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Are North Dakota Records Public?

Unless exempted by law, all government entity records are public and open to access and copying during reasonable office hours. The North Dakota Open Records Statute (Sunshine Laws) determines public records as government information created or maintained by any agency. These records include any information created during the performance of official business by a government agency, its agents, and contractors. Records considered public in North Dakota include the following:

  • Arrest records and mugshots
  • Marriage records
  • Divorce records
  • Inmate records
  • Court records
  • Arrest records
  • Bankruptcy records
  • Sex offender information

The North Dakota Open Records Statute specifically notes that a record can be public regardless of form or method of creation. This means public records can be created and stored as anything from written or typed documents to audio files, video, and pictures. Interested parties can obtain records in different forms, such as emails, computer files, discs, typed documents, and other mediums.

Who Can Access North Dakota Public Records?

North Dakota sunshine laws state that anyone has the right to request or copy public records irrespective of where they reside or the reason for the request. North Dakota is among 42 states which do not insist that a request be resident in the state. The public agency cannot ask the requester for any identification or insist the record request be made in writing. These records include all memos, meeting minutes, notes, telephone records, performance records, reports, and contracts. The government agency or its records officer must reply in a reasonable time, either by sending the record or explaining why the request is denied.

Do I Need To State My Purpose And Use When Requesting Public Records In North Dakota?

A person who is requesting public records in North Dakota is not required to state the reason the records are needed. The North Dakota Open Records Statute also does not require the record request to be in writing. However, the request must clearly and accurately describe the record. If the request is ambiguous, agencies may ask for the request in writing for clarity but still cannot ask for a reason or motive for the request. The request may also be delayed or denied.

What Is Exempted Under The North Dakota Public Records Act?

The North Dakota Open Records Statute allows a public entity to deny an open record request if the record in question is exempt or confidential. If the record is exempt under the statute, the entity has the discretion to release it. Parts of the record that are confidential can be redacted or removed and other parts released. According to the Open Records Statute, information that is exempt or confidential under the law include the following:

  • Public Employee Records: Public employee records like medical records are confidential, while the home address, phone number, identification number, and personal records of any of their dependents are exempt (NDCC 44-04-18.1 ).
  • Records of Law Enforcement, Correctional, Undercover, or Juvenile caseworkers: Any record which can be used to identify or endanger the life or well-being of these officers is confidential. This includes home addresses, telephone numbers, and any other personal information (NDCC 44-04-18.3).
  • Any information that discloses the work schedule of any law enforcement agency or its officers is exempt.
  • Records of trade secrets, proprietary, commercial, financial, and research information:

Trade secrets, proprietary, commercial, and financial information that have not been publicly disclosed earlier and are privileged in nature are confidential records. Unless made confidential by the law research records are exempt and can be opened at the discretion of the government entity (NDCC 44-04-18.4).

  • Records that list or identify minors: Any records of a public entity that include information such as names, addresses, and telephone numbers of minors in any combination is exempt (NDCC 44-04-18.13).
  • Information in a consumer complaint: Personal and financial information submitted or gathered by a state agency for use in a consumer complaint investigation are exempt records. Personal and financial information includes the home address and phone number, consumer reports, and credit or debit card details of the complainant (NDCC 44-04-18.17).
  • Records identifying victims of domestic violence, human trafficking, and sex offenses: Any information that may be used to identify or locate a victim of domestic violence, sex offenses, and human trafficking is exempt under the statute. This includes addresses, phone numbers, and any other identifying information (NDCC 44-04-18.20).

Where Can I Access Public Criminal Court Records In North Dakota?

Criminal court records in North Dakota can be obtained from the clerk of the district court where the case was held. With a written request and a fee of $10 per search, a requester may receive written confirmation on the existence and location of a court record. The full record request can be oral but a written request may be required if clarification is required. The clerk can only access 10 files per day per requester as long as it does not affect their normal work schedule. The record may then be viewed physically. Records can also be searched for and viewed online using the computer terminals located in most clerks’ offices in North Dakota. When the particular information required has been found, the requester may ask for copies to be made. The copies of criminal court records will cost $0.10 per page with a $1.00 minimum charge. Court records can also be searched online using the North Dakota Court Records Inquiry System(NDCRI).

How Do I Find Public Records In North Dakota?

According to the North Dakota Public Record Statute, anyone can request access to public records as long as they contact the correct entity. The requester does not have to reside in North Dakota to make record requests of government entities in the state. Requesters may use the following simple steps to make public records requests:

  • Determine the type of record and locate its custodian
    The first step would be to identify the record to be requested and locate the agency that is in the custody of the record. Requesters will be required to provide accurate details to the custodian to facilitate the quick and easy location of the record. Depending on the type of record, this might be a case name or docket number for a court case or a name and date of birth for a sex offender record. Incorrect or vague information may cause a record request to be delayed or ultimately denied.
  • Contact the government entity/record custodian.
    The next step is to contact the correct custodian. For example, the district court clerk of courts is in charge of criminal and civil court records. Marriage records can be obtained from the county clerk in the county where the marriage ceremony was held. Sometimes a requester may contact a custodian and receive a yes or no answer to the question of whether a record exists. Calling the custodian ahead like this allows a requester to be sure the record is available before making the request. Most government agencies usually have their contact details on their website.
  • Make the request
    After determining the record and finding the correct government entity or custodian, the request may be made. The request can be made in person, by mail, fax, or telephone. North Dakota’s Open Record Statute does not require a public record request to be written, but the requester must accurately describe an existing record. If the request is vague, then the government agency may request a clear written request and delay until it gets one. The government agency charges for copies of the record and may also charge for any time taken to locate and redact the record if necessary.

Some public records may also be accessible from third-party websites. These websites are not limited by geographic location and come with expansive 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 North Dakota?

The North Dakota Public Records Statute maintains that accessing and viewing some public records are free. Requesters may, however, be charged the cost for locating the record and making copies depending on how the record is stored. Requesters can also be charged for the time taken to examine the record and remove or redact any confidential parts of it. The first hour spent locating the records is free, but after that, the requester will be charged $25 per hour for each hour spent locating the record. After the first free hour, requesters will also be charged $25 for each additional hour spent redacting the record. If locating electronic records takes over an hour, the agency may also charge the cost of using the actual resources to provide the record. For other forms of copies such as discs and microfilm, the requester may be charged the actual cost of copying. This will include the materials, equipment, and any labor utilized to make the copies. The agency may also charge the request the postage cost to mail the records (NDCC 44-04-18(2)). Some government agencies may require payment of estimated fees before providing the requested records.

How Do I Lookup Public Records For Free In North Dakota?

Whether or not a record in North Dakota can be looked up for free will usually depend on two factors. These are the type of record in question and the government agency in charge of the record. A good way to view North Dakota court records for free is to look them up online using the North Dakota Courts Records Inquiry system (NDCRI). Many of the district court clerk’s offices also have public access terminals where court records can be accessed for free. North Dakota’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DOCR) maintains a database of inmates incarcerated in the state that can be assessed for free through the Resident’s lookup. The North Dakota Sex Offender Registry also possesses a search tool that allows users to look up sex offender records and information for free. Asking to view records physically and checking for records online are valid ways to look up public records for free in North Dakota.

What Happens If I am Refused A Public Records Request?

Public records requests in North Dakota must be answered in a reasonable time by the government entity. This time can be between days and a week but cannot extend into weeks and months. Whenever a request is denied, the agency must explain the legal reason why it was denied and if asked, must provide this explanation in writing. The requester may request an attorney general’s opinion to review the denial of the public records request. Any such request must be made within 30 days of the denial of the request. The attorney general’s office may request the records in question to determine if the denial was correct and in good faith(NDCC 44-04-21.1(1)). If the attorney general’s written opinion states that the denial was in violation of the public records statute, the government entity must provide the record. The government entity has 7 days after the opinion has been issued to do so. If the government does not take the appropriate action with the 7 day period the requester may file a civil suit under (NDCC 44-04-21.2). If the requester prevails in the civil suit, they may be awarded coast, disbursements, and reasonable attorney’s fees during the action or at appeal. If the denial or violation is deemed to be knowing or intentional, the court may award extra damages. These damages may be either $1000 or any actual damages caused by the denial. The attorney general may also require officials of the public entity in question to attend mandatory training by a certain date.

How To Remove Names From Public Search Records?

Normally it is impossible to remove a name from a public record completely. However, the state of North Dakota allows for some records to be sealed or expunged from the record. The process of sealing the record will be different depending on the record. For instance, the process to expunge a criminal record will be different from sealing a civil case record. The North Dakota State Court supplies a research guide that explains the court process of expunging a record.

What Is The Best Public Records Search Database?

Choosing the best public record search database will be determined by the type of record in question. Generally, the best public record search database will be the one maintained by the government agency or its appointed custodians. A lot of government agencies in North Dakota maintain online databases where public records can be viewed or purchased. In North Dakota, Cass County maintains an inmate roster on the county website. This is the best public search database where inmate information can be viewed for free. Likewise, Burleigh County has a property detail database where information on properties in the county can be searched and viewed online. Grand Forks County Recorder, on the other hand, operates the IDOC database where for a subscription fee, the public records in their custody are accessible online.

How Long Does It Take To Obtain A North Dakota Public Record?

After receiving an open record request, the government entity that received it must respond within a reasonable time. North Dakota's public records statute does not specify an exact time. “Reasonable” could mean hours to a few days, depending on several factors. These factors are:

  • The type of record requested
  • The scope of the records requested
  • Where the record is stored and how long it takes to retrieve it

Records that require the redaction or removal of confidential bits will also take longer to acquire.