Are Maryland Records Public?
Most records generated or maintained by the government in Maryland are open to the general public. The Maryland Public Information Act (PIA) defines a public record as any record made, received, or used by a public agency while carrying out official business. Interested individuals can request and obtain copies of Maryland public records by reaching out to the right agency in charge of a record. A public record is not limited to written materials. According to the PIA, a public record may exist in various formats, such as photographs, photostats, films, recordings, microfilms, computerized records, tapes, maps, cards, drawings, and any other material used to store information. For instance, a public record may include e-mail messages printed or electronically stored. Some examples of public records available in Maryland include:
- Maryland public court records
- Maryland bankruptcy records
- Public criminal records and criminal history records
- Public arrest records
- Public Maryland inmate records
- Public sex offender information
- Public property records
- Public Maryland death records
- Maryland public divorce records
- Public Maryland marriage records
- Public birth records
However, a public record does not include the personal matters and family engagements of any government official. A record seeker can make a Public Information Act request at any government agency (state, county, or municipal) in Maryland. This can be done by conducting a public data search at the relevant agency in charge of the record. Some records can be obtained through a free public data search, while some typically come at a cost.
Who Can Access Maryland Public Records?
In compliance with the Maryland Public Information Act (PIA), anyone can access public records in the state. A member of the public can inspect or obtain copies of Maryland public records by submitting a record request. Interested persons must contact the government agency in charge of the document. For instance, an officer can run a background check on a suspect by contacting the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (MDPSCS) for the suspect’s criminal records. Public records in Maryland are open to both residents and non-residents. The PIA enables members of the public to perform their civic duties by accessing records in the state.
However, an agency may decide not to disclose certain records as permitted by state or federal statutes, court orders, and more. Most times, a document may be restricted from public view if it is contrary to the public interest. Examples of public records in Maryland may include personnel records, adoption records, ongoing investigatory records, and more.
Do I Need to State My Purpose and Use When Requesting Public Records in Maryland?
Requesters do not need a statement of purpose before obtaining a public record in Maryland. To obtain public records, interested persons can contact and submit a record request to the agency in charge. Maryland laws allow agencies to attend to public record requests without unnecessary delays. Requestors must provide their full names, contact details, and a clear description of the record they seek when submitting a request at the agency.
Nonetheless, an agency may deny access to Maryland public records depending on the use of records. For instance, circulation records of a public library may be restricted if the use of records does not align with the library’s business or the purpose the record was created.
What is Exempted Under the Maryland Public Information Act?
The PIA does not permit public agencies to disclose certain records to the general public. Such records are considered exemptions or exceptions. Under the PIA, a record may be restricted from public view by law, court order, or record custodian. Below are some of the reasons a record may be exempted under the Maryland Public Information Act:
- The record contains information about an individual’s criminal history.
- The record contains information about certain police records or court records about a minor.
- The record contains an individual's personal information, such as tax information, medical history, and more.
- The record reveals certain information obtained in confidentiality or as a result of privilege. A trade secret is an example of information that may be obtained under attorney-client privilege.
- The record contains information that may jeopardize the safety of those involved.
- The record contains financial information, personnel records, attorney work product, and social security numbers.
Note that although some records may be open to the public, they might only be available to a selected few. For instance, vital records are only available to the record holder, parents or legal representatives, family members, and legal representatives.
How Do I Find Public Records in Maryland?
Interested persons who wish to find public records in Maryland must contact the public agency in charge of the desired records. Under the PIA, public agencies are mandated to provide access to public records upon request from any interested person. That said, there are no uniform requirements due to different agencies handling different documents. Some of the basic steps to obtain a public record in Maryland include:
Identify the Type of Information or Record
The first step to obtaining a public record in Maryland is to identify the type of record. For instance, is the document a vital record or bankruptcy record? Interested persons who wish to obtain a particular record must provide relevant information that will aid the record search. In most cases, public agencies deny record requests due lack of clear description. Some of the information required from the requester about a record may include names of parties involved, case numbers, case type, date of filing, and more.
Contact the Public Agency in Charge
After identifying the type of record, interested persons must contact the public agency in charge. In most cases, different public agencies handle different records. For instance, the Maryland Judiciary handles and provides access to court cases in the state, the Maryland Department of Health provides access to vital records, and the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services provides access to sex offender information. Therefore, contacting the right public agency is key to obtaining a public record in Maryland.
Create a Written Request
Some public agencies enable interested persons to obtain copies of their records using request forms. Although, other agencies may require requesters to submit their record requests in writing. Using a written request, a record custodian can easily track the progress of the requests as well as reduce confusion. Some of the information required in a written request include:
- The full name of the requestor (and alias if any)
- The contact details of the requestor
- The type of record
- The date range for the record
- A comprehensive description of the record
- Names of parties involved
- The method of delivery for the record
- Any other relevant information to aid the record search
Review and Submit the Request
Interested persons can review the information filled in their record request before submitting it to the record custodian. To submit a record request, interested persons may use any of the contact information provided by the public agency. In most cases, agencies allow in-person, fax, mail, and online requests. The contact information of a public agency is usually available on the contact us page.
Using Third-Party Sites to Find Public Records in Maryland
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 Maryland?
Maryland law permits public agencies to charge reasonable fees to provide access to public records. Most times, the fees cover the actual cost of searching, preparing, and copying of records as well as the staff time after the first two hours. The fee complies with Section 4-206 of the Maryland statute. Therefore, the cost of a public record in Maryland depends on the service rendered. Also, the actual cost for the staff time is calculated based on the individual’s salary and the amount of time spent searching, preparing, and copying the records. A public agency may not charge a fee for the first two hours of staff time.
How Do I Lookup Public Records for Free in Maryland?
A requester can look up public records for free in Maryland by inspecting the records or accessing online versions of the record. Although, obtaining public records for free depends on the type of record and the agency in charge of such records. To inspect a record, interested persons must contact the record custodian. Most times, agencies allow in-person requests that allow individuals to visit and inspect records during office hours.
Searching for online versions of a record is another way to look up public records for free in Maryland. Often than not, public agencies provide or maintain an online database where the public can access their records. For instance, the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services provides online public access to the sex offender registry in the state. Interested persons can search for sex offender information in a particular area using the address, city, offender address type, zip, zip plus, and other search combination available on the database search. Additionally, a person can conduct a free public records search at any county clerk's office or county recorder’s office in Maryland to view documents. However, a low-cost fee may apply if they want to obtain a copy of such documents.
What Happens if I Am Refused a Public Records Request?
There are instances when local or state agencies may deny access to public records when a person conducts a public record search on their websites. In the event of a record denial, the public agency in charge shall contact the requester to inform him or her of the decision. The response is a written statement that contains an explanation for the request denial, statutes backing the decision, as well as an individual's appeal right. Also, an agency may review its decision to provide partial access to a record if possible. Furthermore, interested persons can seek redress for a record request denial in court.
How to Remove Names From Public Search Records?
Interested persons can seek to remove their names from Maryland public search records through court order or by enforcing a state statute. However, the record must be covered under Maryland law. Applicants who wish to remove their names from state public search records can either choose to expunge or shield their records.
Expunging a Criminal Record
Expunging a criminal record in Maryland enables applicants to remove their information from both court and law enforcement records. Such records will no longer be available to the public, law enforcement agencies, etc. Applicants who have not been convicted of a crime are eligible for expungement. Also, an applicant may still be eligible depending on the crime or the crime they were convicted for is no longer a crime. Under Md. Criminal Procedure Code Ann. § 10-110, an applicant can still petition for expungement if the convictions involve certain misdemeanors and felonies. A person can apply for expungement by obtaining a Petition for Expungement of Records Form from any Maryland Superior Court, District Court, or Circuit Court.
Shielding a Criminal Record
The process of keeping a record out from public view is called shielding. Applicants who have been convicted of one or more crimes are eligible to shield their records in Maryland. A shielded record will no longer be available in the case search maintained by the Maryland Judiciary or be available to the general public. However, the Maryland Public Information Act (PIA) might permit such records to still be available to law enforcement officers, certain individuals, and more. Applicants are eligible for shielding if their convictions involve some of the following:
- Driving without a license
- Disturbing the peace
- Disorderly conduct
- Malicious destruction of property in the lesser degree
- Trespass on posted property
- Failure to adhere to reasonable and lawful order
What is the Best Public Records Search Database?
The Maryland Public Information Act (PIA) allows individuals to access public records from both local and state government agencies in the state. As a result, most of these public agencies in Maryland maintain the best public records search database. Although, finding the best public records search database depends heavily on the type of record and the agency in charge. For instance, the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services maintains an online sex offender registry for members of the public. Residents can search and obtain sex offender information in any area by using the search combinations on the database. Examples of such combinations include address, city, zip, zip plus, offender address type, and more. In addition, the Montgomery County Department of Correction and Rehabilitation provides online access to inmate records within its jurisdiction. Similarly, the Maryland Judiciary maintains an online case search database that enables interested persons to access different court records in the state. Interested persons who wish to obtain Maryland court records can search using party type, case number, case type, the court system, county, filing date, and any other search combination available.
How Long Does It Take to Obtain a Maryland Public Record?
Maryland residents and non-residents can access public information maintained by any local or state agency in the state as long as it is not exempted by law. A Public Information Act request in Maryland may take as long as 10 days to up to 30 days. Under the PIA, public agencies must respond to public records requests within 10 to 30 days of receiving the requests. However, a public agency may require extended time to provide access to the records requested. Typically, a response will inform the requester if the request is accepted or denied. A response for an accepted request may include an estimated cost of obtaining the record. In the case of a denied request, the response shall include a written statement explaining the decision to deny the request.
Is Public Data Search Safe?
Yes. The Maryland Public Information Act permits individuals to access information maintained by any public agency in the state, like the law enforcement agency, Department of Juvenile Services, and Department of Human Services. As a result, a record seeker can safely conduct a public data search to obtain records maintained by such agencies. However, most public agencies in Maryland have cautions on the use of public records. For instance, the Maryland Sex Offender Registry does not permit the misuse of sex offenders information, and violating that can lead to criminal prosecution. An individual can take advantage of the free public data search available on some public agency websites depending on the record being sought, while some searches require processing fees.