Washington’s Public Records Act empowers residents to ask, see, and get copies of public records in any public agency’s custody. The documents that make up a public record are the only veritable sources of information in Washington. Any interested person who wishes to get public records must first identify the agency that maintains the record. Then, they must prepare and submit a request per the agency’s protocol. Often time, preparing a request is unnecessary, especially if the agency has a searchable online database.
Arrest records in Washington
Arrest records contain information on why a police officer took a person of interest into custody. These documents, however, do not show that the individual was guilty of the suspected crime. Everyone who has ever been taken into custody will have an arrest record. You can get a copy of these records from the local Sheriff’s office or the Police Department responsible for the arrest.
Criminal Records In Washington
Criminal records comprise documents on a person’s arrests and the outcome of the arrest, i.e., indictment, prosecution, conviction, acquittals, sentence suspensions, and pardons. Criminal records are also called records of arrest and prosecution or RAP sheets. However, in the true sense, a person need not be prosecuted before they have a criminal record.
The Washington State Patrol Criminal Records Division is the central custodian of criminal records in the state. The quickest way to get criminal records is online through the Washington Access to Criminal History (WATCH). This search is name-based.
You may also submit a mail request to the Criminal Records Division. For this, you will need to complete the background check request form. Then, you must attach the payment for the type of search you want and enclose the request in a self-addressed stamped envelope. Once you confirm your application is in order, send it via mail to:
Washington State Patrol
Identification and Background Check Section
PO Box 42633
Olympia WA 98504-2633
Phone: (360) 534-2000
Unlike online search, the mail request can be name-based or fingerprint-based. You can also choose to get the search results in your physical mail or via email. If you decide to get the background check results via email, the Division will encrypt the message with a password of your choice.
Washington Court Records
Interested persons may court records from the clerk’s office in the court where the case was tried. This court is usually in the defendant’s county of residence, but it may also be the county where the incident happened. If you are visiting the clerk’s office in person, you must do so during business hours. You will need to present the case number and litigants’ names to facilitate a record search.
Suppose you cannot visit the clerk’s office in person, that ok too. You can still get case records by sending a mail request or search for case records online. You must enclose a written request containing the case number and litigants’ names with a mail request. Then, you must describe the specific documents you want or if you wish to get the entire case record. Afterward, contact the clerk’s office for an estimate of the copying fees. You may also attach a not-to-exceed check with your request. In any way, enclose your complete request in a self-addressed stamped envelope and mail it to the clerk’s office mailing address (see court directory).
Every civil and criminal case that enters the Washington judiciary leaves a paper trail from when the plaintiff files the lawsuit until the trial court judge issues a verdict. If any party files an appeal with an appellate court, the paper trail continues until the final verdict.
What is this court paper trail? These are documents filed throughout the case history, including complaints, summons, affidavits, orders, statements, exhibits, documentary evidence, motions, decrees, and court transcripts.
These case documents are available to interested persons under Washington’s public records act. However, state laws restrict access to court documents containing sensitive information, such as those involving a juvenile. Some records contain financial information that is confidential or details that exposes a litigant to safety risks if disclosed. The court may place these documents under seal and order the record custodian to only grant access to authorized persons only. Interested persons who wish to access sealed court records can still do so, but they must submit a petition first. If the court grants the petition, the documents shall undergo a redaction process to block all sensitive information.
Washington Inmate Records
Just like cases that enter the judicial system leave a paper trail, offenders who enter the corrections system also leave a trail. Inmate records contain information on an inmate of interest, including their personal information, sentence history, and offense history.
Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) is the central custodian for inmate records, and inmate information is available for public perusal on the offender search portal.
You can conduct a name search on the portal or find an offender with their inmate ID number. If the web search does not yield the information you seek, you may submit an electronic request to the DOC Public Records Officer. The DOC also accepts written requests for publicly available inmate records via mail. Your written request must contain the inmate’s name and physical description and the specific records of interest. Please include your name and contact information in the written request too. Enclose your mail request in a self-addressed stamped envelope and send your requests to:
Department of Corrections
Public Records Office
PO BOX 41118
Olympia, WA 98504-1118
Phone: (360) 725-8213
Email: [email protected]
The Department of Corrections generally charges between $0.10 and $0.15 per page for copying the documents in the inmate’s record. The requester will also need to cover the actual cost of delivery and other administrative charges. These costs are payable by certified check or money order made out to the Washington Department of Corrections.
Vital Records in Washington
The maintenance of vital records began due to the need to monitor the trends of live events and measure the population health of residents. These live events, which are also indices for population health, include births, marriages, divorces, and deaths.
Documents certifying that these live events actually happened in Washington are known as vital records. Some are used as a primary form of identification and citizenship. Others are required to make name changes, e.g., marriage and divorce records, while death records are used to process insurance, public benefits, or claim inheritance by a decedent’s heirs.
The Washington Department of Health is the central custodian for these vital records through its Center for Health Statistics. You may order a vital record online, or you may visit your local health department. Many requesters prefer to complete the application form and send their requests directly to the Washington Department of Health. Either way, each vital record has its instructions and application forms viz-a-viz:
Once you complete the application form, attach a certified check or money order for a $25.00 processing fee. You will then need to attach a valid government-issued photo ID and mail the request to the Center for Vital Statistics office at:
Center for Health Statistics
PO Box 9709
Olympia, WA 98507
Phone: (360) 236-4300
Email: [email protected]
Washington Property Records
Property records are legal documents or paperwork that describe a piece of real estate or plot of land and the legal owner. The most sought property record is the deed available at the Assessor’s office in the county where the property is located.
The Assessor’s office also maintains all property records on all events concerning the piece of real estate, including records of transfer of ownership through purchase, gift, or will. If there is a lien, easement, foreclosure, or outstanding tax on the property, the property records at Assessor’s office will also have this information.
Most county assessor offices have a website where you can perform a free property record search, for example, Kings County Assessor’s office. You may also visit the Assessor’s office during business hours to obtain physical copies of the property records.
The Department of Revenue maintains a directory of the contact information of all county assessors in Washington. Once you get the location of the county assessor, you can visit during business hours to request property records. The administrative staff will need the complete address, parcel number, or property name to process your request. Unlike the online search, which is available for free, in-person requests for property records are subject to search and copying fees. These fees vary from county to county.
Washington Business Records
Businesses in Washington regularly file certain documents with the Secretary of State’s office. These documents become public information once they are in the agency’s custody per the Public Records Act. Interested persons may perform a free business search for information on all business entities, including trade names, trademarks, and service marks.
If you prefer to get hard copies of the business records, visit or send a mail request to:
Washington Secretary of State
PO Box 40220
Olympia, WA 98504-0220
Email: [email protected]
Phone: (360) 725-0377
Your mail request must contain a written letter describing the business record of interest. You must also attach a money order or certified check for the administrative fees (call the office to get an estimate). Enclose your request in a self-addressed stamped envelope.
Washington Bankruptcy Records
Federal laws allow debtors under financial distress to file for relief and protection from creditors under the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. These debtors must begin the action in one of two bankruptcy districts in Washington, depending on their county of residence.
Bankruptcy records become public information immediately after the debtor declares bankruptcy. Interested persons may visit the clerk’s office in bankruptcy court, where the debtor filed the bankruptcy petition to get the case documents. Of course, the clerk’s office depends on the district that handles bankruptcy filings from the debtor’s county of residence.
- Washington Western Bankruptcy Court – This district serves the region south of the Canadian border and north of the Columbia River between Cascade Mountain and the Pacific Ocean. The western bankruptcy court has offices in Seattle and Tacoma.
- Washington Eastern Bankruptcy Court – This district serves twenty counties in Eastern Washington, i.e., east of the Cascade Mountain. The eastern bankruptcy court has offices in Spokane and Yakima.
Alternatively, persons who wish to get bankruptcy records may search online regardless of the district that handles the bankruptcy filing. The Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) is a central database for all case documents filed in federal court cases. Searching online is much cheaper and costs the requester $0.10 per page. For in-person and mail requests, the cost of copying bankruptcy case documents is $0.50 per page.
If you prefer to mail a copy request to the clerk’s office, you must prepare a written request containing:
- Debtors’ name and case number
- Specific documents to be copied or entire case file
- Requester’s name and daytime phone number
- Address where the court should mail the bankruptcy records
You must then attach payment in the form of a certified check or money order for the copying fee (calculated based on the number of pages). It is best to call the clerk’s office ahead to get an estimate. Furthermore, the court charges $11.00 for certification per page. Enclose the letter and payment in a self-addressed stamped envelope and mail to the clerk’s office.
These are the commonly requested public records in Washington and how to get them. Many of these public records are available for free, and most agencies have online portals for accessing the records of interest. In some cases, certain otherwise public documents will not be available for public perusal due to statutory provisions or court orders to protect sensitive or confidential information. In such cases, only authorized persons may access the sealed records.
The restrictions on sensitive information, e.g., birth records, protect the residents from security risks such as identity theft. However, Washington does not restrict the lawful use of publicly available information.