. However, users will need to provide enough information to assist with the search such as:
- The name of the subject involved in the record (subject must be older than 18 or not juvenile)
- The address of the requestor
- A case number or file number (if known)
- The location of the document or person involved
- The last known or current address of the registrant
Third-party sites are not sponsored by government agencies. Because of this, record availability and results may vary.
Public records can also be accessed from third-party websites. These third-party public records aggregate websites offer search services that are non-geographically limited, making the search result expansive and typically straightforward. However, users will need to provide enough information to assist with the search, such as:
- The name of the subject involved in the record as long as the subject is not a juvenile
- The last known or location of the record subject
Third-party public records search websites are not government-sponsored services. Therefore, the availability and accuracy of results can vary.
How Much Do Public Records Cost in Alabama?
Alabama law states that record custodians must release copies of certified public records after the requester pays legal fees (Ala. Code § 17-3-52). However, the law does not provide a formula or uniform schedule that agencies should use to calculate charges for these certified copies, or plain alternatives. Therefore, fees are at each agency’s discretion.
How Do I Look Up Public Records in Alabama for Free?
Because the Alabama Open Records Law does not provide for fee waivers, there is no statutory backing for free copies of public records. However, Alabama public agencies may provide free access to persons looking to inspect non-confidential public records.
Interested members of the public may conduct a free public records search by visiting the relevant agency. For instance, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency maintains a searchable online sex offender registry with free information on registered sex offenders. Similarly, residents can use the Alabama Department of Corrections online registry to search inmate records by Alabama Institutional Serial (AIS) number, first name, or last name. Requestors may also query the county clerk's office or county recorder’s office in the relevant judicial district and utilize the self-service computers available in the office (if applicable).
Do I Need to State My Purpose When Requesting Public Records in Alabama?
The Alabama Public Records Law does not contain any provision for a statement of purpose. Consequently, Alabama agencies may not ask a requester for a reason or an explanation for possible use. In some cases, Alabama courts may recognize a commercial purpose as a valid reason for a record request. However, agencies may deny access to records requested for speculation or idle curiosity.
What Happens if I Am Refused a Public Records Request?
The Alabama Public Records Law does not provide any appeals process or recommendation where denials occur. Nonetheless, residents who feel access was unjustly denied may bring a civil action in court. In some cases, courts that rule in agreement with the requester’s action may order the agency to produce the records and award attorneys’ fees. However, the law does not ask courts to do so. However,l public data search queries to state government agencies, requestors are unlikely to be denied.
How to Remove Names From Public Search Records
Alabama residents looking to remove their names from Alabama public records may consider applying for expungement. Although this process permanently prevents public access to arrest, charge, and conviction records, the provisions of the Alabama Public Records Act allows for the information to be provided to law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, courts, and some financial institutions, if needed for an investigation. After a successful expungement, the individual may legally state that the arrest or conviction did not happen.
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed a new expungement law on April 23, 2021, to take effect on July 1, 2021. Called the Record Expungement Designed to Enhance Employment and Eliminate Recidivism Act (the REDEEMER Act), Alabama residents may petition a state superior court to expunge applicable records under the following conditions:
- More than 90 days have passed since the charge was dismissed with prejudice
- More than 90 days have passed since a grand jury issued a “no bill”
- More than 90 days have passed since the person was found not guilty of the charge
- More than one year has passed since the charge was dismissed without prejudice, if the charge was not refiled. Also, the person must not have any other misdemeanor crime, violation, traffic violation (exempt a minor traffic violation), or felony conviction in the previous two years
- The person has completed all parole and probation requirements, including paying all associated fines, court costs, and fees
- The date of conviction was more than three years ago
- The conviction is not for a sexual or violent offense, crime of moral turpitude, or a serious traffic offense
- More than 90 days have passed the charge was dismissed with prejudice
- More than 90 days have passed since the charge was “no billed” by a grand jury
- More than 90 days have passed since the person was found not guilty of the charge
- More than one year has passed since the successful completion of a mental health court, diversion, veterans court, drug court, or other court-approved program
- More than five years have passed since the charge was dismissed without prejudice and was not refiled. In addition, the person cannot have a conviction for a misdemeanor crime, felony, or any violation (excluding minor traffic violations) during the previous five years
- The person received a pardon from the Alabama governor and a certificate of restoration of civil and political rights from the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles.
- At least 180 days have passed since receiving the pardon
- The conviction is not for a sexual or violent offense, serious traffic offense, or a crime of moral turpitude
What is the Best Public Records Search Database?
The best public records search database depends on the desired record. Different Alabama public agencies maintain separate repositories, each of which may be considered the best public records search database or resource for the records they hold. For instance, residents may conduct a Jefferson County public records search for recorded documents using the county’s official records search. A Mobile County public records search for unclaimed property is also possible by providing property information, such as a name or business name, city, zip code, and property ID.
How Long Does It Take to Obtain an Alabama Public Record?
The Alabama Public Records Law does not contain a prescribed time for agencies to respond to requests for public record information. Although some statutes may state that records should be available at reasonable times, no statute contains specifics. Therefore, the time required to obtain an Alabama public record may depend on the state or local agency in charge. However, to quickly access public information maintained by a custodian, the requestor may query the relevant office in person as in-person queries are typically processed quicker than their alternatives.
Is Public Data Search Safe?
Public data search engines collect and index public record information from public sources, making it easily accessible to anyone with an internet connection. While this can be useful for finding information on criminal information, court cases, or property records, it also raises privacy concerns. However, by using reliable data service providers, users can allay their fears and safely search public data. These providers ensure that the data they collect is accurate and up-to-date, as well as protect user privacy by anonymizing sensitive information.