What are Wisconsin Public Records, and How are They Created?
According to Wisconsin's Public Records Law, government authorities have custody over public records. The law states that "Authority means any of the following having custody of a record: a state or local office, elective official, agency, board, commission, committee, council, department or public body corporate and politic created by the constitution or by any law, ordinance, rule or order; a governmental or quasi-governmental corporation except for the Bradley center sports and entertainment corporation; a special purpose district; any court of law; the assembly or senate; a nonprofit corporation which receives more than 50 percent of its funds from a county or a municipality, as defined in s. 59.001 (3), and which provides services related to public health or safety to the county or municipality, a university police department under s. 175.42, or a formally constituted subunit of any of the foregoing."
Some examples of government authorities would include the courts, the Secretary of State's Office, law enforcement agencies, city council offices, local town offices, and others. The people who work for these agencies create, store, maintain, and share public records.
"Record means any material on which written, drawn, printed, spoken, visual, or electromagnetic information or electronically generated or stored data is recorded or preserved, regardless of physical form or characteristics, that has been created or is being kept by an authority. "Record" includes, but is not limited to, handwritten, typed, or printed pages, maps, charts, photographs, films, recordings, tapes, optical discs, and any other medium on which electronically generated or stored data is recorded or preserved."
The Wisconsin State Archives and State Records office preserves all historical public records for the state. Their mission is to "The Wisconsin Historical Society has statutory responsibility to collect, maintain and make available for use, permanently valuable records of Wisconsin's state government." Some of their collections include:
- Administrative rulemaking and legislative files.
- Legal opinions.
- Narrative and statistical reports.
- Policy records.
- Records of state agencies that contain formal minutes of governing boards, committees, commissions, and task forces.
- Records of the governor's office.
- Selected case files.
- Selected visual, audio, graphic, cartographic, and electronic records.
- Special study records.
How to Access Wisconsin Public Records?
The State of Wisconsin Department of Administration oversees a lot of government authorities. They provide explicit instructions on how to request public records. Here are the basic guidelines:
- Contact the correct government authority and find out who the custodian of records is.
- You may request records orally, in writing, in person, through email, or by phone.
- Be as specific as possible when requesting records. Vague records requests could delay the response, or you may be denied.
- Make records request during normal business hours.
- You may have to pay fees.
- Await your documents.
If you have difficulty getting the records you need, contact their office, and they can help file an appeal.
Different Types of Public Records in Wisconsin
Wisconsin Criminal Records
The Wisconsin Department of Justice has created an online system of fingerprint and name-based criminal records. You can use this service to review the criminal history of someone easily. The information comes from the courts and law enforcement agencies and includes arrests, arrest charges, prosecution, court findings, sentences, and state correctional system admissions and releases. Wisconsin calls this tool the Wisconsin Online Record Check System (WORCS). This office also handles criminal records challenges and corrections. Note that some information is not editable, even though it may be incorrect.
Some common types of criminal records in Wisconsin include (but are not limited to):
- Felony and Misdemeanor Records - some common misdemeanors in Wisconsin are theft of property (less than $2,500), disorderly conduct, and a minor in possession of alcohol. Some common felonies in Wisconsin are aggravated battery, theft of property ($2,500-$5,000), destruction of property (of more than $2,500), maintaining a drug house, and possession of Schedule V controlled substances with the intent to sell.
- Jail and Inmate Records - both jails and prisons keep inmate records, and those too are public records. The Wisconsin Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation 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.
Wisconsin Court Records
The Wisconsin Court System has set up an online case search portal so that the public can review public Court records in Wisconsin from Circuit Courts and the Supreme Court. They call this system the Consolidated Court Automation Programs (CCAP) Case Management system. According to their website, "These records are open to public view under Wisconsin's open records law, sections 19.31-19.39, Wisconsin Statutes."
Some types of court records in Wisconsin 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 Wisconsin consists of four levels, with the top being the Supreme Court. After that, there is the Court of Appeals, Circuit Court, and the Municipal Court.
Wisconsin Arrest Records
Anyone can easily look up Wisconsin arrest records by using the The Wisconsin Department of Justice online criminal records check system. They offer criminal history, including arrests, arrest charges, prosecution, court findings, sentences, and state correctional system admissions and releases. You can also check the court's online portal and the Department of Corrections for information regarding arrests in Wisconsin.
Some different types of arrests records in Wisconsin are:
- Drug charges.
- Shopping cart theft.
- 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.
Wisconsin Vital Records
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services is the government agency in charge of vital records for the state. Their mission is stated as "filing, preserving, protecting, changing, and issuing copies of birth certificates, death certificates, marriage certificates, divorce certificates, and records of declaration of domestic partnership and termination of domestic partnership for events that occur in Wisconsin." You can request records in person, through the mail or online. They use the VitalChek network.
Other Public Records in Wisconsin
Along with criminal, court, arrest, and vital records, other types of public records you can find in the state of Wisconsin 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 Wisconsin?
In Wisconsin, not all records are public. Wisconsin's public records law has dozens of exceptions to the rule. Some of them include:
- "(1) Application of other laws. Any record which is specifically exempted from disclosure by state or federal law or authorized to be exempted from disclosure by state law is exempt from disclosure under s. [19.35 (1)](https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/document/statutes/19.35(1)), except that any portion of that record which contains public information is open to public inspection as provided in sub. [(6)](https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/document/statutes/19.36(6)).
- (2) Law enforcement records. Except as otherwise provided by law, whenever federal law or regulations require or as a condition to receipt of aids by this state require that any record relating to investigative information obtained for law enforcement purposes be withheld from public access, then that information is exempt from disclosure under s. [19.35 (1)](https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/document/statutes/19.35(1)) .
- (3) Contractors' records. Each authority shall make available for inspection and copying under s. [19.35 (1)](https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/document/statutes/19.35(1)) any record produced or collected under a contract entered into by the authority with a person other than an authority to the same extent as if the record were maintained by the authority. This subsection does not apply to the inspection or copying of a record under s. [19.35 (1) (am)](https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/document/statutes/19.35(1)(am)) .
- (4) Computer programs and data. A computer program, as defined in s. [16.971 (4) (c)](https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/document/statutes/16.971(4)(c)) , is not subject to examination or copying under s. [19.35 (1)](https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/document/statutes/19.35(1)), but the material used as input for a computer program or the material produced as a product of the computer program is subject to the right of examination and copying, except as otherwise provided in s. 19.35 or this section.
- (5) Trade secrets. An authority may withhold access to any record or portion of a record containing information qualifying as a trade secret, as defined in s. [134.90 (1) (c)](https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/document/statutes/134.90(1)(c)) .
- (6) Separation of information. If a record contains information that is subject to disclosure under s. [19.35 (1) (a)](https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/document/statutes/19.35(1)(a)) or [(am)](https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/document/statutes/19.35(1)(am)) and information that is not subject to such disclosure, the authority having custody of the record shall provide the information that is subject to disclosure and delete the information that is not subject to disclosure from the record before release.
- (7) Identities of applicants for public positions.
- (8) Identities of law enforcement informants.
- (9) Records of plans or specifications for state buildings. Records containing plans or specifications for any state-owned or state-leased building, structure or facility, or any proposed state-owned or state-leased building, structure, or facility are not subject to the right of inspection or copying under s. [19.35 (1)](https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/document/statutes/19.35(1)) except as the department of administration otherwise provides by rule.
- (10) Employee personnel records. Unless access is specifically authorized or required by statute, an authority shall not provide access under s. [19.35 (1)](https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/document/statutes/19.35(1)) to records containing the following information:
- (a) Information maintained, prepared, or provided by an employer concerning the home address, home electronic mail address, home telephone number, or social security number of an employee, unless the employee authorizes the authority to provide access to such information.
- (b) Information relating to the current investigation of a possible criminal offense or possible misconduct connected with employment by an employee prior to disposition of the investigation.
- (c) Information pertaining to an employee's employment examination, except an examination score, if access to that score is not otherwise prohibited.
- (d) Information relating to one or more specific employees that is used by an authority or by the employer of the employees for staff management planning, including performance evaluations, judgments, or recommendations concerning future salary adjustments or other wage treatments, management bonus plans, promotions, job assignments, letters of reference, or other comments or ratings relating to employees."