Alabama Open Records Law equates the need to keep public records to transparency in the business and activities of public officers in Alabama. Thus, every agency funded by taxpayers’ money must maintain records that expose the status and condition of a business or activity to the public. Interested residents of Alabama can also request and obtain personal copies of these records by following the systematic guidelines that the agency provides.
Arrest Records & Criminal Records
Arrest and criminal records are documents in the custody of law enforcement agencies in Alabama. However, the contents of these records are different. For one, an arrest record refers to documents showing all the time law enforcement agencies have taken that person into custody. The arrest record will also show the reason for the arrest, but it does not provide definitive proof of guilt. Visit the office of the arresting agency to obtain arrest records regarding any person of interest. For most cases, the arresting agency will be the local police department, i.e., the Sheriff’s office.
On the other hand, criminal records show definitive proof of guilt and are more comprehensive than arrest records. It will show the offense history, the date, place, and period of incarceration within Alabama. Copies of criminal records in Alabama are available to interested persons through the Alabama Department of Law Enforcement. The requester must complete a request form, pay the necessary fees, and follow the instructions listed on the request form to get the criminal record.
Court records are the documents that officials of the Alabama judiciary maintain throughout the history of the case. These include petitions, motions, statements, affidavits, orders, documentary evidence, and documents that either party submitted during the case. By law, these case records are public records, and interested persons may access them upon request.
The most requested court records are those created during the first criminal or civil trials. These documents are available for your perusal on the Just One Look portal. You can use the parties’ name or the case number to access court records. However, each search costs $9.99.
Alternatively, you may visit the clerk’s office in the circuit court or district court that handled the case. There, submit the name of the parties involved or the case number. Court staff will use this information to process your request for court records. You will, however, need to cover the cost of searching and making physical copies of the documents. If you want to certify or authenticate the documents, additional fees apply.
When the trial court convicts a person of a criminal offense, he/she will serve time in a county jail or state prison, depending on the severity of the crime. Likewise, persons guilty of federal crimes will serve time in federal prison after a trial in a federal court. These local, state and federal facilities in charge of inmates must make inmate records publicly available or outline the means for getting an inmate record.
For inmates in county jails, the Sheriff’s Office is typically in charge. For example, the Corrections Division of Jefferson County Sheriff Offices oversees inmate affairs. Inmate information and records are available on the inmate inquiry portal. You will need the name, booking number, or booking date of the inmate to find inmate records. Alternatively, you may schedule a visit with the jail administrative officer to get inmate records.
Meanwhile, persons guilty of serious misdemeanors and felonies spend time in state prisons. The Alabama Department of Corrections runs prisons across the state and maintains inmate records. Persons interested in an inmate record may search through the statewide inmate database. You do not need to know the facility of incarceration to use this database. Only the name or unique six-digit serial number will suffice to find inmate information. Alternatively, you may also schedule a visit to the prison if you wish to obtain inmate records in person.
Vital records are documents on life events in Alabama. The Alabama Department of Public Health works with local agencies and institutions to record births, deaths, marriages, and divorces that happen in the state. For the most part, vital records are for the baseline measurement of health indices in Alabama. But to most residents, these documents are resources for personal identification and genealogy research.
Visit your county health department to get a vital record in Alabama using the office directory. Generally, an in-person request is the fastest way to get a vital record if you live in Alabama. Otherwise, you must complete a request form for mail requests. There are also independent service providers authorized to provide these vital records in Alabama.
The Alabama Secretary of State handles applications for business incorporation in Alabama. Interested persons may obtain relevant business entity records such as UCC records, trademark records, and relevant financial records via an online search.
Bankruptcy records in Alabama are available at the district bankruptcy court that handled the bankruptcy case. You must understand that bankruptcy is a federal case outside the jurisdiction of state courts. Consequently, you can only obtain the documents created or filed during bankruptcy from the federal district bankruptcy court or federal online database.
There are three bankruptcy districts in Alabama: Northern, Middle, and Southern Districts. These courts handle bankruptcy petitions from specific counties and maintain bankruptcy records from those counties only. Thus, to get a bankruptcy record in person, you must identify the district court and visit the clerk’s office there.
Alternatively, you may use public access to case electronic records database (PACER). This alternative is comparatively cheaper, and you get access to the exact records available at the courthouse. And if you demonstrate financial need, the court may waive associated access and copying fees.
The Bottom Line
Public records request in Alabama are not limited to these agencies only. The public records discussed above are the common ones. Anyone may get public records in Alabama if he/she understands the protocol for processing public records requests.
If a record custodian denies your request for an otherwise public record, you have two options. You may make an administrative plea to the record custodian and negotiate terms of disclosure. In most cases, this involves redacting sensitive information. The other option is to challenge the denial in court.
Yes, this option is more demanding than an administrative plea. However, if the court finds that the record custodian violated your statutory rights, the record custodian must bear your legal costs besides other sanctions. Then, the court will order the agency to process your request.