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Are Ohio Records Public?

Whether government-generated records in Ohio are public or not depends on the kind of record. Ohio public records, pursuant to Ohio Revised Code 149.43 (A), include records generated or maintained by any public office, including but not limited to the state, a county, a city, a village, a township, or a school. Generally, the majority of the records generated or maintained by these public offices in the course of conducting their affairs are deemed to be public records. These public records include:

  • Ohio court records
  • Public criminal records and criminal history records
  • Public arrest records
  • Public inmate records
  • Public bankruptcy records
  • Public sex offender information

Private, protected, and sealed information are exempted from being public records. These include records of adoption proceedings, medical records, and records of trial preparation. Data may be stored as photographs, handwritten documents, recordings, or electronically. Interested persons can make requests to view or obtain copies of an Ohio public record by contacting the record custodian. Alternatively, requestors may conduct a paid or free public data search using the online public records databases maintained by official government agencies or third-party alternatives. In addition, requestors may opt to make a FOIA or public records act request to the appopriate record custodian.

Note: Ohio public records exclude private data of officers in public offices, including the custodian of the records. Private messages and emails are exempted from being court records. Also, preliminary notes and drafts are excluded from public records.

Who Can Access Ohio Public Records?

The Ohio Revised Code 149.43 (B)(1) provides that “all public records responsive to the request shall be promptly prepared and made available for inspection to any person”. Pursuant to state laws, any person within or outside state jurisdiction may make requests for public records in Ohio. The requester’s right includes the right to view, inspect, and make copies within a reasonable time. A requester may also be a juridical person such as corporations and limited liability companies. The requester’s right does not extend to information exempted from public records either by law or by a court order. If the requested public record contains information that is exempt, the custodian is still required to disclose the non-exempt part of the records to the requester. In such a case, the custodian should make the redaction clearly visible or notify the requester of the redaction. Records that are typically exempt from public disclosure may be available to persons eligible to access redacted background check information.

What is Exempted Under the Ohio Public Record Law?

The Ohio Revised Code exempts some records from being public. Requests for these records are usually declined in full if the entire record is not part of Ohio public records or the requests may be partly honored if only part of the record is exempted. Records that are exempted include:

  1. Medical records. Medical records of individuals are private information that cannot be disclosed to unauthorized persons. Access to medical records is limited to the subject of the medical record and other persons authorized by law. Ohio Revised Code 149.43 (A)(1a).
  2. Records of adoption proceedings. This exemption includes files maintained by the department of health. These records are private to protect the subjects of the records, who are usually children, and their privacy. Ohio Revised Code 149.43 (A)(1d).
  3. Selected vital records such as certified birth and death records
  4. Records of probation or parole proceedings. These records are only available to qualified persons. Also, this exemption extends to records of proceedings concerning sanctions controlled by the community and control sanctions imposed after release. Ohio Revised Code 149.43 (A)(1b).
  5. Confidential law enforcement investigatory records. Not all records of investigations conducted by law enforcement agents are open to the public, as some of these records are confidential. This is usually the case with law enforcement investigatory records that contain details of security procedures, records of the complainant, intelligence records, and information on ongoing investigations. The confidentiality of these records is in the interest of the public. Ohio Revised Code 149.43 (A)(1h).
  6. Trial preparation records. Documents that are used in preparation to bring an action or defend an action are exempted from public records. The information contained in the records may only become available to the public when the court records are public. Ohio Revised Code 149.43 (A)(1g).
  7. Child and juvenile records. Records of inmates released by the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to the Department of Youth Services regarding incarceration are exempted from public records. Records of children released by the Department of Youth Services to the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction are also private records. Ohio Revised Code 149.43 (A)(1l).
  8. Confidential records maintained by the department of job and family services are also exempted from Ohio public records, These records include private information regarding subjects whose data are maintained, such as place of employment, salary, information about the family, and personnel records according to Ohio Revised Code 149.43 (A)(1o).
  9. Residential and familial information of government officers. These officers include peace officers, probation officers, parole officers, bailiffs, firefighters, among others. Records containing this information are private and the disclosure may amount to a violation of the data subject’s right to privacy. Ohio Revised Code 149.43 (A)(1p).
  10. Records the disclosure of which is prohibited by federal or state law. Ohio Revised Code 149.43 (A)(1v). Therefore, the scope of records that are exempted may be increased by other laws besides the Ohio Revised Code 149.43.

Note: In the absence of a law or court-ordered exemption, records remain open to the public. Record exemptions are usually done to protect the personal information and privacy of individuals or in the interest of the public. If the request for the record is made in writing, Ohip statutes require that the reason for denial of any request for records must be in writing (Code 149.43 (B)(3)).

Where Can I Access Public Criminal Court Records in Ohio?

Interested persons may be able to access criminal court records by contacting the court clerks. The requests to court clerks may be made in person at the courthouse that heard the case, by mail, or online. County clerks may grant public access to free Ohio court records if the request is to view the record in person. For online requests, the person making the request would need to fill and submit the copy request form. After submitting the form, the requester would be contacted by phone or email regarding how to make payment from the request. In-person requests at the courthouse may be either to view or obtain copies of the records. There is a 50 cent charge for each page and an additional $11 charge for a certified copy. Requests can also be made to county clerks of the county where the court that heard the case is located.

Public criminal court records in Ohio are available through the case management system, the Public Access Court Electronic Records (PACER) system, and by requests to the clerk of the court. Requests made through the case management system are online. Users can make searches with either the name of the parties to the case or with the case number. A list of matching cases is shown from which the user can choose their specific case.

PACER grants access to public criminal court records in Ohio, including records not available in the case management system. However, users would need to register and log in. The first 150 pages of public records viewed through PACER within a year are free. However, each page after viewing 150 pages attract a charge of 10 cents.

It should be noted that criminal court records are different from from criminal records maintained by the state police department or county sheriff's office.

How Do I Find Public Records in Ohio?

Interested persons can view or obtain public records in Ohio by contacting the custodian of the records. The Ohio Revised Code requires that custodians of public records make the records available promptly when requests are made to view or copy the records. The requester would need to determine the information they seek and appropriately describe the record. This is because a clear description of the record is necessary to enable the custodian of the records to find the record. If the custodian cannot reasonably find the record, they may decline the request. The record can be identified with unique information such as the subject’s name, case number if it is a court record, and other identifying information.

Requesters will also need to contact the custodian of the records. The custodian of the records depends on the record being sought. Ohio Vital Records are maintained by the Ohio Department of Health. Persons interested in Ohio death records and Ohio divorce records can contact the Department of Health to obtain the records. Court records are maintained by the clerks of the court. Therefore, the person seeking the record would need to find out the official or office in charge of maintaining and providing access to the records. Similarly, criminal records are maintained by the state police department and divorce records by the county clerks' office.

After identifying the custodian of the records, the next step is to make a request for the records or a copy of the records. It is advisable for requesters to make their requests in writing even though this is not necessary. The Ohio Court of Claims provides a sample public request form. Generally, the request should contain:

  • The kind of record being sought
  • The requester’s contact information
  • A description of the record
  • The form the record should be supplied in, whether electronic or physical copies
  • Any other information that would aid the custodian in finding the record

The requester may submit the request by mail or in person. The requester may also be required to pay fees for data extraction, making copies, or delivery.

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. Restricted vital records are also unavailable through these sites. Rather, requesting parties interested in accessing public records may query the relevant Ohio department responsible for maintaining the record of interest.

How Much Do Public Records Cost in Ohio?

The Ohio Revised Code provides that all persons should have free access to records (149.43). However, this is subject to the fees that may be charged for making copies of the records and providing the records by mail. The fees may vary based on the particular record being requested. The amount charged for copies to be made is predetermined and the law does not set a limit on the amount that may be charged. However, requesters can make inquiries while making requests to find out how much the copies of the record being sought would cost. Also, the payment is to be made before the record is received.

Persons interested in accessing public records for free may also utilize online public records databases. To search public records using these sites, the requesting party must provide the information requested for facilitating the record search. However, the state public records laws disallow these databases from providing certain kinds of data. To obtain records exempt from public disclosure, requestors must make a public record request to the relevant agency.

How Do I Look Up Public Records in Ohio for Free?

Whether or not a public record in Ohio can be obtained for free depends on the record, the custodian of the record, and how the request is made. Free public records in Ohio are available in some cases. Merely viewing the records at the physical location of the custodian does not attract any charges. This may be done for arrest records and incident reports with police departments and court records with courthouses. Agencies that provide the option to physically view the records usually have lobbies and terminals that interested persons can use to conduct free public records search during business hours. Electronic copies of some records can also be obtained. Some county clerks maintain websites that can be used to search for public records. Sex offender and inmate information can also be obtained online at no cost. However, obtaining copies of the records or having the records sent by mail will attract fees. Offices with public terminals include the county clerks office, the court clerks office as well as the county recorder’s office. Selected third-party aggregate sites also offer free public records.

Do I Need to State My Purpose When Requesting Public Records in Ohio?

Any person making a request for public records in Ohio does not need to state their purpose for any request. Under Ohio Revised Code 149.43(B)(5), requests can be made either in writing or orally. Requests may even be made anonymously. The custodian of the records may ask for the requester’s identity, may ask the requester to make the request in writing, or may request for the purpose of the request. However, this should only be done after the custodian of the records has informed the requester that none of these pieces of information are required under the law. The custodian should only ask for the information where it shall be instrumental in searching for the requested record. The purpose of the request may be required pursuant to Ohio Revised Code 149.43 (B)(7c) if the requester makes requests through a website or to be delivered by the United States mail. This is because the requester may be required to show that the purpose of the request is not commercial if more than ten requests are made in a month.

What Happens if I Am Refused a Public Records Request?

Record seekers who are wrongfully denied access to records by a public office may bring claims in several courts. However, it is important to first obtain a reason for the denial. Public officers do not have to provide a reason in writing if the request is not made in writing. This is why it is advisable to make requests in writing. Ohio Revised Code 149.43 (B)(3) requires officers denying a written request to state their reason for denying the request in writing. The requester may also make an appeal to know the reason for the denial if the request was not made in writing. The requester may then bring an action once they know the reason for the denial and the reason is wrongful.

The options available to the record seeker that was wrongfully denied include either filing a writ of mandamus in the county common pleas court or local court of appeal or filing a complaint in the court of claims. However, Ohio Revised Code 149.43 (C)(1) requires the record seeker to choose one or the order, as they cannot file both a writ of mandamus and a complaint in the court of claims. It is best to discuss the options and potential remedies with an attorney. To file a complaint with the court of claims, the requester would need to complete and submit the Public Records Access Formal Complaint Form and attach the relevant documents. There is a $25 fee. The complaint may be filed at:

Ohio Court of Claims
The Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center
65 South Front Street, 3rd Floor
Columbus, OH 43215

One of the remedies for a wrongful denial of a request for public records submitted in person or by mail is statutory damages of $100 for each business day the records were not provided. The time for the determination of the statutory damages begins to count from when the requester sues. Per Ohio public records laws, the most the court may award in damages is $1,000. The court may also award attorney fees and court costs to the successful party. The law requires that the court should award the costs if the public office completely ignores the request or fails to provide the record after stating that the record would be provided within a particular frame of time. In all other cases, the award of costs by the court is discretionary. Also, the court usually requires the public office to make the record available. To avoid being denied access to public information, requestors may search public records using the self-service option or conduct a public data search using the online resources maintained by state government agencies.

How to Remove Names From Public Search Records?

Individuals whose names appear in public records can only remove their names through either a state statute or by obtaining a court order. To remove a name from a record based on the provisions of a state statute, the person would need to show that the record is part of the exemption list recognized by state laws (Ohio Revised Code 149.43). Medical records, child or juvenile records, and records of adoption proceedings are some records that are exempted under the statute. The Ohio Revised Code 2953.32 permits some individuals to apply to the court to seal or expunge their records.

Expunged records are erased or destroyed, while sealed records are still kept but they are stored separately from other records and securely. In Ohio, adult convictions cannot be expunged or completely erased. However, once records are sealed, the person does not have to disclose the conviction, arrest, or charge. It is deemed as though the offense never occurred. The only exceptions are military service, law enforcement jobs, and working with some particularly vulnerable people, for which the records need to be disclosed. Sealed records are maintained by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation. Arrest records and records in which a person was not convicted may be sealed. Individuals can have an unlimited number of misdemeanors sealed and a limited number of non-violent and non-sexual felonies.

However, some convictions cannot be sealed. First- and second-degree felonies cannot be sealed. Under the Ohio Revised Code section 2901.01(A)(9), violent offenses cannot be sealed. To have a conviction sealed, the conviction should have been fully discharged. This includes:

  • The completion of any jail or prison sentence
  • The payment of court costs
  • The payment of any due restitution
  • The completion of any parole or probation

According to the provisions of the Ohio Public Records Act, individuals can apply to have records sealed in cases of convictions within one to five years, depending on the crime. Petitions may be made to the Ohio superior court.

What is the Best Public Records Search Database?

The best public records search database depends on the kind of record being sought. However, government agencies at different levels within Ohio make public records available through databases. For instance, Ohio provides information on sex offenders through a Sex Offender Search Portal. The information contained in the portal is regularly updated and includes information on both registered and non-compliant sex offenders in Ohio. Users can search the database by location, name, or check a list of the non-compliant offenders. Rather than search public records, users can also register to be informed if a sex offender relocates to a location close to them. The information provided on sex offenders includes a picture, name, age, address, and tier.

Some public records databases are also maintained by counties. The Office of the Sheriff in Franklin County provides a web portal to search for inmates within the county. Users can search for inmates by their names using the web portal. Also, the Hamilton County Court Clerk maintains a database of court records for cases determined by courts within the County. Users can search for cases by name, case number, the court that determined the case, or the type of case.

How Long Does It Take to Obtain an Ohio Public Record?

Ohio public records are usually made available within a few business days. Ohio Revised Code 149.43 does not state the time limit within which the custodian of court records is to make the records available. However, the law requires that the record should be provided “promptly”. Within the period of receiving the request and responding to the request, the custodian would need to determine whether the record is one that is a public record and can be shown to members of the public.

After this, the state or local agency prepares a response to the FOIA or public records act request. A reason for the decision has to be provided if the request is declined. The reason for the denial should also include legal authority that supports the custodian’s denial of the records. If the denial is because the requester did not specifically describe the record to allow the custodian to reasonably find the record, the custodian should state this reason and give the requester the opportunity to amend their request.

Record custodians are required to make the record (or copies of the record) available to the requester if the request is successful. Requesters must typically pay any applicable fees before they access public information maintained by the custodian. The time required to process and respond to each request may differ based on several factors, such as the record being requested, the custodian of the record, and when the request is made. Some records need to be compiled or extracted. Also, records that contain personal information need to have such personal information redacted. Some old records are also stored in a different location than where the custodian is located, especially where it is an old record. Also, same-day service is provided by some custodians and these requests are processed more quickly. However, the most expedited option to make a public record request is to search public records online.

Is Public Data Search Safe?

A public data search refers to the act of searching for and retrieving information that is available to the public. This type of search can be conducted online or offline, and the results may include anything from criminal records to property ownership information.

While public data searches can be useful for a variety of purposes, there are also some risks associated with them. For example, persons searching for public records using third-party aggregate sites independent of government-run may inadvertently find information that is inaccurate or out of date. Additionally, some types of public data (such as medical records) are protected by privacy laws, so accessing them through unauthorized sources or methods and using them for official government functions will put the user at risk of facing criminal prosecution or being apprehended by a law enforcement agency.