Are New Jersey Records Public?
Yes, most records maintained or generated by government officials are open to the public in New Jersey. The New Jersey Open Public Records Act ("OPRA') asserts that all records shall be made available for inspection, examination, or copying except where protected by law or court order. Government records may mean printed documents, maps, drawings, plans, photographs, microfilm, or any information stored digitally. Some examples of New Jersey public records may include:
- New Jersey criminal records
- New Jersey sex offender information
- New Jersey bankruptcy records
- Public New Jersey court records
- New Jersey vital records
- Public New Jersey property records
The New Jersey Open Public Records Act lets citizens inspect or copy records generated or maintained by government agencies. To obtain a public record, individuals can perform a paid or free public data search via a custodial government agency's public records database, if any is available. Alternatively, one can submit a public records act request to the government agency via mail or in person.
What Type of Information is Disclosed in Public Records?
The information disclosed in public records is generally unique to the type of record in view. For instance, birth records provide different details compared to traffic records. A birth certificate lists the registrant's name, birth location, and date of birth. Traffic records may provide information such as the vehicle description, date of purchase, and the owner's name. Public records about individuals such as marriage records, death records, birth records provide personal information. Some of these include:
- Bodily description (sex, skin complexion, body shape, eyeshade, hair color, weight, height, etc.)
- Date of occurrence
- Relationship status (single, married, or divorced)
- Contact Information
- Social security numbers
- Passport photograph
Public records on properties comprise relevant information on the property. Some of these include:
- Name of property
- Date of purchase
- Description of the property
- Name of the previous owner
- Name of the current owner
- Details of transaction
- The approximate value of the property
Public records on the government administration such as government financial records, budget records, government contracts, and leases records, contain original information in relation to the government record of interest. Some of these include:
- Actions are taken
- Meetings held
- Decisions made
- Accurate figures
- Employees and elected or appointed public officers.
Who Can Access New Jersey Public Records?
Only state residents may access New Jersey public records. New Jersey laws specify that only "citizens of the state" may inspect or examine public records in New Jersey. As a result, state agencies do not process anonymous requests. Record seekers may need to provide a valid government-issued I.D. when submitting their requests. Citizens convicted of a crime may also be prevented from accessing certain records (such as the personal information of a victim connected to their offense).
Notwithstanding the New Jersey public records act limiting access to government records under certain conditions, it does not direct the public's use of such records. Hence, residents can request public records for various reasons, including background checks.
Note: New Jersey is one of eight states that restrict public record access to only state residents
What is Exempted Under the New Jersey Public Record Law?
Although the New Jersey Open Records Act permits the inspection of all government records kept, maintained, or produced by a government agency, office, or commission, it provides 27 exemptions. Some of these include:
- Records containing academic test questions and answers
- Records protected by the attorney-client privilege
- Ongoing investigation records
- Records containing security information on emergency procedures
- Documents revealing trade secrets and proprietary information
- Pension records of government employees
- Communications between constituents and a member of the legislature
- Information or data that may jeopardize computer security
- Records containing protected financial or commercial information as well as trade secrets
- Documents with criminal investigatory records
- Government records containing communication and memoranda used by an official in the course of his/her duties
- Consultative, deliberative, or advisory intra-agency material
- Records about sexual harassment grievances and complaints
- Information sealed by court order
- University and college records that reveal admission applications or the identity of anonymous donors
- Pension and personnel records
New Jersey record custodians may refuse the disclosure of a government record if it contains protected government or private information. However, some exempted records may be partially sealed, and only accessible to the direct owner of the record or any other qualified persons in line with the law.
Note that the disclosure of New Jersey vital records is not governed by the New Jersey public records act, as such records are not deemed public records by the state.
How Do I Find Public Records in New Jersey?
Citizens of New Jersey can find public records by following several quick steps.
Step 1. Determine the type of record required.
First, determine the record of interest and the type of information that is being sought. Generally, public records are classified in connection with the type of information they hold. Examples of records include:
- Criminal History Records: They include information available to the public pertaining to a person's arrest, sentence, court verdict, and probation. The New Jersey State Police is the custodian of these records.
- Court records: New Jersey court records contain a compilation of court documents, such as reports, proceedings, allegations, transcripts, sworn statements, declarations, and affidavits documents. These records are usually preserved by the New Jersey Judiciary Court System.
- Vital records. Vital records include information on life events. They are available to the public on request. Examples of public records in this class include; birth certificates, marriage certificates, and death certificates. These records can be accessed at the New Jersey Department of Health.
Step 2. Determine the government agency in the custody of the public records.
There are distinct government agencies and state departments that are responsible for generating and preserving various types of public records in New Jersey. For example, the New Jersey Department of Health is the custodian of vital records, which include; birth records, death records, and marriage records, while the New Jersey Judiciary Court System is charged with the responsibility of the maintenance of court records. In addition, records on education and schooling are developed, organized, and preserved by the New Jersey Department of Education.
Step 3. Determine accessibility.
There are some public records that are privileged by law and can only be obtained by court order, these public records are not readily available to the public. If a public record contains sensitive information on its subject, it may be protected from public view. Records in this category may include adoption records, reports on minors, birth certificates, juvenile delinquency records, reports documented by a physician pertaining to the medical condition of an alleged disabled adult, and others. Consequently, any interested individual will have to confirm that the record being sought is accessible.
However, the above records may not be totally inaccessible but may be made available to qualified persons in line with the law. Qualified persons may include the individuals themselves as well as close relatives of the individual in question. Law enforcement agencies or any other person that is authorized by court order after going through a certified process may also be granted access. Limited information is granted in some cases, this can be categorized as private or publicly restricted information.
Step 4. Determine the Availability.
While some records are available on the internet via an online platform that is set up by the government agencies in charge, others are not. Hence, it is necessary to direct requests to the specified custodian of the record by stopping by their office to obtain the records.
Step 5. Contact the Record Holder
Submit a request in writing: Write a formal letter addressed to the government agency in charge, specifying and describing the record of interest. In some cases, the requester may be required to fill a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) form provided by the government agency in charge of the submission of requests. Requests may also be submitted in person or by email, regular mail, certified mail, or by fax to the specific New Jersey department maintaining the record.
The requestor may be required to submit a recognized valid means of identification of themselves. This is to ascertain that the requestor is truly the person whose information is on the records requested. It may also be necessary to provide an attestation that is signed under penalty of perjury confirming the requestor is who they say they are.
Step 6 Pay fees (If Required)
The FOIA law permits government agencies to charge a fee for the request of copies of public records. The price to be paid by the requestor isn't fixed. It varies from agency to agency. A requester has the liberty to apply for fee waivers or a reduction in the fee. However, the government agency provides information on who may apply for a fee waiver.
Using Third-Party Sites to Find Public Records in New Jersey
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
Government agencies do not sponsor third-party sites. Hence, record availability and results may vary.
How Much Do Public Records Cost in New Jersey?
New Jersey statutes permit record custodians to charge a nominal fee when providing copies of a record. This fee covers the cost associated with finding, printing, duplicating, or copying a document. The fee may also cover added associated expenses borne by the public official while processing the request. Most agencies charge an average of $0.75 for the first ten pages, $0.50 for 11 to 20 pages, and $0.25 for every subsequent page. In cases where finding a record requires a lot of time and effort, government officials are permitted to charge a service fee in addition to the direct cost of providing copies of the record. However, requesters are given the opportunity to review the charges before the search begins.
How Do I Look Up Public Records in New Jersey for Free?
Some New Jersey public records can be viewed online at no cost. Residents can carry out free public records searches via the official public record platforms of state government agencies to find these records. For instance, the New Jersey Department of Corrections maintains an online offender search tool for citizens who wish to find inmate information. Record seekers can search the database with an inmate's name or number. Similarly, the New Jersey State Police keeps the public updated on the location of high-risk sex offenders via an online internet registry. Finally, several county clerk/recorder offices provide online search engines to carry out public record searches in New Jersey.
These online platforms, however, do not always provide full comprehensive information on the record being sought. Only a vital section of the record is revealed. For example, if a request is made for the death record of a person, only records of the person's name, date of birth, and date of death may be found. However, when a request is made for a detailed public record, an affordable fee may be charged.
Do I Need to State My Purpose When Requesting Public Records in New Jersey?
No. New Jersey laws do not require a statement of purpose when obtaining public records. Interested parties can obtain a record by simply contacting the public agency in charge of the record. Although some agencies provide request forms, completing this isn't mandatory. Requests may be made in writing, via mail, or transmitted electronically. However, record custodians do not process anonymous requests and may require evidence of state citizenship, such as a driver's license.
What Happens if I Am Refused a Public Records Request?
New Jersey's public records law permits residents to conduct public data searches to locate records maintained by government agencies. However, the law also allows government agencies to deny public record requests when disclosure is against a law, court rule, or court order. In the event that a public records request is denied, requesters may be able to reverse the decision by filing an appeal in court against the custodial government agency. If a court finds that the public official or agency knowingly denied access to an open record, the offending party may be subject to a penalty of $1,000 or $2,500. Repeat offenders risk being jailed for up to 10 years. In addition, the court may instruct the offending agency to cover the requester's attorney's fees.
How to Remove Names From Public Search Records
New Jersey state laws provide limited options for residents who wish to remove their records from public record searches. Affected persons may be able to conceal a record from public view by having it expunged. Residents can initiate the expungement process by petitioning the New Jersey superior court serving the county where the arrest or prosecution took place. To meet the requirements for expungement, applicants must have served out the terms of their sentence with no other committed crimes during a set period (a minimum of four years from the date of conviction). Individuals who were detained or arrested for a crime but not convicted may also be eligible for expungement. A record that is expunged is no longer subject to disclosure under the New Jersey public records act.
Note that some crimes cannot be expunged. New Jersey's statutes prevent the expungement of serious felony records, such as kidnapping, false imprisonment, robbery, arson, sex offenses, and murder. Individuals who are found guilty of committing these crimes will have their names permanently in the public record.
What is the Best Public Records Search Database?
The best public records search database to find New Jersey public records largely depends on the record being sought under the New Jersey public records act. Generally, record seekers will get the best results by contacting the custodial state government agency. For instance, the best public records search repository for court records is the court where a case was filed. Meanwhile, the best database for obtaining birth or death records is the State Office of Vital Statistics and Registry.
How Long Does It Take to Obtain a New Jersey Public Record?
Under New Jersey law, state or local agencies have seven days to answer a public records act request submitted to access public information maintained by them. Anything longer may be classified as a "denial of request". During the seven-day window, the public agency must send a message to the requester, confirming the availability (or absence) of a record. However, a slightly longer response period is permitted for records proven to be held in storage or archives.
Is Public Data Search Safe?
Yes, it is safe to conduct a public data search in New Jersey. Individuals interested in New Jersey public records can use government or third-party search services to obtain records. However, requesters should note that personal data supplied during subscription to a third-party service can be collected by sites that amass personal information. Besides this, public record search services have no other established risks.