Are Michigan Records Public?
Yes. Except where restricted by law or court order, most government-generated records are open to the public. Michigan's Freedom of Information Act permits access to any writing owned, used, or prepared by a public body during the performance of an official function. This includes records produced by a state officer, agency, bureau, division, or council. Michigan public records may exist in different recorded forms, such as typewritten documents, digital recordings, and photographs. It may also include paper tapes, microfilm, punched cards, or information preserved via other recordings. Some examples of Michigan public records include:
- Michigan arrest records
- Michigan criminal records
- Michigan inmate records
- Michigan property records
- Michigan bankruptcy records
- Michigan marriage records
- Michigan divorce records
- Michigan birth records
- Michigan sex offender information
Note: In 2021, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that personal information such as birth dates would no longer be categorized as public records.
The Michigan Freedom of Information Act allows citizens to access public records. As a result, interested individuals can conduct a paid or free public data search to retrieve such records from government agencies (like a county sheriff's office) or independent public record providers. Usually, one must submit a public records act request to an official custodian to view or copy public records. Sometimes, these agencies provide electronic access.
Who Can Access Michigan Public Records?
Almost anyone may access Michigan public records. Michigan law places no restrictions on age or residency to obtain public records produced or managed in the state, nor does it limit how persons should use these records. For this reason, anyone can obtain a Michigan public record for any purpose, including to find out more about a person's background. Individuals conducting background checks for official reasons, however, must follow related state or federal regulations.
Note: Michigan law limits the public records access of individuals housed in correctional facilities. Thus, record custodians may deny access to anyone incarcerated in a local or state-run correctional facility.
Also, record requests must be made in writing to the record custodian. In 1996, Michigan's legislature made changes to state laws to exclude oral requests. Record seekers may ask to either physically inspect the record or obtain a copy of the record.
What is Exempted Under the Michigan Public Record Law?
Michigan's FOIA permits government officers to deny or limit access to records that contain protected or exempted information, such as personnel records of law enforcement agencies and the Center for Forensic Psychiatry and vital records. Government agencies may refuse a request to disclose part or all of a record if it falls under any of these defined categories:
- Records that contain information, which is prevented from disclosure by other state statutes
- Records that reveal security measures used by public agencies and bodies
- Records with information that may reveal the identity of an undercover agent
- Records containing social security details of a subject
- Records that disclose the personal details of law enforcement agents as well as the phone number or address of a public officer
- Records detailing notes and communication shared between public bodies (as long as the information outweighs the public interest served by disclosure)
- Records that contain protected financial information or trade secrets
- Records that contain information of a student's college transcript
- Records that may violate the protection provided by client-attorney privilege
- Records that may violate the protection provided by patient-doctor privilege or any other recognize privilege
- Records that detail or reveal the location of archaeological sites
- Records containing details of pending bids for contracts
- Records containing investigative information used by law enforcement agencies. This is allowed if the disclosure is likely to:
- Reveal protected procedural or investigative techniques used by law enforcement officers
- Deny a subject's right to a fair trial
- Reveal the identity of an informant or confidential source
- Endanger the safety or life of a law enforcement officer
- Provide information that constitutes an unwarranted invasion of privacy
- Interfere with investigative proceedings
How Do I Find Public Records in Michigan?
Any person can obtain copies of a record by making a request to the record custodian. Michigan's state law obliges public agencies to make records available once they receive a request unless the record is protected by law or state statute. Record seekers can find public records in Michigan by following several basic steps.
Step 1. Determine the type of record required
The information needed by a requester typically determines the type of record to be requested. Public records fall under different categories and some examples include but are not limited to:
Vital Records: These are records of birth, death, marriage, divorce, among others. Vital records are usually created by local public bodies and in most cases, this type of request is mainly restricted to the owner of the request or immediate relatives.
Criminal and Civil records: Criminal records provide information about offenses against the state. Offenses in this category are usually violent crimes and are prosecuted by the state because they are considered harmful to the state. Examples of criminal offenses are rape, child abuse, arson, assaults, murder, among others. Unlike criminal records, civil records contain information of private disputes between individuals that do not have direct harm to the state. Examples of civil offenses include property disputes, tenant/landlord disputes, and personal injuries, among others.
Step 2: Determine the government agency with the records
To obtain a public record, requesters must direct their request to the right state department. For instance, if a requester intends to find records about marriages, divorces, births, and deaths in the State of Michigan, the responsible public body is the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. However, if the request is for a prison inmate's record, the correct state department to submit the inquiry to is the Michigan Department of Corrections. In a similar way, a request for court records should be sent to the Michigan Judiciary, the state repository for court records.
Step 3: Determine accessibility
Every legal citizen has the right to obtain public records in the State of Michigan. However, some records may not be divulged to all members of the public if they fall under the category of FOIA exempted list. As a result of this, any interested member of the public must first determine if the particular record intended to be requested is accessible by the general public. For instance, vital records will be available to individuals who are the owners of those records and their immediate relatives while records containing the security plans and architecture of the government will not be made available to the public to avoid compromising state security.
Step 4: Determine the Availability
Some public records may be accessed online. However, some records with sensitive information will not be found online and requesters may have to visit public bodies offices in person to obtain such records.
Step 5: Contact the Record holder
Record requesters may contact the Record holder via a written request. The written request should contain sufficient information to assist with the search. Requests can be sent via email and may be made physically. Requests sent electronically are usually received by Record holders the next working day.
Using Third-Party Sites to Find Public Records in Michigan
Some public records may also be accessible from third-party websites. These non-government platforms come with intuitive tools that allow for comprehensive searches. Record seekers may use these tools to search for a specific record or multiple records. However, users must typically 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
Government agencies do not sponsor third-party sites. Hence, record availability and results may vary.
How Much Do Public Records Cost in Michigan?
Although the physical inspection of public records is generally free, public bodies in Michigan may charge a fee for providing physical copies. This fee is designed to cover the time of the officer as well as the cost for duplication or mailing. Michigan laws also allow a public body to charge a fee for searching and reviewing records as well as separating exempt information. Fees are documented and may include related details such as the amount of time it took to find and gather the requested information. In most instances, public agencies typically require that applicants first pay the estimated fee for the request to be processed.
How Do I Look Up Public Records in Michigan for Free?
Record seekers who wish to obtain Michigan public records at no cost may request a physical inspection of the record at the custodial government office. Depending on the government agency, interested parties may also be able to obtain public records online at no cost. For instance, residents can conduct a free public records search for Michigan inmate records or Michigan sex offender registry using the online tools provided by the Michigan Department of Corrections and State Police. Furthermore, residents interested in county-specific records can use search tools provided by a county clerk's office (also the register of deeds office) to view or copy public records for free. However, record seekers who wish to obtain physical copies of any record will almost certainly have to pay a fee for printing, duplication, or reproduction.
Do I Need to State My Purpose When Requesting Public Records in Michigan?
No, an individual does not require a statement of purpose to access Michigan public records. Although some public offices may ask, record seekers do not need to justify the reason behind their request. Michigan's Freedom of Information Act mandates that public bodies must provide records on request, except where protected by law or court order. That said, government officers may try to ascertain the requester's location as Michigan statutes prevent persons incarcerated in local or state correctional facilities from obtaining public records.
What Happens if I Am Refused a Public Records Request?
The Michigan public records act obliges state government agencies to make the records they generate or maintain available to the people for inspection or copying. Occasionally, an individual's request for a public data search may be denied. If the reason for denial is an exemption, a requester can ask that the exempt portions of the records be removed. However, if the record custodian at any of the state government agencies is determined not to give all or a portion of a public record, the requester may submit an appeal in writing to the head of such agency, emphasizing why the denial should be reversed. If the public body still insists on not granting access to the record, the requester can - within 180 days of the request - commence legal action against such a body in a Michigan state court. If the court is able to establish that the requested record is indeed a public one, the government office will be compelled to make the record available to the requester. The court may also award a civil fine of more than $2,500 as well as disbursements to cover attorney's fees and costs.
How to Remove Names From Public Search Records?
To remove a name from the public domain or state public records, affected persons will need to show proof that the affected information is protected under the Michigan public records act. The state of Michigan also provides legal remedies for individuals with criminal records who wish to set aside (expunge) or seal the records. Candidates for this option will most likely require the assistance of an attorney. Michigan state laws allow for the set aside of most convictions as long as the applicant has met a set waiting period - ranging from three years for misdemeanors to seven years for multiple felony convictions. Residents with cases that were either dismissed or deferred may also be able to have their cases set aside.
What is the Best Public Records Search Database?
Finding the best public records search database largely depends on the type of record. Generally, the best public records search database should be the record management system maintained by custodians - the various state government agencies. For instance, under the Michigan public records act, the best place to search for sex offender records would be to contact the Michigan State Police, which oversees the compilation and maintenance of sex offender information.
How Long Does It Take to Obtain a Michigan Public Record?
Most public records act requests submitted in Michigan are completed within a week. Michigan state laws mandate that public bodies, such as state or local agencies, respond to requests for public information within five business days. During this period, the state or local government agency must notify the requester, confirming receipt of the request and providing an update. For cases where more time is required to process the request, the public agency may extend the time by an additional 10 business days. However, applicants must be notified of this decision before it's made.
Is Public Data Search Safe?
Yes. Paid and free public data search services are readily available and can safely be used by individuals to find Michigan public records. Typically, free public record searches can be performed using tools provided on the custodial government agencies' websites. For example, a law enforcement agency's inmate search tool. However, some third-party sites also maintain searchable public record databases.
Note that personal information submitted while subscribing to access a third-party search site may be stored by such sites. Hence, individuals should note the type of information they disclose. The Michigan public records act does not require the release of private information to acquire state public records.