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ALERT

Staterecords.org provides access to CRIMINAL, PUBLIC, and VITAL RECORDS (arrest records, warrants, felonies, misdemeanors, sexual offenses, mugshots, criminal driving violations, convictions, jail records, legal judgments, and more) aggregated from a variety of sources, such as county sheriff's offices, police departments, courthouses, incarceration facilities, and municipal, county and other public and private sources.

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Are New York Records Public?

New York public records refer to government-generated documents accessible to state residents and non-residents. The New York Public Records Act or Freedom of Information Law is a series of laws that enables public members to access public records. As defined by the New York Freedom of Information Law, public records are any data stored, held, filed, created, or re-created by the state legislature or agency. For example, the following documents are classified as New York public records:

  • Court record
  • Arrest records
  • Criminal records
  • Public birth records
  • Property records
  • Public death records
  • Public New York divorce records

New York Public records may exist as physical documents, such as photographs, maps, graphs, charters, manuals, pamphlets, folders, books, designs, opinions, reports, or letters. In contrast, public members may also access New York public records in digital format, which may include formats such as videos, sounds, and electronic communication (emails and SMS). Per the New York Public Records Act, public members can obtain public documents by contacting the custodian agency responsible for maintaining the records.

Note: documents generated outside the government but currently in a custodian agency’s possession are subject to the New York Freedom of Information Law.

Who Can Access New York Public Records?

Per the New York Freedom of Information Law N.Y. Pub. Off. Law § 87(2), state residents have the statutory right to access public records. In addition, both residents and non-residents can access, make copies, and request corrections to public records under the supervision of custodian agencies. However, custodian agencies may restrict access to certain documents due to particular circumstances. For example, divorce records in New York are not available to the general public - only the record subject and legal practitioners can request access to the documents.

Do I Need to State My Purpose and Use When Requesting Public Records in New York?

Generally, record seekers do not need a statement of purpose before obtaining New York public records. However, several New York courts require a statement of intent before granting access to public documents in pending litigation. In addition to this, custodian agencies can deny requests for public records if public members request for fundraising or commercial purposes.

What is Exempted Under the New York Public Record Law?

The Freedom of Information Law prevents custodian agencies from revealing certain public information to the public. Furthermore, the exemption may apply to portions or whole documents, and it is the responsibility of the custodian agency to redact or withhold these documents from public access. (N.Y. Pub. Off. Law § 87(2)) The FOIL exempts the following information from public access:

Confidential or Personal Information

The exemption covers documents that lead to an unwarranted invasion of an individual's privacy. For instance, an individual’s medical history and personal information of government personnel are exempt under the New York Freedom of Information Law. Also, it protects the personal data of crime victims from public access. Furthermore, it prevents record custodians from revealing data protected under attorney-client privilege.

Sensitive Trade Information

Trade secrets or Financial Data
Per §87(2)(d) of the Freedom of Information Law, local and state agencies must protect businesses’ trade secrets and financial data from public view. For custodian agencies to exempt trade secrets, business owners must specify which information is confidential. In some cases, New York courts may favor the public disclosure of a trade secret even when classified as confidential.

Information on Qualification and Promotional Materials

Exempted documents in this category include testing or investigative materials used for determining appointments or promotions in federal government service. The materials are restricted from public view if it will compromise the integrity of the appointment or promotion process. The exemption also includes documents detailing the criteria for promotion in the armed forces, which may reveal the identity of the document’s creator.

Law Enforcement Investigative Files

Under the FOIL, materials compiled during law enforcement investigations, the disclosure of which will cause the following:

  • Interfere with the court proceeding or law enforcement investigation;
  • Causes harm to crime witnesses and victims;
  • Deprive concerned persons of a right to a fair trial in the state’s courts;
  • Discloses criminal investigative procedures and strategies.

Notes and Drafts

Notes and drafts created by a local or state agency are exempted under the New York Freedom of Information Law. Nevertheless, these materials may become accessible to the public if used in connection with public business.

Inter or Intra-agency Materials

The FOIL excludes agency materials or documents that might expose an agency’s security protocol, computer codes. That said, exempted documents also cover inter or intra-agency materials, such as photographs, microphotographs, videotapes, or other recorded images prepared under L.1988, c. 746, § 17.

Where Can I Access Public Criminal Court Records in New York?

Interested public members can access public criminal records via various online and offline databases maintained by local and state custodian bodies. Section 225 of the New York Judiciary Law governs the process of obtaining criminal court records, and interested persons can access these records via the following custodian agencies:

  • The County Clerk or the Clerk of the Court where the criminal court case occurred;
  • The New York State Office of Court Administration (OCA).

All public access to New York criminal court records starts with the request to a custodian agency. To obtain public criminal records in New York, record seekers must submit a request to the county clerk or clerk of the court. Record seekers sending a written request must provide enough information to the Clerk of the Court to get public criminal records in New York. Instead of submitting a written request, interested persons may visit the Clerk of the Court in person to view or photocopy publicly available criminal court records.

In contrast, the OCA maintains online and offline databases of all criminal court cases recorded in New York. To obtain online copies of New York criminal court case records, interested parties must create an account on the On-Line Direct Access platform. There are two account options on the online platform - public and corporate account options.

Thus, users may choose depending on their preference. For example, persons using a general account are limited to five searches per request, and payment is through online payment only. More so, record seekers must provide an exact match of the record subject’s names and date of birth to get an accurate search result. It costs $95 to search for New York public criminal court records, and payment is via checking account or debit/credit card.

How Do I Find Public Records in New York?

Custodian agencies must send copies of public records to interested and eligible persons within five business days after receiving a public record request. Although there is a uniform procedure on how to check for public records in New York, record seekers may follow these general steps:

Know the Basics of Your Preferred Document

To check for public records in New York, record seekers must identify the basics of their preferred document. For instance, record seekers must submit accurate, not vague, descriptions before accessing public records. Custodian agencies may reject vague or obscure requests for public documents. Here's an example: to obtain a New York criminal court record, record seekers must provide the record subject's name in the exact order it appears in a public record. Also, they must identify if a certified or non-certified copy of a public document will serve the intended purpose.

Contact the Custodian Agency Holding the Record

Record seekers must contact the custodian agency responsible for holding or issuing the preferred record. Next, they must find out the agencies' method of providing public documents - some agencies maintain online or offline access, while some maintain both types of access. That said, most New York public records are under the purview of the following systems.

The New York Court system has five levels, each with varying levels of jurisdiction and cases. Thus, persons or entities searching for court records must contact the Clerk of the court responsible for handling the case.

Vital Records

New York divorce records, birth or death records, and marriage records are under the Vital Records Division. Hence, interested persons must contact the Vital office in the region where the event occurred.

Criminal Records

Rap sheets, inmate information, and criminal records are handled jointly by the New York Police Department, the New York Department of Corrections, and the state court system.

Create and Send a Request

Some custodian agencies enable requesters to send requests via online platforms, mail, or in-person. Most custodian agencies provide a downloadable request form for filling out the necessary details. In addition, record seekers may use a generalized Freedom of Information Law request form to apply to various custodian bodies in New York. In contrast, record seekers may use a written request to obtain New York public records at any custodian agency or department. Note that a written request form must contain the following essential data:

  • The requester's full name
  • The record subject's full name and, or aliases;
  • The record subject's date of birth;
  • Purpose of the request - provide a detailed description of your request;
  • Date range when the record was documented;
  • The case number (this applies to court records);
  • Additional information to assist with the search;
  • Preferred mode of delivery.

After filling out the form, record seekers may decide to send the completed form via mail, email, in person, or to the custodian agency's online platform. Most custodian agencies have their contact details in the "Contact Us" section of their webpage. In the absence of a "Contact Us" page, record seekers may forward all Freedom of information requests to the FOIL officer at:

FOIL Officer
NYC Commission on Human Rights
22 Reade Street
New York, NY 10007.
Fax: (646) 500-7159
E-mail: foil@cchr.nyc.gov

Review and Submit the Public Record

Some public records are not free, and custodian agencies may charge specific fees in line with the New York FOIL. These charges generally cover the cost of printing copies of public documents. Moreover, payment options for obtaining a public record in New York include debit or credit cards, cash payments at the agency's physical address, money orders, and cashier checks. Record seekers will obtain a written response within five business days of submitting a public record request to a custodian agency.

Using Third-Party Sites

Some public records may also be accessible from third-party websites. These websites are not limited by geographic location and come with comprehensive search tools. Record seekers can use these sites to start a search for a specific record or multiple records. To use a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:

The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile

The location or assumed location of the document or person involved

Third-party sites are independent of government sources and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party websites may vary.

How Much Do Public Records Cost in New York?

Most custodian agencies may charge for providing copies of public records in New York. Generally, it costs $0.25 per page for copying public records (N.Y. Pub. Off. Law § 87(1)(b)(iii)). Note that custodian agencies may charge additional fees for certified and notarized copies of public documents. Also, postage or mailing fees alongside fees for online payments are included when requesting public records.

How Do I Look Up Public Records for Free in New York

Interested public members can look up New York public records for free via the following methods:

Requesting to View Public Records

A personal inspection is an option for those asking, "where can I search public records for free?". Some custodian agencies, such as law enforcement agencies and clerks of the Court, may allow interested and eligible persons to view public records during business hours. Moreover, some agencies have kiosks or computer terminals where record seekers can view public documents. However, copying or downloading the document might incur some charges.

Requesting for Online Copies

New York government departments or agencies also maintain online repositories of public documents. Therefore, interested persons may access New York public records, such as sex offenders' lists and inmate records. For example, the New York Department of Corrections maintains an online database for all incarcerated and former inmates in the state. Visitors to the online platform can search for inmates using the inmate's first and last name, NYSID, or case number.

Furthermore, public members can access sex offenders' information for free via the New York Sex Offender Registry. The Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) is responsible for maintaining and providing free access to its statewide sex offender registry. The online platform only features data on level 2 (medium-risk) and level 3 (high risk) sex offenders, whereas level sex offenders are not listed on the registry. Through the search offender registry, record seekers can search for sex offenders by name or location.

Also the New York Department of Finance, via the Automated City Register Information System (ACRIS), maintains an online database containing all property information in the state. In addition, the online platform enables record seekers to search and obtain tax records. To search and access property records on the ACRIS, record seekers must search using the following options:

  • Parcel identifier
  • Property owner’s name;
  • City File Register Number/Document ID;
  • Reel and Page;
  • Document Type;
  • Federal Lien File Number.

Do I Need to State My Purpose When Requesting Public Records in New York?

In most cases, persons requesting public records do not need to state the purpose of the request. Per the New York Department of State Committee on Open Government, requesters may state a purpose for their request if it involves the names and addresses of record subjects. In such situations, the custodian agency is required to seek proof that the document will not be used for fundraising or solicitation.

What Happens if I Am Refused a Public Records Request?

Record seekers may seek to reverse a public record denial in the following ways:

Record seekers may seek an explanation from a custodian agency on the request reversal. Provided the request record is not exempt under the FOIL, custodian agencies must cede the seeker’s request. (2006 N.Y. Laws, Ch. 492 (S. 7011-A). The FOIL enables custodians to access exempted documents if there is a significant public interest in the case.

Likewise, record seekers may write an appeal to the custodian body for a partial release of the document. Thus, the custodian may heavily redact or remove portions of the documents to protect confidential data.

AS an alternative option, record seekers may file a case against the custodian agency withholding the required document. Per N.Y. Pub. Off. Law § 89(4)(c), the court may refund the record seeker’s litigation fees, and counsel fee provided the custodian agency has no substantial legal reason for withholding the public record. In addition to this, the court may refund record seekers if the custodian agency failed to respond to a request or appeal within the set timeframe.

How to Remove Names From Public Records Search

Individuals and entities can seek to remove their names from public records search via a court order or by enforcing state statutes. Record bearers must prove the record is exempted under the Freedom of Information Law. Note that public records may remain publicly accessible if the document is crucial to the public’s safety and interests.

For example, high-risk sex offenders will remain on public records search for life. Also, deleting a public record is mainly dependent on the type and circumstance of the record. For instance, bankruptcy records remain on public record searches for a set timeframe.

Sealing a Record

According to the N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law § 160.59(2)(a), persons with two convictions, of which one is a felony, can seal the records for ten years. However, this statute does not include class A offenders, violent offenders, and sex offenders. In addition to this, offenders with more than two convictions are ineligible to seal their records.

In a record-sealing situation, multiple convictions for crimes committed simultaneously are regarded as a single conviction.

To seal a record, applicants must apply to the court where the most severe conviction occurred. N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law § 160.59(2)(a). Alongside other requirements to seal a record, applicants must include a sworn statement stating why the court must seal the record. On the other hand, the court will also consider the following factors before granting the request:

  • The circumstance of the offense for which the offender is seeking relief
  • Statement from the crime victims for which the offender is seeking relief;
  • The impact on sealing the applicant’s records on public safety;
  • The amount of time after the applicant’s last conviction.

What is the Best Public Record Search Database?

The best public record search database is mainly dependent on the type of requested record. No doubt, government agencies often host the best record search database for public members. For instance, the New York sex offender registry maintains an extensive and regularly updated list of sex offenders living in the state. Furthermore, the Kings County Superior Court offers public access to court records via an online platform. Similarly, New York City Correctional Facility maintains a public database for all inmates within the region.

Likewise, the Orange County Sheriff's Office provides public access to all past and current inmates incarcerated in correctional facilities. To access inmate records in Orange County, record seekers must contact the Sheriff's office via phone call at (845) 291-2728.

How Long Does It Take to Obtain a New York Public Record?

Requests for public records in New York may take from a few minutes to five days. Under the FOIL, custodian agencies must respond to public records requests within five days and provide the requested document within 20 days. Nevertheless, record seekers must meet a custodian agency's eligibility requirement to obtain public records within a short timeframe.