What are Pennsylvania Public Records, and How are They Created?
The state of Pennsylvania has a specific government agency called the Office of Open Records in charge of public records and the Right to Know laws. Although they are not a central repository for records, they provide guidance to the public and have a list of helpful FAQs and videos on their website. They are also the ones to contact if you have trouble getting records, and they will help you file an appeal. All appeals must be made in writing, and the agency named has 15 days to respond.
All government agencies in Pennsylvania create, store, manage, and share public records upon request. Some other types of organizations that create and maintain public records are the courts, law enforcement, legal professionals, licensing bureaus, individuals, and others. Each agency stores and organizes public records according to their own system, and they are allowed to charge a nominal fee for copies.
Pennsylvania defines "records" as "Information, regardless of physical form or characteristics, that documents a transaction or activity of an agency and that is created, received or retained pursuant to law or in connection with a transaction, business or activity of the agency. The term includes a document, paper, letter, map, book, tape, photograph, film or sound recording, information stored or maintained electronically, and a data-processed or image-processed document." They define agency as "A Commonwealth agency, a local agency, a judicial agency, or a legislative agency."
The Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission is the government agency in charge of storing, organizing, and sharing historical public records. Along with vital historical records, they also keep land records, ancestry information, statistics, and many other types of records. You can visit them in person or peruse their online collections.
How to Access Pennsylvania Public Records?
The Pennsylvania Office of Open Recordsm provides explicit guidelines on how to request public records. Their instructions are outlined below:
- Determine which government agency or office you need the records from.
- Consult the OOR's list of most commonly requested records.
- Figure out who the agency's open records officer (AORO) is. They have a list on their website for that as well.
- Prepare and submit your request. They strongly suggest you request records in writing, but you can also send them via email, fax, us mail, or in person.
- Await your records.
If you have issues getting records, contact the Office of Open Records for assistance.
Different Types of Public Records in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania Criminal Records
Pennsylvania has a helpful online web portal where the general public can request criminal records easily. The cost is $27, each with an additional charge for a notary fee. The website is called the Pennsylvania Access to the Criminal History (PATCH) System. They take credit cards for payment. Expunged records will not show up in this system. You can also consult court records for criminal records and visit local law enforcement in person to request records.
Some common types of criminal records in Pennsylvania include (but are not limited to):
- Felony and Misdemeanor Records - some common misdemeanors in Pennsylvania are bigamy, shoplifting, impersonating a public servant, strangulation, and theft of property of less than $200. Some popular felonies include murder, rape, arson, theft of property ($500,000 or more), and kidnapping.
- Jail and Inmate Records - both jails and prisons keep inmate records, and those too are public records. The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections 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.
Pennsylvania Court Records
Pennsylvania uses a unified court system and has everything consolidated in one place. Court records in Pennsylvania are created, stored, and maintained by The Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania. They have a website with public records searches for court cases, statistics, financial records, public records policies, and more. They even supply the forms necessary to request public court records.
Some types of court records in Pennsylvania include:
- 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, worker's compensation cases, and name changes.
The court system in Pennsylvania consists of four levels beginning with the Supreme Court at the top, then the Court of Appeals, and then Tax and Circuit Court, and finally County, Justice and Municipal Court.
Pennsylvania Arrest Records
You can look up Pennsylvania arrest records through the handy Pennsylvania Access to the Criminal History (PATCH) System or through local law enforcement. The PATCH system has up-to-date arrest records as well as historical criminal information. You do have to pay a fee when requesting records.
Some different types of arrests records in Pennsylvania are:
- Drug charges.
- Simple assault.
- Impersonating a public servant.
- Domestic abuse.
- 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.
Pennsylvania Vital Records
Pennsylvania's Department of Health is the government agency in charge of vital records. They keep birth, death, and fetal death certificates going back to 1906. You can easily request a copy of yours online, through the mail or in person. They do charge fees for this service. This agency also handles adoption information.
Other Public Records in Pennsylvania
Along with criminal, court, arrest, and vital records, other types of public records you can find in the state of Pennsylvania 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.
- Library Research.
- Personnel records for state agencies.
- Permits, licenses, and certifications.
- Government employee salaries.
- * 911 time response logs.
- Grant applications.
- Contracts involving government agencies.
- Settlement agreements.
- Agency decisions.
- Name, title, and salary of public employees and officials.
What Information is Not Public Record in Pennsylvania?
Some information in Pennsylvania is not public record. Personal details like the following items are among them:
- Social Security numbers.
- Driver's license numbers.
- Employee numbers.
- Home, cellular or personal phone numbers.
- Personal financial information.
- Spouses name, marital status, beneficiary or dependent information.
- Home addresses of law enforcement and judges.
- Identity of confidential informants.
- Records that identify social service recipients, including welfare recipients.
- A minor's name, home address, date of birth.
- Constituent requests to a member of the House or Senate.
- Library circulation cards.
- Pre-decisional deliberations.
Some other exceptions include:
A record, the disclosure of which:
- (i) would result in the loss of Federal or State funds by an agency or the Commonwealth; or
- (ii) would be reasonably likely to result in a substantial and demonstrable risk of physical harm to or the personal security of an individual.
- A record maintained by an agency in connection with the military, homeland security, national defense, law enforcement or other public safety activity that, if disclosed, would be reasonably likely to jeopardize or threaten public safety or preparedness or public protection activity or a record that is designated classified by an appropriate Federal or State military authority.
- A record, the disclosure of which creates a reasonable likelihood of endangering the safety or the physical security of a building, public utility, resource, infrastructure, facility or information storage system, which may include:
- (i) documents or data relating to computer hardware, source files, software and system networks that could jeopardize computer security by exposing a vulnerability in preventing, protecting against, mitigating or responding to a terrorist act;
- (ii) lists of infrastructure, resources and significant special events, including those defined by the Federal Government in the National Infrastructure Protections, which are deemed critical due to their nature and which result from risk analysis; threat assessments; consequences assessments; antiterrorism protective measures and plans; counterterrorism measures and plans; and security and response needs assessments; and
- (iii) building plans or infrastructure records that expose or create vulnerability through disclosure of the location, configuration, or security of critical systems, including public utility systems, structural elements, technology, communication, electrical, fire suppression, ventilation, water, wastewater, sewage and gas systems.
- A record regarding computer hardware, software, and networks, including administrative or technical records, which, if disclosed, would be reasonably likely to jeopardize computer security.
- A record of an individual's medical, psychiatric or psychological history or disability status, including an evaluation, consultation, prescription, diagnosis or treatment; results of tests, including drug tests; enrollment in a health care program or program designed for participation by persons with disabilities, including vocation rehabilitation, workers' compensation, and unemployment compensation; or related information that would disclose individually identifiable health information.
- A spouse's name, marital status, or beneficiary or dependent information.
- The home address of a law enforcement officer or judge.