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Are Arkansas Records Public?

Arkansas records of governmental activities are mostly public. Any citizen of Iowa that is not incarcerated for a felony may request access to inspect or copy such records, in line with the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act of 1967. Only those records that are exempted by law are closed to the public. The right to access records also extends to taking photographs or videos and receiving deliveries of the records.

Public records may be available in different forms. They include writings, recorded sounds, films, tapes, electronic or computer-based information, or data compilations. Interested persons can make requests for a record in the form the custodian stores it. However, any record that is exempted by law is closed to the public. Examples of records that are generally available include:

  • Arkansas court records
  • Arkansas incidence reports
  • Arkansas inmate record
  • Arkansas sex offender registry

The Arkansas Code Annotated § 25-19-105 recognizes the right of Arkansas citizens to access Arkansas public records. The custodians of the records are to make them available to satisfy this right. Arkansas Code Annotated § 25-19-103(1) defines the custodian of a public record to be the person having administrative control of the record. It does not include persons who merely hold the record for storage, safekeeping, or data processing for another.

Who Can Access Arkansas Public Records?

The Arkansas Code Annotated § 25-19-105(a)(1A) allows every citizen of Arkansas to inspect and copy public records. This also includes the right to photograph and video record Arkansas public records. This right extends to both natural persons and juridical persons, as well as partnerships, corporations, and organizations. Arkansas law does not provide for the right of non-residents to access the records. However, federal law has ruled that such a limitation is unlawful. Therefore, non-residents may make requests for Arkansas public records and have the request honored. Persons who are being incarcerated for a felony are also prevented from successfully making requests for public records. Agents of such a person also cannot make requests, except if it is their attorney requesting a record that is subject to disclosure.

What is Exempted Under the Arkansas Public Record Law?

The Arkansas Code Annotated § 25-19-105(b) exempts confidential records from disclosure. These exempted records are only available to qualified persons, pursuant to a court order, and to the record subject. The custodian of the record should deny any request for a record that is confidential in its entirety. If only some parts of the record are confidential, the custodian has a duty to separate and redact the confidential part. The redaction should also be communicated to the requester. No fees should be charged for the separation and redaction. Records that are confidential under Arkansas Public Record Act include:

  1. State income tax records. Financial records and other records submitted to a government entity for tax purposes do not form part of Arkansas public records. These records are closed to the general public. Arkansas Code Annotated § 25-19-105(b)(1).
  2. Medical records, adoption records, and educational records. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 and 20 U.S.C. § 1232g define the records that are confidential pursuant to this exemption. Only the subject of the record, a court order, or law may waive the confidentiality of the record. Arkansas Code Annotated § 25-19-105(b)(2).
  3. Minutes of grand jury meetings. The minutes of a grand jury private meeting can only be disclosed pursuant to law or to a court order. Also, it is only available to qualified persons such as the members of the jury. Arkansas Code Annotated § 25-19-105(b)(4).
  4. Records of undisclosed investigations of suspected criminal activity by law enforcement agencies. This is to allow law enforcement agencies to conduct investigations without allowing suspected criminals to become aware of the investigation and the details of the investigation. It aids public interest by allowing greater ease in the detection of crime. Arkansas Code Annotated § 25-19-105(b)(6).
  5. The identities of undercover officers in respective law enforcement agencies do not constitute part of Arkansas public records. This is to prevent suspected criminals and criminal organizations from detecting investigations against them. It also protects such undercover officers. These officers should be identified in the Arkansas Minimum Standards Office as undercover officers. Also, the number of undercover officers and agencies are not exempted. Arkansas Code Annotated § 25-19-105(b)(10).
  6. Personnel record that would constitute a violation of privacy if disclosed. This includes information regarding both private individuals and public officials. Access to records that contain private information is limited to the subject of the record, qualified persons, and persons obtaining the record pursuant to a court order. Arkansas Code Annotated § 25-19-105(b)(12).
  7. Personal contact information. This includes home and mobile telephone numbers, personal email addresses, and home addresses of public officials who are not elected. The fact that the information is contained in employer records does not affect its confidentiality. However, the custodian may verify a public official’s city or county of residence if a request is made for it. Arkansas Code Annotated § 25-19-105(b)(13).
  8. Unpublished memoranda, working papers, and correspondence of the Governor, members of the General Assembly, Supreme Court Justices, Court of Appeals Judges, and the Attorney General. Arkansas Code Annotated § 25-19-105(b)(7).

Note: State codes provide other exemptions. Furthermore, other laws outside the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act may exempt records from disclosure to the general public.

Where Can I Access Public Criminal Court Records in Arkansas?

Public criminal court records in Arkansas can be accessed through a request to the court that determined the case. The Arkansas Judiciary makes records of criminal cases determined within the judicial system available to the public. Interested persons can make requests for the records in person, by email, by telephone, by email, or through other electronic means allowed by the custodian of the records. In-person requests should be made during court hours at the court that determined the case. The request may be either oral or in writing. However, it should clearly identify the record for the custodian to find it. The requester may use the name of the parties or the case number. Requests for appellate criminal court records determined by the Arkansas Supreme Court or the Court of Appeals can be made to the Clerk of the Courts. Various counties within Arkansas also provide records for County court cases. Pulaski County provides county court records through the Pulaski County Clerk. Benton County also provides its criminal court records through the Benton County Circuit Clerk. The custodian of the requested record would respond promptly to any request to access the record. The custodian may also charge fees for actual costs expended to make the record available.

Arkansas criminal court records are available online through the CourtConnect system and the Public Access Court Electronic Records (PACER) system. The CourtConnect system is free to use and does not require registration. Interested persons can use the system to search for cases with either the name of the parties or the case number. The PACER system is not free to use and requires registration. The first 150 pages of public records accessed through the PACER system in a year are free. However, a 10 cents fee is charged for each subsequent page.

How Do I Find Public Records in Arkansas?

Any qualified person can find public records in Arkansas by identifying the custodian of the record sought and making a request to the custodian. Requests can be to either inspect the record or to obtain copies of the record. A records custodian is obligated under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act to make the record available promptly once a request is made for it. Any reason for a denial of access to records should be stated clearly. The reason for denial should be in writing if the request was made in writing. Also, the law relied upon for denial of access to the record should be stated. The following steps can be used to obtain public records in Arkansas.

  1. Decide on the type of public record to be requested
    The requester would need to decide the kind of public record being sought. Any record to be obtained should be part of the Arkansas public records. A person who wishes to access public records may either inspect or copy the record. If the request is to obtain copies of the record, a form should be decided on. Either electronic copies or physical copies may be obtained. However, the custodian is only obligated to provide electronic copies if the records are maintained electronically. Otherwise, the custodian has the discretion and may charge fees if the records are to be converted to an electronic form to satisfy the request.
  2. Identify the custodian of the record
    Only the custodian of a public record can make the record available. The custodian is not just any person who has access to the record. Instead, the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act limits it to the official with administrative control of the record. A request to any other person may not yield a fruitful result. Arkansas Code Annotated § 25-19-105(a)(3) provides that if a request is made to a person that is not the custodian of the record, that person should notify the requester of this and direct the requester to the custodian if they know who it is. Only the custodian is obligated to fulfill a request.
  3. Make a request
    Once the custodian has been identified, the requester may proceed with making the request. The request should clearly identify the record, either through a unique number or the name of the subject. As much information as possible should be given to help the custodian find the record. If the custodian cannot reasonably find the record with the information provided, they may decline the request. Arkansas Code Annotated § 25-19-105(a)(2B) allows requesters to make their requests in person, by telephone, by mail, by fax, by email, or through any other electronic means provided by the custodian.

Using Third-Party Sites

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 Arkansas?

The cost of public records in Arkansas is the actual cost for making the record available, pursuant to Arkansas Code Annotated § 25-19-105(c)(3A). The cost may vary depending on the particular request and what is necessary to comply with the request. This cost does not include the personnel time for retrieving, searching, or copying the record. Fees may be charged for making copies and mailing records to a requester. If the total fees exceed $25, the requester may need to pay the fees in advance. The custodian may also completely waive the applicable fees or reduce the fees if the purpose of the request is noncommercial and the custodian determines that it is in the interest of the public.

How Do I Look Up Public Records in Arkansas for Free?

Some public records in Arkansas may be freely accessible. However, this would depend on how the person makes the request, the custodian of the record, how the record is stored, and the record sought. Inspecting a record physically while it remains in the custodian’s possession attracts no cost. Additionally, the requester may take pictures and make videos of the record while it is in the custodian’s possession for free. Government entities that allow the inspection of records usually provide terminals and lobbies for the inspection. A requester may access these records during business hours where the custodian conducts business. Arkansas courts provide public access to free Arkansas court records. Some other free public records that may be examined physically include arrest records, incidence reports, sex offender registry, and inmate records. Electronic copies of records may also be made available at no cost. The requester does not need to be physically present to obtain electronic copies of records. A request can be made by telephone, email, or other electronic means. Some records, such as sex offender information, may also be accessed for free online.

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

Residents aren't required to state a purpose when requesting public records in Arkansas. The custodian may ask the purpose of the request if it will help in finding the record. However, in the absence of this, the requester is under no obligation to state the purpose of their request. The requester will also need to state the purpose of their request if they wish to obtain a waiver of applicable fees. Records may be provided at no charge or at a reduced charge if the custodian determines that the purpose of the request is noncommercial. The requester would need to disclose the purpose of the request for the custodian to ascertain that it is a noncommercial purpose in the interest of the public.

What Happens if I Am Refused a Public Records Request?

Any person who is refused a public records request may appeal the refusal to the Pulaski County Circuit Court or to the Circuit Court in the requester’s residential county. If it concerns a municipal entity or township, the action should be brought in the county the municipal entity is located. Arkansas Code Annotated § 25-19-107 provides for the requester’s right to appeal. The court schedules a date for a hearing within seven days of receiving the petition. If the petitioner is successful, the remedies include a disclosure of the record and potential recovery of litigation expenses. Furthermore, Arkansas Code Annotated § 25-19-104 makes it a class C misdemeanor to negligently violate any provision in the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act. However, the court may order the petitioner to pay the defendant’s attorney fees if the Court finds that the action was instituted for a frivolous reason.

How to Remove Names From Public Search Records?

The Comprehensive Criminal Records Sealing Act of 2013 allows individuals to seal their criminal records. To do this, the individual would need to submit a petition to a Circuit or District Court where they were convicted. This would involve completing and submitting the Petition and Order to Seal Form provided by the Arkansas Crime Information Center. Records that are sealed are not destroyed. However, they become confidential. These records are only available to qualified persons. Law enforcement agencies may still use sealed records for investigating crimes. However, individuals whose records are sealed may respond to questions regarding their criminal history as though the offense never took place. Furthermore, some crimes cannot be sealed. These include:

  • Class Y felonies
  • Class A or B felonies that are not drug offenses
  • Felony sexual offenses
  • Violent sexual offenses
  • Unclassified felonies with maximum sentences above ten years
  • Traffic offenses while in possession of a commercial driver’s license

Arkansas Code Annotated § 16-90-1405 allows the sealing of misdemeanors 60 days after all conditions and court orders pertaining to the conviction have been fulfilled. However, the waiting period is five years if the misdemeanor is public sexual indecency, indecent exposure, sexual assault in the fourth degree, battery in the third degree, or driving while intoxicated.

Similarly, state laws permit the sealing of qualifying felonies after five years have passed as long as all conditions and court orders relating to the conviction have been fulfilled (§ 16-90-1406). The individual should have only one prior felony. Multiple felonies arising from the same circumstances may be sealed together and do not count separately for this purpose. Arrest and prosecution records without conviction are also eligible to be sealed.

What is the Best Public Records Search Database?

The best records search database depends on the record the requester is interested in obtaining. There are different custodians for different Arkansas public records. Generally, the database maintained by the custodian is usually the most recently updated.

For example, the Arkansas Department of Public Safety maintains sex offender registration and information in the state. The department also maintains a sex offender registry through the Arkansas Crime Information Center. Interested persons can use the registry to find sex offender information. Users can search with either the sex offender’s name or by location. There is also an option to view a list of sex offenders who cannot be found by location due to failure to comply with registration requirements. Additionally, users may sign up to be notified if a sex offender relocates into a neighborhood. The information in the registry includes names, photographs, offenses, and physical descriptions.

Counties within Arkansas also allow Arkansas public records searches. Pulaski County allows Pulaski County public records search through the County Clerk. Benton County also allows Benton County public records search through the County Clerk. Interested persons can obtain public records maintained at the county level by making requests to the custodian of the record sought.

How Long Does It Take to Obtain an Arkansas Public Record?

An Arkansas public record may be obtained within 24 hours, pursuant to Arkansas Code Annotated § 25-19-105(c)(3B). The custodian should respond to a requester within 24 hours either in person or by phone. If neither option can be reasonably carried out, an overnight mail should be sent to the requester’s last known address. The custodian, the requester, or the subject of the record may seek an opinion of the Attorney General regarding whether the record may be disclosed. This is usually the case if there is any concern as to whether the record is confidential by law. The Attorney General is required to provide an opinion within three working days and the custodian is not to disclose the record until this is done. The Attorney General’s opinion does not affect a potential appeal.