Finding a Criminal, Court, or Other Public Record
in New York City

Thanks to freedom of information laws, finding a criminal, court, or any other kind of public record in New York City is possible, though the process of how to obtain these documents can be varied and difficult. Your local court building is a good place to start, and online resources make it easier than ever to find the record you’re looking for. But if you decide to find the records yourself, knowing where to look is a good first step.

Criminal records

New York City is committed to releasing information about criminals, arrests, and inmates, and they show this through their website covering all matters involving corrections systems. Concerned and curious citizens alike can research a multitude of records held by the city by requesting a record from the New York City Police Department’s Criminal Records Section. Searches can also be performed through the New York City Criminal History Database. Requests for arrest records must be supplemented with a $15 non-refundable processing fee (though victims of the crime can obtain the report for free), the complaint number, the name of the police precinct where the crime occurred, and a Verification of Crime form. Citizens can learn about arrest warrants that are currently issued, where an arrested person is held and under what charges, how much bail would cost and how to pay it, and request refunds for bails already paid.

  • Arrest warrants are issued when a person, suspected of committing a crime, is wanted by law enforcement agencies for questioning and possible detainment. It is signed by a judge or magistrate, and authorizes a law enforcement official to place that person under arrest. There are occasionally stipulations put on arrest warrants, such as what time of the day a person can be arrested There are also different types of warrants, such as a bench warrant that orders a person to appear before a magistrate after failure to do so on the first request. Knowing your precinct and sector can help if you are the subject of an arrest, or know where someone who is wanted is staying. Knowing which criminal court the warrant originated from can help when attending court after the warrant has been fulfilled. Once a person has been arrested, some warrants will require bail payment to free them prior to their court date.

Information on inmates and the facilities that hold them are available online and off. When a person enters incarceration, there are a number of factors to consider, regardless of one’s relation to the inmate. New York City’s court system is set up to accept a variety of requests from concerned citizens, inmates, and those with an interest in inmates alike. Inmates can request certificates that allow them to more easily reenter society or request a pass allowing their legal team to visit them at a correctional facility. Citizens can get information on current inmates and their release dates (as well as how to facilitate the release), learn about inmate phone access, how to pick up property that belongs to a current inmate, file a complaint with the jail system, and find a juvenile detention center.

  • For inmates, applying for a Certificate of Conduct or a Certificate of Relief is a way to reduce penalties and “barriers to employment, voting, and housing.” Individuals must apply in person at One Police Plaza, Room 152-A in lower Manhattan, and must bring a valid form of I.D., $50, and submit to a fingerprinting while at the police headquarters. Inmates can also apply for a Certificate of Disposition by bringing a docket number (the nine character court reference number that identifies a criminal court case), the defendants full name, date of birth, and date of arrest, a picture I.D. and exactly $10 cash to their county’s clerk’s office. Inmates or their advocates can also apply for a correction facility pass for legal representatives, though attorneys with a Unified Court System Attorney Security Pass do not need to fill out this document.  

Probation, or when an inmate or criminal is allowed to operate within society under certain restrictions, are usually given to criminals that have committed a serious but non-violent crime, such as a DWI, or to inmates that have been released but still require supervision.

They apply to both adults and juveniles, and are a common way to ease an offender back into society under the knowledge that they will face harsher punishments for breaking the law (or their probation) again. Citizens can gain access to probation records, and parole records as well.

 

Court records

Court records are available for New York City through the State’s website and through several third party services online. Court records are documents recording the proceedings of a court hearing, trial court, or jury court. They involve divorce records, marriage records, and more. They are useful for determining the specifics of what took place during a trial, charges, evidence, and sentencing.

Court records in specific are exempt from the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL), and cannot be gathered using standard FOIL procedures. Instead, per Section 255 of New York’s Judiciary Law governs access to public records. The sections states that while the public has the right to access court records, “that right of access may be restricted by statute.” Per Section 255, when making a request for a court record, requesters must provide payment of ¢50 per copied page of the record, with a minimum purchase value of $1 and ¢50 per page to certify a page of a record with a minimum purchase of $4. The clerk may also charge $5 for certifying to a search of records in a particular court for a consecutive two year period or fraction of that period.  Once a request is made, and payment supplied, Section 255 stipulates that a court clerk must “diligently search the files, papers, records, and dockets of their office and make copies or certify that the records cannot be found.” The request must be specific, and cannot be a generic request for general information.

There are several different kinds of court records, and in some cases, confidentiality overrules the public interest in disclosure of a record. Two of examples of this are Family Court Records, and Sealed Records.

  • Family Court records are governed by Section 166 of the Family Court Act, which dictates that these records are not considered by default open to the public. To access these particular records, the requester must provide both an application and a reason for the request. The record may be or may not be released at the discretion of the court. To request an application form, visit your nearest courthouse. Certain parties, such as those involved in the case and their representatives, do no need to file an application to request a family court record.

  • Sealed records are records that have been made private by order from the court, usually at the behest of someone involved in the case. Section 160.50 of the Criminal Procedure Law states that a record must be sealed when the defendant is acquitted of all charges, and the case dismissed. Access to the record by those other than the defendant is not allowed, unless access is needed by law enforcement agencies. Records may also be sealed if the defendant qualifies as a youthful offender.

Police and Arrest records

There are a number of other records available through New York Cities online presence and third party record search engines. Of these, Police Records and Arrest Records are some of the most sought after. Police and arrest records document the going ons of law enforcement agencies in New York City, including all interactions with they have with the public. This includes traffic stops, arrests, investigations, and more. Per the NYPD, the Departments Public Inquiry and Request Section, Criminal Records Section, and Aided Unit provide these records on request.

Some reports are only available online, while others must be requested in person at the Police Headquarters during normal business hours between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., Monday through Friday. Additionally, some records are available through FOIL laws.

To request a police or arrest record, several pieces of information are needed. A United States citizen must provide one of the following:

  • A valid U.S. Passport

  • An original U.S. birth certificate and a valid U.S. driver’s license or I.D. card

  • A voter’s registration card and valid U.S. driver’s license or I.D. card

  • A naturalization certificate

A non-U.S. citizen must provide one of the following:

  • A valid passport or Alien Registration Card or Employment Authorization Card

  • A current letter from the Department of Homeland Security indicating a name, address, alien registration number, current status in the country and a U.S. driver’s license or a DMV identification card or a New York City I.D. card

  • A letter from a consultant or attorney that contains the full name and physical description of the requestor as well as their date of birth, in addition to a valid form of identification.

New York City is committed to providing its citizens with access to public records as a means of helping them understand their rights, and in an effort to increase transparency of the governing bodies that manage the city. While public records are available through government resources, finding these records can come a variety of difficulties. Most records are available online, though some must be obtained in person. Most require certain documents and applications, and the costs can vary. Thankfully, third party websites such as Staterecords.org can provide a more streamlined way of obtaining records. One cost, one website, and the only requirement is a name or address.