Are Arkansas Records Public?
Yes, Arkansas public records are documents pertaining to official government functions or state citizenry. In Arkansas, records of government activity are public. Any citizen of the state that is not incarcerated for a felony may conduct a public data search for public 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.
The Arkansas Code Annotated § 25-19-105 recognizes the right of Arkansas state 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. Individuals in the state can send a public records act request for a free public data search to any government department either at the state or county level. In most cases, it will be the office of the County Clerk or Recorder. However, various records are held by different offices in Arkansas state counties. The custodian of the records must respond within the specified number of days.
Examples of records that are generally available include:
- Arkansas court records
- Arkansas incidence reports
- Arkansas inmate records
- Arkansas sex offender registry
- Arkansas criminal records
- Uncertified vital records (like death certificates or marriage records)
Also included are consumer reports, credit reports, and related documents as specified by the Fair Credit Reporting Act; however, their accessibility is to a certain degree. On the other hand, some records are completely exempted from public disclosure per public records law. Exempted records include income tax records, ongoing law enforcement investigations, personnel records such as an individual’s birth certificate, certified copies of some Arkansas vital records, adoption records, and so on.
Arkansas Public Records Act
The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a comprehensive open-records law. The law gives the citizens of the state access to public records and meetings with certain exemptions. Public records, according to the law, are records maintained by public employees within the scope of their employment. 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, there are exemptions to the state public records act. This implies that certain records created or maintained by certain government departments are not accessible to the public. A requester is not expected to explain the purpose of requesting a public record, and the requester has grounds to petition the agency if their request for a record is denied.
Every government agency is mandated by the public records act to respond to requests within the number of days specified by the act. If this is not possible, they are to inform the requester of the reason for the delay
Who Can Access Arkansas Public Records?
The Arkansas Code Annotated § 25-19-105(a)(1A) allows every citizen of Arkansas state 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 organisations. 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 public records in Arkansas and have the request honoured. For instance, employers outside Arkansas state can request a background check or consumer reports on any Arkansas applicant. 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:
- 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).
- Medical records, adoption records, and educational records. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 and 20 U.S.C. § 1232g defines 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).
- 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).
- 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).
- 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 organisations 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).
- 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).
- 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).
- 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 state also provide records for County court cases through their Circuit Courts. 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. However, most circuit courts have self-service options available to requestors.
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 state by identifying the state department that is the custodian of the record sought and making a request to the custodian. For instance, the Arkansas Department of Health maintains all vital records in the state, therefore, public record requests concerning vital records should be directed to the department. 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.
- 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.
- 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 fulfil a request.
- 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.
For illustrative purposes, the following are the custodian offices of various public records in Pulaski County - these offices are primarily situated in Little Rock Arkansas:
- Pulaski Circuit/County Clerk: This office maintains public records, vital records, court record information as well as records of appellate court proceedings within county limits. They also have a dedicated department that maintains property records. In person queries may be made to:
401 West Markham Street
Little Rock Ar 72201
Phone: (501) 340-8500
- Pulaski County Sheriff: The County Sheriff’s office maintains and processes requests for criminal background check, jail records, sex offender information, criminal history information. Where the County Sheriff’s Office can not provide the required information, queries may be directed to the Arkansas State Police:
Pulaski County Sheriff
2900 South Woodrow
Little Rock Ar 72204
Arkansas State Police
One State Police Plaza Dr
Little Rock AR 72209
- Pulaski County Assessor: The county assessor office maintains information regarding real estate transactions within county limits:
Pulaski County Assessor's Office
201 S Broadway, Ste. 310
Little Rock AR. 72201
Phone: (501) 340-6170
Fax: (501) 340-6009
- Pulaski County Treasurer: This office primarily maintains tax-record information of county residents:
Pulaski County Treasurer
P.O. Box 8101
Little Rock, AR 72203
At state level, inquirers may also make FOIA requests to the Arkansas Attorney General’s office or, to the concerned record custodian in Arkansas state, if known.
Attorney General of Arkansas
323 Center Street, Suite 200
Little Rock, AR 72201
For health or medically related FOIA requests, queries may be addressed to:
Arkansas Department of Health
4815 West Markham Street
Little Rock, AR 72205
Phone: (501) 661-2609
Fax: (501) 661-2357
How to Use Third-Party Sites to Find Public Records in Arkansas
Public city 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 will need to 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.
Public records can also be accessed from third-party websites. These third-party public records aggregate websites offer search services that are non-geographically limited, making the search result expansive and typically straightforward. However, users will need to provide enough information to assist with the search, such as:
- The name of the subject involved in the record as long as the subject is not a juvenile
- The last known or location of the record subject
Third-party public records search websites are not government-sponsored services. Therefore, the availability and accuracy of results can 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 state may be accessed free. The office of the county clerk and/or county recorder in some judicial districts offer free public record searches for selected records. However, conducting a free public records search would depend on some factors such as the person who 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 be accessed free online.
Records that are not likely to be obtained for free include criminal history records or a criminal background check, certified copies of Arkansas vital records including death records or a death certificate, birth certificate, marriage records and divorce records. This is because of the extensive process required to obtain them. For instance, background checks (run by the Arkansas state police) typically require the consent and/or the fingerprint of the record holder. Similarly, to obtain certified copies of a vital record, the requester must provide a written and notarized consent form from the record holder, as well as the standard processing fee for certified copies.
Do I Need to State My Purpose When Requesting Public Records in Arkansas?
No. 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?
It is not impossible that an individual's request for a public data search may be denied. Any person who is refused a public records request may appeal the refusal to the Pulaski County Circuit Court or the Circuit Court in the requester’s residential county. If it concerns a municipal entity or township, the action should be brought to 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 misdemeanour 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?
It is possible for individuals to remove their names from Arkansas public 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 Arkansas Superior 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 offence never took place. Furthermore, some crimes cannot be sealed. These include:
- Class Y felonies
- Class A or B felonies that are not drug offences
- Felony sexual offences
- Violent sexual offences
- Unclassified felonies with maximum sentences above ten years
- Traffic offences while in possession of a commercial driver’s licence
Arkansas Code Annotated § 16-90-1405 allows the sealing of misdemeanours 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 databases maintained by state government agencies are 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 neighbourhood. The information in the registry includes names, photographs, offences, 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 - which is typically the county clerk.
How Long Does It Take to Obtain an Arkansas Public Record?
An individual's public records act request in Arkansas State may be obtained within 24 hours, under 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.
Is Public Data Search Safe?
Yes, public data search in Arkansas is safe. Anyone in the state acting under the state freedom of information act can access records produced, maintained or retrieved by various government agencies across the state. Therefore, any individual in Arkansas State can search public data for a free public record search. Occasionally, a copy fee may apply.
It should be noted that public data search on various government websites is safe. However, this cannot be said concerning public data searches on third-party sites. Individuals using these third-party sites may have their personal data mined and used for unintended purposes. Fortunately, there are established procedures to opt out of these data aggregation sites.