Are Missouri Records Public?
Missouri public records refer to all publicly available records and documents maintained by government agencies and departments. The Missouri Sunshine Law determines the process of obtaining public records in the state. It also dictates the duties of record custodians, including the modes of maintaining, storing, and issuing copies of public documents to interested parties. Missouri public records include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Missouri death records
- Missouri inmate records
- Missouri arrest records or rap sheets
- Missouri property records
- Missouri bankruptcy records
- Missouri marriage records
- Missouri sex offenders' information
- Criminal records and criminal history records
- Missouri divorce records
Under the Missouri Sunshine Law, public records include data stored by any government agency, department, commission, bureau, city, or municipality in the state. Thus, Missouri public records may exist as surveys, reports, memoranda, books, maps, charters, symbols, architecture plans, notes, drafts, video files, audiotapes, SMS, or electronic mail. In addition, public records in Missouri include any information provided by a consultant or professional service under a paid partnership with a government agency.
The Missouri Sunshine Law enables interested persons and entities to request and obtain public documents from the designated record custodian. All that is required is to make a Public Records Law request by contacting the agency that created and/or retains the record that the record seeker would like to inspect or obtain. Most public agencies have public data search tools on their websites where requests can be made. In addition, a record seeker can conduct a free public data search on some public agencies’ websites which could sometimes be limited to specific records, while access to some records might come at a cost. Nevertheless, the term "public records" does not include a public official's notes or drafts used in the decision-making process of a government body. Furthermore, custodian agencies may restrict or redact portions or whole documents if it violates the state’s open records law.
Who Can Access Missouri Public Records?
The public, including non-state residents, can access Missouri public records by contacting the government agency responsible for providing access to the requested documents. Record seekers may access these documents by requesting a copy or inspecting the requested documents at the record custodian’s office. For instance, the Missouri State Highway Patrol can allow an employer seeking to run a background check on a prospective employee to gain access to the criminal records of such an employee. Note that not all public records in Missouri are accessible to public members. For instance, certain portions that violate the confidentiality of record subjects or cause public distress are often excluded under the Sunshine Law.
What is Exempted Under the Missouri Public Records Law?
The Missouri Sunshine Law empowers record custodians to withhold certain records and information from public view. Under the Sunshine Law, the following documents and files are excluded from public disclosure:
Confidential Litigation Files
State statutes exempt information on litigations or causes of action involving a government agency. In addition, this section covers all confidential communication between a public body and its attorneys. However, the state may disclose this information to the public after a settlement agreement between concerned parties. Payment records between concerned parties are also revealed to the public.
Real Estate Information
Excluded data includes information on purchases, leases, or sales of real estate by a government body if the public disclosure will lead to legal implications. However, the state will disclose the minutes and votes about the real estate information after the execution of the purchase, lease, or sale of the real estate.
Personal Identifying Information
Under the Missouri Public Records Law, the following personally-identifying information are exempt from public view:
- Welfare cases containing an individual's identification;
- Government records detailing the personal information of a public official. However, votes on a final decision to fire, hire, discipline, or promote a public official are disclosed to the public within 72 hours after the close of the meeting;
- Non-judicial physical or mental health proceedings that may violate an individual's privacy (these proceedings may involve psychological, psychiatric, medical, or drug dependency treatment or diagnosis);
- An identifiable person's record of examination scores or individual tests;
- Information on graduation, probation, or expulsion of a record subject. However, parents or guardians of the record subject can request and obtain school records on behalf of record bearers below 18 years old.
- Personnel records, including performance ratings and job applicant details. Nevertheless, this exemption does not apply to a public employee's name, length of service, and salary scale.
Public Agency - Auditor Communication
This section exempts all confidential communication between a government agency and its auditor. However, final audit reports are open to public access, according to state law.
Records About Information Guidelines and Policies
This section covers government-maintained operational guidelines and policies in public safety, health, and law enforcement when faced with incidents that may endanger public safety and health. However, financial records about the cost of maintaining these guidelines and policies are open to the public members.
Information on Structure Plans and Security Systems
Structural plans and security systems on government-owned properties are primarily exempt from public access, especially if the disclosure could threaten public safety. In addition, record agencies must redact portions containing the authorization codes and access codes for security systems on government-owned real estate. In contrast, records pertaining to the cost of purchasing or maintaining the security systems are publicly accessible.
Electronic Transaction Data
Excluded data includes credit card numbers, access codes, digital certificates, and other security systems used in an electronic transaction between a government agency and an individual or entity.
Information on Academic Research
The state law exempts records submitted by any individual or business entity to a public education institution for performing sponsored research. In addition, this section covers information submitted to Higher education institutions for licensing intellectual property.
Negotiation Information and Data
In Missouri, public members are exempt from accessing sealed bids, proposals, or any record related to negotiation until the proposal is rejected or the contract is executed.
In Missouri, the general public is exempt from accessing vital records. Per state public records laws, requestors may not access vital records by making a public record request. Only specific individuals or entities like parents or legal guardians, family members, and legal representatives can obtain copies of vital records.
Where Can I Access Public Criminal Court Records in Missouri?
Interested record seekers can access public criminal court records in Missouri by contacting the clerk of the court overseeing the criminal case record. In Missouri, the Clerk of the Circuit Court is the custodian of court records, including criminal records.
Record seekers can obtain these records via email, phone call, in-person requests, or any other means provided by the Clerk of the Court. Furthermore, record seekers may obtain the Clerk of the Court's contact details via the state's online directory. To use the online directory, requesters must input the county's name or city zip code where the court is situated.
Note the Clerk of the Court may charge fees for providing copies of the requested criminal court case. More so, the court may charge extra fees for certified copies of court records.
All criminal court records in Missouri are accessible to the public via an online case management system at the state level. To obtain criminal court records, public members may use any of the listed search options:
- Search by litigant's name;
- Search by filing date;
- Case number search;
- Judgment index.
Search by Litigant Name
Interested public members must input the litigant's first and last name or business name to access records via this search option. Furthermore, they must select the court in charge of the criminal case and the filing date of the court case.
Search by Filing Date
The "Search by Filing Date" option enables requesters to obtain public criminal court records by filling out the start date of the court case. In addition, requesters must choose the court handling the case and select the case status (pending or disposed).
Case Number Search
Criminal court records in Missouri are also obtainable via the case number search option. Requesters must select the court overseeing the criminal court and input the case number to access documents via the search option.
Note: record seekers must pay to obtain criminal court case records on the online portal via credit or debit card. The platform charges $0.5 per payment made via electronic checks.
How Do I Find Public Records in Missouri?
Under the Missouri Sunshine Law, record seekers must request and obtain non-confidential copies of public documents from the respective record custodian. Although there are different methods of accessing these records, all public records search in Missouri start with the following general steps:
Know the Requirements for Obtaining the Preferred Public Document
Interested public members who want to know how to access public records in Missouri must see the requirement for obtaining their preferred document. To get the requirements, record seekers must contact the record custodian responsible for providing access to the records. Sometimes, record custodians may charge a certain fee before granting access to public documents. Also, requesters may need to present a government-issued identification before accessing certain confidential information.
For example, Missouri vital records contain sensitive information that may violate a record bearer's privacy. Therefore, the Missouri Bureau of Vital Records issues copies of vital records to the record bearer, family relations, and legal representatives.
Contact the Designated Record Custodian Holding the Preferred Document
Per the Missouri Sunshine Law, government agencies and departments must maintain, store, and issue copies of non-exempt data to interested and eligible persons. Therefore, record seekers can access records by contacting the custodian body via mail, online, and in-person visits. To access records in person, record seekers must visit the agency's physical address. In some cases, record custodians may maintain an online database to provide access to public records. That said, listed below are some of Missouri's custodian agencies:
Missouri Bureau of Vital Records
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services maintains a central registry of all vital records in the state via the Bureau of Vital Records. For instance, the custodian body provides access to all marriage and divorce records from July 1, 1948. To access vital records, requesters must download and fill out the application form and contact the Bureau of Vital Records at the address below:
Jefferson City Vital Record Lobby
930 Wildwood Drive
Jefferson City, MO 65109
Phone: (573) 751-6387
Missouri State Highway Patrol
Under the Revised Statutes of Missouri, the Missouri State Highway Patrol updates and host an online statewide sex offenders registry. Through the online registry, record seekers can view and download information on all registered sex offenders. In addition, the online registry features pictures of all absconded sex offenders in Missouri.
Create and Send Request for Missouri Public Records
Most record custodians provide a downloadable request form where record seekers can fill out the necessary information for obtaining public documents. In the absence of a downloadable request form template, record seekers must write a request letter to the custodian agency. As a general rule, request letters must contain some of the data listed below:
- The requester's full name and aliases (if known);
- The case number (this applies to court records);
- Preferred mode of delivery (email or mail);
- Record seeker’s contact details;
- The record seeker’s full name and, or aliases;
- Date range when the record was documented;
- The record subject's date of birth;
- Purpose of the request - provide a detailed description of your request;
- Additional information to assist with the search.
Using Third-Party Sites to Find Public Records in Missouri
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 Missouri?
The Sunshine Law – Chapter 610. 026 RSMo dictates that record custodians must not charge fees above $0.10 for regular-sized copies of public documents. For certified copies and other types of public documents, the agency must not charge fees above the hourly wage of clerical staff in the department.
Likewise, record custodians must consider the staff time and the cost of copying when charging fees for public documents maintained on computer facilities, videotapes, maps, pictures, and audio items. In Missouri, record custodians may waive fees if the disclosure of the requested document is in the public interest.
How Do I Look Up Public Records in Missouri?
Persons and entities may solve the dilemma - how can I get public records for free in Missouri by attempting the following options:
In-person Viewing of Public Documents
Persons and entities can view and access specific public data for free in Missouri. For example, arrest records or criminal records are often free for crime victims and record bearers. In addition, attorneys can also access certain public documents such as arrest records at law enforcement agencies.
Online Access to Missouri Public Records
Online copies of public documents, such as sex offenders' data, inmate records, and court records, are free and accessible to the public. For example, the Missouri Judiciary provides free access to all court records in the state via an online searchable portal. The Judicial staff from different courts in the state are responsible for uploading case information into the database. Note: confidential court case records are not available on the online database.
Likewise, the Missouri State Highway Patrol regularly updates all arrest reports submitted by law enforcement agencies in the state via an online platform. The online portal provides a search tool for filtering results. Interested persons can view arrest records by inputting the following data:
- Record subject's first and last name;
- The county where the arrest was recorded;
- The city where the arrest was recorded;
- Arrest date.
Generally, free public records search services are available for individuals who only want to view documents without requesting copies of such documents. For instance, such services are available at any county clerk's office or county recorder’s office in the state.
Do I Need to State My Purpose When Requesting Public Records in Missouri?
Generally, Missouri state laws do not require record seekers to provide a statement of purpose when requesting public documents from custodian agencies. However, custodian agencies may restrict the disclosure of certain documents to those with a direct and tangible interest in the public documents. For example, Missouri vital records are only accessible to the record bearer and other authorized persons.
What Happens if I Am Refused a Public Records Request?
All local and state agencies in Missouri are mandated by law to make public records available to record seekers. Hence, a public data search can be done to inspect or obtain any record not exempted by law. As a result, record seekers may file a suit if a record custodian refuses to disclose a public record. Furthermore, record seekers must file a suit with the circuit court overseeing the record custodian’s region. At the circuit court, record seekers must prove that the public agency is in violation of the state's open records law.
Record custodians are prohibited from altering, destroying, or disposing of the requested public record until the court directs otherwise during the court case. The court may reward record seekers with up to $1,000 in damages if there is substantial evidence that the public agency violated the open meetings law. The court may calculate the reward amount by considering the following factors:
- The seriousness of the offense;
- If the public agency had previously violated the open records act;
- The size of the agency's jurisdiction.
On the other hand, record seekers are eligible for rewards up to $5,000 if they can prove that the public agency purposely violated the open records law. In addition, the court may also reimburse record seekers with attorney's fees and other litigation costs.
Similarly, record seekers can sue law enforcement agencies to reopen closed records in their custody. However, the court will weigh the public interest in disclosing the documents against the potential harm to those involved in the incident. Per Mo. Rev. Stat. § 610.027.5(5), record seekers can only sue a public agency for a closed record violation within one year.
How to Remove Names From Public Records Search
Despite what is obtainable in the Missouri Public Records Law, there are instances where a person might be eligible to remove their names from state public records. In Missouri, individuals may remove their names from public search by petitioning the court. Record subjects must list the record custodian as a defendant in the petition. In turn, the clerk of the court notifies the office of the prosecuting attorney of the filed petition. Note that the court may not conduct a hearing if both parties agree that the record should be expunged. Missouri § 610.140(4).
At a hearing, the court will consider evidence and testimonies from all concerned parties and use the information to determine if the petitioner's conduct constitutes a threat to public safety. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 610.140 enables record subjects to expunge or seal certain records from public access. Under the law, record subjects can expunge all misdemeanors and non-Class A felonies, and convictions for illegal possession of firearms. Nevertheless, it is impossible to expunge sex offenses, violent offenses, offenses such as driving under the influence of alcohol and driving offenses concerning persons holding a commercial driving license.
Id. § 610.140(5) sets a "waiting period" after which record subjects are eligible to request sealing of their public records. For example, the waiting period for a misdemeanor offense is three years after sentence completion. In contrast, individuals convicted of felonies are eligible to seal their records seven years after completing their sentence. In addition, the state allows record subjects to expunge more than one offense, provided they list all the offenses in the same petition.
What is the Best Public Record Search Database?
In Missouri, local or state government agencies or departments provide the best public record search database for all public documents generated in the state. Therefore, these government agencies or record custodians are generally the first resource for obtaining Missouri public records. For example, the Missouri Bureau of Vital Statistics provides the best public record search database for all birth, death, marriage, and divorce records in Missouri. On the other hand, the state's Missouri Department of Corrections provides a statewide repository of all offenders' data. At the county level, the St. Louis County Assessor's Office maintains an extensive database of all property records. The Assessor's Office maintains both online and offline access to property records in the county. Similarly, the Jackson County Detention Center is the custodian for all inmate records in the state. It provides access to inmate data via an online search feature. Note that access to records maintained by government agencies in Missouri is usually in compliance with the provisions set forth in the Missouri Public Records Law.
How Long Does It Take to Obtain Missouri Public Records?
An individual can make a Public Record Law request to access public information maintained by any state or local agency in Missouri. Missouri Sunshine Law requires record custodians to respond to requests for public documents within three business days. In the case of a record denial, record custodians must provide a written statement explaining the denial.
Is Public Data Search Safe?
Yes. Anyone can safely conduct a public data search to obtain records from any government agency in Missouri. For instance, a requester seeking to obtain records from any law enforcement agency in the state can just contact the record custodian in charge of such records. Sometimes, such a person may be able to conduct a free public data search or may be required to pay a fee to use the public data search services. That said, there are no risks involved in conducting a public data search if the search complies with the Missouri Public Record Law and the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) provisions.