Massachusetts Public Records

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What are Massachusetts Public Records, and How are They Created?

Massachusetts Public Records

The Secretary of State for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is the centralized agency that handles public records requests and governs many of the aspects of the public records laws. All the government agencies that collect, store, and maintain public records must report to the Secretary of State's Office. They also have a dedicated Records Access Officer (RAO) who records the reports and handles public records disputes (when a citizen's request records and is denied). The state of Massachusetts also has an extensive Agency Public Records Request Database that you can search online. You may also call or email them with questions. You might have to visit certain government agencies in person to request certain types of records. As of 2017, every agency, office, and municipality are required to have a dedicated Records Access Officer (RAO) to help with requests.

Public records in Massachusetts are created by public servants working in the courts, the legal profession, law enforcement, and also government offices and agencies throughout the state. Often individuals create government public records simply by being born, dying, filing for a marriage license, or suing someone.

"A records access officer appointed pursuant to section 6A, or a designee, shall at reasonable times and without unreasonable delay permit inspection or furnish a copy of any public record as defined in clause twenty-sixth of section 7 of chapter 4, or any segregable portion of a public record, not later than 10 business days following the receipt of the request."

The Secretary of State for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts oversees public records and the laws that pertain to them. They provide guidelines for patrons on how to request public records from the custodian. You can request records verbally, through the mail in writing, or in person.

The Secretary of State for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is again the agency in charge of public records archives and historical information for the state. They keep all vital historical records, government archives, passenger lists, census reports, military records, court records, and more. They are also responsible for records management and the State Historical Records Advisory Board (SHRAB). They store many records online, but for some you will have to visit them in person to review.

 

How to Access Massachusetts Public Records?

How to Access Massachusetts Public Records

The Massachusetts Secretary of State provides the following guidelines for requesting all types of public records:

  • Contact the agency you need records from (call, email, or in-person) and speak with the Records Access Officer (RAO).
  • You can also request them in writing. The SOS office has a sample letter you can use.
  • Await the response.

If you are denied records, contact the Secretary of State for assistance. You can also email or call them with any questions.

 

Different Types of Public Records in Massachusetts

Massachusetts Criminal Records

Mass.gov has an extensive website that includes a section where you can request your own criminal record, and employers or others can request a copy of your criminal history as well. They offer both a name-based search tool and a fingerprint search (used by law enforcement and other agencies or by consent of the individual). This same office handles criminal records sealing and expunging and manages the sex offender registry. You can use the online search tool or request records in writing. You must register to use the online system.

Some common types of criminal records in Massachusetts include (but are not limited to):

  • Felony and Misdemeanor Records - some common misdemeanors in Massachusetts are assault and battery, criminal harassment, larceny, DUI, theft, and domestic violence. Some popular felonies in Massachusetts include drugs and narcotics possession, rape, kidnapping, murder, burglary, and illegals weapons charges.
  • Massachusetts Inmate Search - both jails and prisons keep inmate records, and those too are public records. The Massachusetts Department of Correction has an online search tool you can use to locate criminals and their records.
  • Police Records - local police can provide copies of incident reports, police reports, sometimes mugshots, and even crime scene photos upon request.

Massachusetts Court Records

Different Types of Public Records in Massachusetts

Court records in Massachusetts are created, collected, stored, and searchable on Mass.gov. The website collates all court records in one place. The trial courts are online, and you can use the search tool to find court documents within each type. They provide detailed instructions on how to request court records, and you can search online or get copies in person. They also have special portals for attorneys to use to file motions and get copies of case documents.

Some types of court records in Massachusetts are:

  • Civil Court Records - domestic relations cases such as divorces, marriages, paternity lawsuits, custody and child support cases, estates, conservatorships, wills, civil lawsuits, and small claims lawsuits.
  • Criminal Court Records - criminal filings for misdemeanors, felonies, and other citations. These may include things like trial paperwork, sentencing, prison transfers, and evidence related to the court case.
  • Financial Court Records - bankruptcies, liens, tax issues, company stock filings, and corporate financial reports.
  • Other Court Records - such as bench warrants, arrest warrants, judgments, traffic tickets and other traffic violations, and name changes.

The Massachusetts court system consists of six levels starting with the Supreme Judicial Court, then the Appeals Court, then the Superior Court, District Court, Boston Municipal Court, the Juvenile Court, Housing Court, and the lowest level which consists of Land Court, and Probate and Family Court.

Massachusetts Arrest Records

Massachusetts arrest records are created by all different types of law enforcement and correction officers. They are stored at each individual police and correctional facilities but also collected online at Mass.gov. You can search through criminal records to find arrests that way or visit the precinct in person to ask for copies. You can also visit the Massachusetts Department of Correction to find convicted felons and their arrest records. You may even wade through court records to find arrest information.

Some different types of arrests records in Massachusetts are:

  • Drug charges.
  • Murder.
  • Stalking.
  • Misuse of mail/harassment.
  • Theft.
  • Possession of narcotics.
  • DUIs.
  • Sexual abuse.
  • Booking details like fingerprints and mugshots.
  • Arrest warrants granted by a judge.
  • Bench warrants for not appearing in court.
  • Crime scene photos.
  • Witness statements.
  • Property crimes and accompanying paperwork.
  • Vehicle records if one was used during the crime.

Massachusetts Vital Records

The Registry of Vital Records and Statistics in Massachusetts is the government agency in charge of vital records. This is how they describe themselves "RVRS administers and issues copies of vital records that occurred in Massachusetts from 1926 to the present. RVRS also provides statistics on births, deaths, fetal deaths, divorces, and marriages. These data are used by local and state public health programs and medical researchers to help understand our population, promote wellness, and ensure health equity within the Commonwealth." You can contact their office via Mass.gov to get copies of birth, death, marriage, and divorce certificates.

 

Other Public Records in Massachusetts

Other Public Records in Massachusetts

Along with criminal, court, arrest, and vital records, other types of public records you can find in the state of Massachusetts include, but are not limited to:

  • Government budgets and annual reports.
  • Driving records (without personally identifiable information).
  • Home addresses.
  • Maps, books, and tapes.
  • State health and wellness statistics.
  • Air and water quality (pollution reports).
  • Property records, real estate deals, and land deeds.
  • Home phone numbers.
  • Police and accident reports.
  • Liens & tax issues.
  • Company incorporation records.
  • Demographics.
  • Library Research.
  • Personnel records for state agencies.
  • Permits, licenses, and certifications.
  • Government employee salaries.
 

What Information is Not Public Record in Massachusetts?

Massachusetts public records law defines a public record as "All books, papers, maps, photographs, recorded tapes, financial statements, statistical tabulations, or other documentary materials or data, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received by a governmental entity." However, they also have a few exceptions to this rule (things that are not publicly accessible) for example:

  • "Personnel and medical files or information; also any other materials or data relating to a specifically named individual, the disclosure of which may constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.
  • Trade secrets or commercial or financial information voluntarily provided to an agency for use in developing governmental policy and upon a promise of confidentiality; but this subclause shall not apply to information submitted as required by law or as a condition of receiving."

These are just a couple of examples; the law includes many more.