Are Arizona Records Public?
Arizona public records are mostly accessible to the public, except when exempted under state law. The Arizona Public Records Law dictates the procedure for obtaining open records in the state. In addition, it determines which documents are accessible to the public. Under Arizona state law, public records in Arizona are under the purview of custodian agencies or departments. In addition to maintaining public records, custodian agencies produce and issue public records to interested persons and entities when they submit a public record act request. Free public data searches are typically unavailable for specific public records because most custodian agencies charge a fee to request public records. Examples of publicly accessible documents include:
- Arizona court records
- Arizona arrest records or rap sheets
- Arizona criminal records
- Arizona sex offender information;
- Arizona death records
- Arizona birth records
- Arizona property records
- Arizona bankruptcy records
Arizona Public Records Law, A.R.S. §§ -39-101 to -161 defines public records as all documents in the custody of a record custodian. Public documents may exist as books, maps, photographs, papers, and other documentary materials in digital or physical formats. Media such as video files and music files are also classified as public documents. The public can therefore search public data for these documents and items. Nevertheless, not all public records are accessible to the public. The Arizona Public Records Law and Freedom of Information Law restrict public access to certain confidential records and documents. As a general rule, the Arizona Public Records Law favors disclosing documents where the public interest outweighs the government's interest in confidentiality.
Who Can Access Arizona Public Records?
In Arizona, all persons or entities have the right to inspect and obtain copies, photographs, and printouts of any Arizona public records from a custodian agency during business hours (A.R.S. § 39-121.01(D)(1)). However, Arizona state laws restrict access to public records in Arizona during hours that may disrupt the custodian agency’s functions. In addition, certain documents are restricted from public disclosure due to confidentiality, safety, and personal reasons.
For example, the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation, and Reentry restricts access to its correctional facilities’ security protocols and strategies. Likewise, the Vital Records Office in Arizona does not release copies of vital records like birth and death records to the general public. In Arizona, only the record bearer, family relations, and legal representatives can access vital records. As a result, background checks on Arizona citizens omit certain information from the results.
What is Exempted Under the Arizona Public Records Law?
Arizona public records law exempts the following records from public access:
Documents Confidential by Statute
Specific Arizona statutes restrict the public disclosure of certain public records and data. For example, the A.A.C. R2-5A-105 limits public access to the following data in personnel files:
- Employees' full names;
- Employees' date of employment;
- Previous and current employment class title;
- Previous and current salaries, and date of salary change;
- Employees' current or previous supervisor's;
- Records relating to an employee's disciplinary action.
Similar to personnel records (files), vital records also have limited public access. The state vital records office releases vital records only to the record holder, immediate family members, and legal representatives.
In some cases, the federal Freedom of Information Law may restrict access to certain information generated by record custodians. For example, federal laws restrict the disclosure of a person's social security number to unauthorized requesters. Exempted documents also include Sheriff's investigative files, which may threaten a defendant's right to a fair trial.
Arizona Public Records Pertaining to Privacy Interests
After the Scottsdale Unified Sch. Dist., 191 Ariz. at 300, ¶ 9, 955 P.2d at 537 and other similar court cases, Arizona courts now restrict confidential records on the basis of protecting personal privacy. Public records in Arizona are exempt if the disclosure will invade a record subject's privacy and if the privacy invasion outweighs the public's interest in the record.
According to the Freedom of Information Act, state custodian bodies classify a piece of information as "private" if it was restricted or intended for use by a particular individual or groups of persons. For example, a public official’s home address, birth date, and personal phone number are exempted on the basis of invasion of privacy. In addition, autopsy reports are excluded from public access if the survivor's need for confidentiality outweighs the public interest.
Restricted Records to Protect the State's Best Interests
A record custodian may deny access to public records if disclosure of the requested document will lead to public or private harm. For this reason, the state laws exclude information about candidates or prospects being considered for official positions, such as a University President position. Arizona courts also exempted the release of surveillance videos that may show undercover officers and reveal locations of surveillance cameras. KPNX-TV v. Superior Court, 183 Ariz. 589, 593, 905 P.2d 598, 602 (App. 1995).
Furthermore, exemptions under this category may include the identity of primary and secondary witnesses or complainants in a criminal case. Other excluded law enforcement files contain:
- Witnesses’ signed statements;
- Juvenile arrest and criminal records;
- Confidential investigatory techniques and strategies used by law enforcement agencies.
Intra-agency or interagency information such as public official's personal drafts and notes are excluded from public disclosure.
Where Can I Access Public Criminal Court Records in Arizona
Record custodians, such as the Clerk of the Superior Court and the Arizona Judicial Branch, maintain and issue copies of Arizona Court records via online and offline public access. Persons and entities can access, view, and obtain copies of Arizona criminal court records via the Clerk of the Superior Court, responsible for overseeing criminal cases in the region. To get Arizona public criminal court records in person, interested persons must visit the Office of the Superior Court Clerk within business hours.
In contrast, the Arizona Judicial Branch maintains an online database of all criminal court records for 177 courts in Arizona. Thus, record seekers can search Arizona criminal court records using the search options provided below:
Search by Name
Record seekers may access criminal court records by the defendant or plaintiff's name. Furthermore, the "Search by name" option requires the record bearer's birth date and the court where the criminal conviction occurred.
Search by Case Number
If the record subject's name is unknown, record seekers may search by case number. To access Arizona criminal court records via this option, record seekers must input the case number and select the court in charge of the court records.
At the same time, the Arizona Court of Appeals is a statewide custodian of all criminal cases filed in the appeal courts. Through the Court of Appeals, public criminal records are accessible to the interested persons and entities via mail, in person, and email requests. Furthermore, record seekers must fill out a Copy Request Form and send it to the Clerk of the Court of Appeals in person at the address below:
1501 West Washington Avenue
The Clerk's Office attends to in-person requests on weekdays during business hours.
In contrast, record seekers may send the request form via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. The Clerk will only attend to requests after payment. To access Arizona criminal records via the mail option, record seekers must mail the request form alongside a money order or check to the address below:
Court of Appeals
Division One Clerk’s Office
1501 West Washington Avenue
Phoenix AZ 85007
The Court of Appeals charges $0.50 per page for copied criminal records. More so, record seekers must pay a certification fee of $17 to obtain a certified copy of the Arizona criminal court records.
How Do I Find Public Records in Arizona?
Requesters can find public records in Arizona by contacting the public records official or custodian agency that is in charge of producing, maintaining, and issuing copies of the requested document. For example, the Arizona Department of Correction, Rehabilitation, and Reentry is responsible for storing and giving copies of all inmate records and related data. On the other hand, record seekers can access sex offender information from the Arizona Department of Public Safety. Meanwhile, vital records can be obtained through the state's vital record office. Irrespective of the type of public record, record seekers can access Arizona public records via these general steps:
Know the Specifics of the Preferred Public Record
Record seekers must know the custodian agency in charge of the record, the requirements to obtain the preferred public document, and the request method. Most importantly, record seekers must note the fees and payment methods for obtaining public records in Arizona. For example, record seekers can get sex offender information for free, whereas certified copies of Arizona court records cost $17. Furthermore, Arizona Vital Records Office enables only the record subject records, family, relations, and approved representatives to access vital records in the state.
Contact the Custodian Agency Holding the Record
Per the Arizona Public Records Law, interested persons can contact record custodians to inspect or get copies of public documents. Generally, custodian agencies produce copies of Arizona public records via online, email, fax, and in-person requests. In contrast, record custodians may only enable public inspection of public documents.
Create and Send Request for Arizona Public Records
To access public records in Arizona, record seekers may write and send a request form to the custodian agency responsible for issuing the documents. In some cases, record custodians may provide a downloadable request form, whereas others do not have a specific request form template. In the absence of a particular request form, record seekers may write a request form detailing the following data:
- The requester's full name
- The record seeker’s full name and, or aliases;
- Preferred mode of delivery - email, online, or in-person;
- Record seeker’s contact details;
- Date range when the record was documented;
- The case number (this applies to court records);
- 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
Some public records may also be accessible from third-party websites. These websites are not limited by geographic location and come with comprehensive search tools. Record seekers can use these sites to start a search for a specific record or multiple records. To use a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:
- The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile;
- The location or assumed location of the document or person involved.
Third-party sites are independent of government sources and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party websites may vary.
How Much Do Public Records Cost in Arizona?
According to A.R.S. §§ 39-121.01(D)(1), -121.03(A), record custodians may charge different fees if the record request is for commercial or non-commercial purposes. Irrespective of request purposes, custodian agencies may determine to charge a fee for record request after considering the following factors:
- A fraction of the cost incurred by the record custodian in obtaining copies or originals of the public document;
- The time, personnel, equipment, and resources used in procuring the documents;
- For commercial-purpose requests, the agency determines the value of the document on the commercial market.
How Do I Look Up Public Records for Free in Arizona?
Arizona state laws require record custodians to provide certain records at no cost. However, there can be a charge for requesting other records. For example, there are charges associated with requesting most records maintained by county clerks' offices and county recorders' offices. To perform free public records searches in Arizona, record seekers may utilize the following options:
Record seekers can access Arizona public records used in laying claim for a pension, allowance, insurance benefits, compensation, or other incentives. In addition, Arizona law enforcement agencies allow crime victims to access arrest records and additional information for free. Public libraries may also have computer terminals where record seekers may find and view old court records and genealogy records at no charge.
Second, certain custodian agencies in Arizona maintain free online repositories of Arizona public records. Thus, any public member can visit the platforms to view and access these records. Moreover, custodian agencies may charge minimal fees for copying public documents.
For example, the Arizona Department of Public Safety provides free access to all sex offender information on the sex offender registry. Through the sex offender's registry, interested persons can conduct searches using the offender's name and aliases, contact details, and other identifying information.
Similarly, the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation, and Reentry provides free access to Arizona’s public records via an online search platform. Public records such as inmate records, essential agency records, and employee records are obtainable online. To access documents on the search portal, record seekers must create a new or log into a pre-existing account.
Do I Need to State My Purpose When Requesting Public Records in Arizona?
Generally, record seekers do not need to provide a statement of purpose before requesting Arizona public records from custodian agencies. However, Arizona state laws require record seekers to provide a Statement of Purpose if the request is for commercial purposes. Per A.R.S. § 39-121.03(A), a public record is commercialized if used for solicitation or for any purpose via which the record seekers can obtain monetary gains. Note that commercial purposes does not include public records used as evidence in an investigation.
What Happens if I Am Refused a Public Records Request?
If a custodian agency (such as state government agencies) denies a public record request, the requester may appeal the decision at the state superior court. Note that custodian agencies can refuse requests for public data searches based on confidentiality and invasion of personal privacy. According to A.R.S. § 39-121.02(B), the court may award all legal costs, including attorney fees, if the record seeker wins the case. In addition, public records officials and custodian bodies are also responsible for any damages incurred from wrongfully denying access to a public record.
How to Remove Names From Public Records Search
In Arizona, record bearers can remove or deal their records from state public records search via the following means:
- Request for Sealing Misdemeanor and Felony Conviction
From December 31, 2022, record bearers can request the court seal all conviction records, acquittal charges, and uncharged arrest records. Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 13-911. The presiding judge of the Arizona Superior Court in the county where the record bearer resides has the power to decide whether to seal the record. Furthermore, record seekers can seal certain violent felonies and class 1 felonies under state laws. More so, there's no restriction on the number of times an individual can seal a record.
Record bearers may petition the court to seal a public record after completing all aspects of the sentence - from jail time to fines and restitution imposed by the court. For example, record subjects are eligible to seal their records after:
- Three years after discharge for a Class 1 misdemeanor;
- Five years after release for class 4,5 and 6 felonies;
- Ten years after release for class 2 and 3 felonies.
Once eligible to seal a public record, record bearers must file a petition with the court clerk. The court clerk, in turn, must present a copy of the petition to the prosecutor and the crime victim. Note that the court will only proceed if the prosecutor and victim have no objections to the petition.
In the absence of an objection from the prosecutor and victim, the court will request the record subject's entire arrest and prosecution records from the Department of Public Safety. Record bearers may pay a certain fee to the court clerk if the petition is approved.
- Judicial Set-Aside
Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 13-905(A) authorizes courts to dismiss or "set aside" convictions and charges upon a successful completion of the sentence. However, the Judicial set aside does not apply to persons convicted of inflicting severe physical injury. The law also excludes specific traffic laws or sexual crimes under § 13-118.
The court clerk must notify the Department of Public Safety if a conviction is set aside. Furthermore, to set aside a conviction, record subjects may apply to any court instead of only the sentencing court. Likewise, the Judicial Set-Aside applies to victims of human trafficking.
The use and possession of marijuana are currently legal in Arizona. Therefore, upon petition, courts must remove all charges and convictions of marijuana-related offenses, such as possessing more than 12.5 grams of marijuana concentrate.
According to the Arizona Public Act, records that have been expunged or sealed are considered confidential, thereby preventing unauthorized public access to such records.
What is the Best Public Record Search Database?
Arizona state government agencies and departments maintain the best public record search database for all interested requesters. For example, the Arizona Department of Public Safety is the best public record search database for all registered sex offenders' information, including absconded sex offenders. Likewise, the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation, and Reentry maintains an extensive database of inmates, employees, and agency records.
At the county level, the Clerk of the Maricopa Supreme Court is responsible for maintaining and providing free access to all court records generated within the county. Record seekers in Maricopa County may use online or offline request means to obtain court records. The Pima County Sheriff's Department maintains a statewide online and offline database of all arrest records, police reports, and accident logs documented within the county.
Similarly, the Pinal County Assessor’s office maintains an extensive online database for all property records in the county. Interested persons can view Arizona property records and files by inputting the owner’s name, parcel number, and property address into the search options.
How Long Does It Take to Obtain an Arizona Public Record?
The timeframe for obtaining Arizona public records differs by state or local agency. Custodian agencies may take longer to provide access to confidential or lengthy documents.
Because when a record seeker makes a public record act request to access public information maintained by custodian agencies deemed confidential, the request may need to pass several requirements. Meanwhile, for lengthy document record requests, different records may need to be collected from other agencies. Custodian agencies may take longer to grant access to their records for various reasons besides those mentioned above.
Is Public Data Search Safe?
Yes, public data search is safe. The Arizona Public Records Act allows the general public to obtain public records through their custodian agencies or departments, including records maintained by law enforcement agencies. Many public record custodian agencies operate public data search services that allow access to public records. Therefore, interested parties may utilize these services to request a public data search from a state public record custodian agency. Generally, using such services carries no risks.
A few third-party websites also offer public data search functions that users can choose to use. However, using third party services comes with some risks, unlike state custodian agencies or department services. Most websites retain ownership of their users' data, which they may later sell. Consequently, their consumers are exposed to wanted advertisements and other security threats. Some websites may advertise that they provide free public data search to lure users. More often than not, consumers are instead given restricted access to the website's features and must pay to gain full access.