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Are Michigan Records Public?

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 under publically available records.

Who Can Access Michigan Public Records?

Almost anyone may access Michigan public records. Michigan state law places no restrictions on age or residency when obtaining public records. However, the state limits access to individuals housed in correctional facilities. Record custodians may deny access to any seeker incarcerated in a local or state-run correctional facility.

Note: 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 if they're found to contain protected or exempted information. 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 public body. 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 while the Michigan Department of Corrections keeps records of inmates in the state. In a similar way, the Michigan Judiciary is a 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.

Some public records may also be accessible from third-party websites. These non-government platforms come with intuitive tools that allow for expansive searches. Record seekers may either opt to 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

Third-party sites are not sponsored by government agencies. Because of this, 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 records at no cost may be able to find some success by requesting a physical inspection of the record at the custodial government office. Depending on the government agency, interested parties may be able to obtain public records online at no cost. For instance, residents can search for Michigan inmate records or search through the Michigan sex offender registry using the tools provided by the Michigan Department of Corrections or the Michigan State Police. This service is provided at no cost. 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?

A statement of purpose isn't required for accessing 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?

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 holder at the public body 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, affected persons will need to show proof that the affected information is protected under the state's exemption laws. 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. For instance, 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 record requests are completed within a week. Michigan state laws mandate that public bodies provide a response to requests within five business days. During this period, the government agency must notify the requester, confirming receipt of the request and proving 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.