What are Tennessee Public Records, and How are They Created?
Tennessee has a particular government office called the Office of Open Records Counsel, which sets the standards for public records access and the rules and fees. They have a specific form you can fill out and use with any government entity to request records. Although the law does not require you to fill out a form, this particular one makes the request easier for the government agency and makes it official. Each government office has the custodian of a public record that you will need to contact for public records. They have seven days to respond to your request. The public records access law states: "All state, county, and municipal records shall, at all times during business hours, which for public hospitals shall be during the business hours of their administrative offices, be open for personal inspection by any citizen of this state, and those in charge of the records shall not refuse such right of inspection to any citizen unless otherwise provided by state law."
All government agencies in Tennessee create, store, maintain, and share public records. Some examples might be the courts, local town offices, police stations, the Department of Corrections, and the mayor's office.
"Public record or records or state record or records means all documents, papers, letters, maps, books, photographs, microfilms, electronic data processing files and output, films, sound recordings or other material, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received pursuant to law or ordinance or in connection with the transaction of official business by any governmental agency."
The Tennessee Secretary of State has a division called the Tennessee State Library and Archives. This agency is the government entity tasked with preserving historical public records. Along with vital records, they maintain collections, including maps, war archives, government records, newspapers, land records, tax forms, probate, and military records. They offer genealogy researchers dozens of helpful resources.
How to Access Tennessee Public Records?
The Tennessee Coalition for Open Government has a website where they provide guidance on how to request public records. Here is what they have to say:
- Visit the Coalition for Open Government website.
- Download their public records request form.
- Fill it out.
- Contact the custodian of the records you need (at the government agency where they reside).
- You may have to pay fees for copies.
- Use the links on their website to find out where you submit your request.
- Typically, government agencies have seven days to respond to your request.
The government agency may do one of three things in response to your request:
- Provide the record.
- Deny the record and cite the legal basis for the denial (they should cite the exemption in the law).
- Give you an estimate of how long it will take to fulfill your public records request. (This response should only occur for records that are taking some time to compile for reasonable reasons).
You can contact the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government if you need help.
Different Types of Public Records in Tennessee
Tennessee Criminal Records
TNCourts.gov is the agency in charge of criminal records for the state. They keep these criminal court cases online and searchable for the public. Additionally, The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (part of TN.gov), also offers public criminal background checks upon request. You do have to pay a $29 fee for this service, however. You can also pay a $50 fee and get a nation wide (FBI) background check too. They use the IdentGo service for fingerprints for those types of background check reports.
Some common types of criminal records in Tennessee include (but are not limited to):
- Felony and Misdemeanor Records - some common misdemeanors in Tennessee are assault, domestic assault, possession of marijuana, theft, DUI, and reckless driving. Some popular felonies in Tennessee are assault, DUI, domestic violence, drug crimes, kidnapping, involuntary or voluntary manslaughter, first-degree or second-degree murder, rape, and robbery.
- Jail and Inmate Records - both jails and prisons keep inmate records, and those too are public records. The Tennessee 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.
Tennessee Court Records
Court records in Tennessee are created, stored, and shared by TNCourts.gov. They have an extensive website where you can search for and review public court records. You have the option of searching by case number, case type, name, or organization. You may also visit a courthouse in person to request copies of court records.
Some types of court records in Tennessee 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 Tennessee consists of four levels with many different types of courts. The top-level is the Supreme Court, then the Court of Appeals and Criminal Court of Appeals. The next level contains the Circuit Court, Chancery, Probate, and Criminal Court. The final level has the Juvenile Court, the Grand Session Court, and Municipal Court.
Tennessee Arrest Records
Tennessee arrest records may be found in one of two locations. First, the TNCourts.gov website allows you to search freely through criminal court records. You also have the option of contacting The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation for a full criminal background check that will also contain arrest data. If nothing is posted online about the person in question, you could always check in with the local police and get arrest information that way.
Some different types of arrests records in Tennessee are:
- Drug charges.
- Simple assault.
- Misrepresenting the age of a minor.
- 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.
Tennessee Vital Records
In Tennessee, the Office of Vital Records as part of TN.gov is the government agency in charge of all vital records for the state. Their mission is stated as: "The Tennessee Office of Vital Records reviews, registers, amends, issues and maintains the original certificates of births, deaths, marriages, and divorces that occur in Tennessee in accordance with Tennessee Code Annotated." You may request vital record copies from them via mail, in person, or online.
Other Public Records in Tennessee
Along with criminal, court, arrest, and vital records, other types of public records you can find in the state of Tennessee 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).
- State 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 Tennessee?
Not all records in Tennessee are public records. Some records or portions of records are kept private. Some examples are:
- "Student Personally Identifiable Information – Student name,
- parent names, address, social security number, E-number, etc.
- The identity of any owner of, or any other information by or from which may be determined the identity of any owner of, any public obligation issued by any issuer shall be treated as confidential and not open to public inspection. The confidentiality herein established shall not be deemed to have been extinguished but shall remain inviolate in cases where such information is in the possession of banks, trust companies, financial institutions or other financial intermediaries of the issuer, including, but not limited to, registration, paying or transfer agents.
- Medical records received and maintained by the division of claims and risk management shall be treated as confidential and shall not be open for inspection by members of the public pursuant to title 10, chapter 7.
- Records relating to the retirement system's review of any private equity investment shall not be public to the extent that: (i) The records contain confidential information provided to the retirement system or analysis or evaluation by the retirement system; or (ii) Disclosure of the records would have a potentially adverse effect on the retirement system's private equity program, the value of an investment, or the provider of the information.
- An individual's credit card information, debit card information, bank account and routing information, e-mail address, and telephone number acquired by the county trustee shall not be open for public inspection pursuant to title 10, chapter 7.
- Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, the board shall promulgate rules and regulations to safeguard proprietary information submitted to the board. Such rules and regulations shall be consistent with determinations, actions, customs, and practices of the Tennessee regulatory agency with respect to proprietary information. Any information determined to be proprietary in accordance with such rules and regulations [Tenn. Comp R & Regs. 0780-06-01] shall be confidential and shall not be open to the public for inspection, notwithstanding the public records provisions of title 10, chapter 7."