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Are Minnesota Records Public?

Many of the records and data created, used, and maintained by government agencies in Minnesota are considered public records. The Minnesota Government Data Practices Act defines public records as all data collected, created, received, maintained, or disseminated by a government entity. Public records may include photographic, photostatic, microphotographic, or microfilm records containing government data. All government data is public unless classified by statute or federal law as non-public or (for individuals) classified as private or confidential. The following records are considered public data in Minnesota:

  • Minnesota inmate records
  • Property records
  • Minnesota bankruptcy records
  • Minnesota sex offender information
  • Marriage records
  • Minnesota court records
  • Public Minnesota arrest records
  • Public divorce records

The Minnesota Government Data Act mandates that state agencies develop procedures that ensure record requests are received and handled promptly and appropriately. By contacting the custodial officer, a person may inspect or copy government data during official working hours.

Who Can Access Minnesota Public Records?

The Minnesota Government Data Act permits any person to request government data from a government entity Minnesota Statute 13.03(3a). “Person” in this definition stands for any individual, partnership, corporation, association, business trust, or legal representative of an organization (MS 13.02(10)). The person must be allowed to inspect or copy any non-exempt records at reasonable times and locations. If the requester asks, the data or any unclear parts of it, such as technical terms, acronyms, and abbreviations, must be explained by the designee. However, entities are not obliged to create data that does not exist or provide data in a specific medium unless the data is already stored in that form.

Do I Need to State My Purpose and Use When Requesting Public Records in Minnesota?

Government entities do not require requesters to state a purpose, justify a request or identify themselves to access public government data unless specifically authorized by statute. However, a person may be asked to provide certain identifying or clarifying information about the data for the sole purpose of helping to locate or access it (MS 13.05(12)).

What is exempted under the Minnesota Public Records Act?

The Minnesota Government Data Practices Act permits the designee of responsible authority in charge of the record to deny public data requests. These refusals or denials must be communicated to the requestor as soon as possible. The responsible authority is also in charge of redacting or removing confidential bits of public data and making the rest of it available. The government data practices act specifies exempt and confidential records, which include but are not limited to the following:

  • All personnel data of government agency employees except name, job title, dates of employment, complaints, disciplinary actions, dispute resolution, work location and telephone number, payroll, timesheets. This includes all information concerning any undercover agents. (MS 13.43.2)
  • All personal medical and health data is non-public except to the individuals practicing physician for the purpose of medical analysis. The information may also be disclosed to help identify health risks, provide treatment or perform an epidemiologic investigation.
  • All details of minors in foster care, foster care placement plans, and studies on foster care are labeled as confidential information (MS 13.467.1)
  • Security information for government employees or buildings, the release of which could jeopardize the security of life, information, and property, is exempt.
  • Employment and training data of individuals who have applied for or have enrolled in the state-funded employment program. This is considered private data and may only be disseminated among employment and training service providers (MS 13.47).
  • Domestic abuse data and personal information collected by law enforcement under the domestic abuse act is classified as confidential data (MS 13.80).
  • Consumer complaint data, including the initial complaints against business and any follow-up investigative material (MS 13.65.1(c)).

Where can I access Public Criminal Court Records in Minnesota?

Criminal court records in Minnesota can be obtained from the court administrator of the district court where the criminal case was heard. The Minnesota judicial system provides a court directory online where users can search distinct courts by county. Most district courthouses provide public service terminals where court records can be looked up at their premises. Another option is to locate criminal records online on the Minnesota Trial Court Public Access (MPA) Remote View portal. Users can perform searches from criminal case records on the portal using case number, defendant name, and attorney details.

How Do I Find Public Records in Minnesota?

Under the government data practices act, responsible authorities and designees in charge of public data must answer any public data requests they receive. The Data practices Office of the Minnesota Department of Administration explains how to request public records in a few simple steps.

  • Determine the type of information required and who to ask

When you determine the type of information you wish to request for the next step is to find out who is in custody of it. The data practices law mandates that government entities appoint a responsible authority or designee in charge of attending to public data requests. Next is to contact the government agency and ask for the name of this office as they are who you must direct your request to. This will avoid delays caused by addressing the request to the wrong person.

  • How to request the information

Each government entity may have its own set of procedures, but generally, requests can be made in writing or using the agency-provided request form. The data practice office provides a sample request letter as a guide for writing requests. The responsible authority may also direct you to another official who is in the custody of the information. Some agencies will require prepayment if the request wants copies made of the data being requested.

The government agency must respond if you ask to inspect a record or ask for copies of a record. It does not have to respond if asked to create data or ask vague questions. If requesting private data or data for which you are the subject, the agency may ask you to provide more information during the request.

Some public records may also be accessible from third-party websites. These non-government platforms come with intuitive tools that allow for expansive searches. Record seekers may either opt to use these tools to search for a specific record or multiple records. However, users must typically provide enough information to assist with the search, such as:

  • The name of the subject involved in the record (subject must be older than 18 or not juvenile)
  • The address of the requestor
  • A case number or file number (if known)
  • The location of the document or person involved
  • The last known or current address of the registrant

Third-party sites are not sponsored by government agencies. Because of this, record availability and results may vary.

How Much Do Public Records Cost in Minnesota?

The Government data act permits a person to inspect public data without paying a fee to the government agency. Inspection includes but is not restricted to visually inspecting paper and other similar forms of data for free. Where data is stored electronically, the entity may charge a fee for remote access to it and printing or downloading from where the data is stored (MS 13.03(3b)). If the person requires copies or electronic transmission of the data the government agency is allowed to charge a fee. This fee may be the actual costs of locating and collecting the data, including costs of employee time spent copying, certifying, or electronically transmitting the data. However, if 100 or fewer pages of paper copies are requested, the government entity is limited to charging $0.25 for each page. Government entities cannot charge the requester for separating public data from non-public or confidential data (MS 13.03(3c)).

The designee or responsible authority shall provide copies of public data when requested. If they cannot do so at the time the request is made, they must do so as quickly and reasonably as possible. Government entities may also charge extra fees if the records are to be used for commercial purposes.

How Do I Lookup Public Records for Free in Minnesota?

The chances of looking up a Minnesota public record for free will normally depend on the public record and the agency in the custody of it. For instance, most Minnesota district courthouses have installed public service terminals on their premises where you can search for public court records for free. Another good way to look up public records for free would be to visually inspect the record at the custodian’s office during office hours. You can also view certain public records for free online on the government entities' websites. The Minnesota Department of Corrections and Bureau of Criminal Apprehension provide offender search and predatory offender search tools for the state’s inmate and sex offender databases. Inspecting records in person or using certain online government databases are the best ways to avoid fees and to look up public records for free.

What Happens if I am Refused a Public Records Request

Whenever the responsible authority or designee of a government agency determines that for any reason, they must deny a request, they must inform the requester. They may tell the requester either orally at the time of an in-person request or in writing as soon as possible after receiving the request. Upon request of the requester, the designee must respond in writing stating that the request was denied and cite the reason it was denied. The responsible authority or designee must explain the statute, temporary classification, or federal law the denial was based on. Several measures can be taken if a requester feels they have been unfairly denied access to public records.

The requester can contact the Commissioner of Administration to issue a written opinion on the case regarding the data in question. The requester will pay the commissioner $200 for this opinion. If the commissioner decides that no opinion will be issued, they must inform the person who requested the opinion notice within five business days. If this notice is not given, the commissioner must issue an opinion within 20 business days of receipt of the request. This opinion has no binding on the government entity or the data in question but must be given deference in court or any proceedings involving the data (MS 13.072).

A complaint alleging a violation of the government data practices may be filed with the Office of Administrative Hearings (MS 13.085). The aim of this is to request an order to compel compliance from the government entity in question. The complaint must be filed within two years of the denial or failure to respond that is the subject of the complaint. The complaint must be in writing, detail the credible basis that a violation has occurred, and must be submitted under oath. The office may provide a standard form for the complaint, and the complaint must include a filing fee of $1000 or a bond to guarantee payment. When they receive the complaint, the office of administration must notify the responsible authority of the government entity in question. The responsible authority of the government entity must, in turn, issue a response to the complaint within 15 business days of receiving the notice. The chief administrative law judge will appoint an administrative law judge to review the complaint.

Within 20 days after the government entity’s response has been received, the administrative judge will issue a preliminary determination. This determination will either dismiss the complaint or schedule as there are sufficient facts to show a violation occurred and notify all parties of the details. The hearing will take place 30 business days after all parties have been notified of it. The judge will consider all evidence and arguments submitted until the hearing is closed. Following the hearing, the judge must determine if the violation stated in the complaint occurred and issue one of the following dispositions:

  • The judge may dismiss the complaint;
  • The judge may find that an act or failure to act constituted a violation of this chapter;
  • The judge may impose a civil penalty against the respondent of up to $300;
  • The judge could issue an order compelling the respondent to comply with a provision of law that has been violated, and may establish a deadline for production of data, if necessary; and
  • Then refer the complaint to the appropriate prosecuting authority for consideration of criminal charges.

The judge must issue their disposition within ten business days after the hearing closes.

Any person who suffers damages due to a willful act violation can file for civil remedies under MS 13.08. The government entity is liable to pay exemplary damages of no lower than $1,000, nor higher than $15,000 for each violation

How to Remove Names From Public Search Records?

Removing a name from a public record is a highly complex (and in most cases impossible) process. Achieving this will depend on the type of record. For instance, the process to expunge an eviction record and the process for a criminal record is very different from each other. Criminal expungement is the process whereby a judge is approached to seal records from a criminal court case and remove them from public view. The expungement process is carried out according to steps and rules set up by the Minnesota Judicial Branch. These steps include:

  • Gather a full criminal case history

The request must include the subject's full criminal case history. This includes both for Minnesota, which can be obtained from the Minnesota Bureau of Apprehension, and a full nationwide history which can be obtained by contacting the Federal Bureau of Investigation. A criminal record for other countries may also be required for a full criminal history. Before filling out the expungement forms, copies of all these records will be required.

  • Gather the expungement forms

The request will require a full set of expungement forms for each record that is to be expunged. These can be obtained from the clerk of courts where the case will be heard. The forms can also be downloaded from the forms section of the Minnesota State Courts website. A set of forms is required for each case to be expunged. This includes the following:

1. Notice of Hearing and Petition for Expungement (3 pages)

2. Order Concerning Sealing of Records (Conviction or No Conviction)(2 pages)

3. Affidavit of Service (1 page)

  • Get a hearing date

Before completing the forms, ask the court clerk to help get a hearing date. This must be from the county court where the crime to be expunged took place. Petitioners can do this in person. Some courts also allow it to be done over the phone. It is recommended to get a date 70 days or more from when the forms are being filled. This is to give enough time for the forms to be filled and copies made and sent to all the necessary parties. The hearing date must be at least 63 days from when the forms are mailed, or the hearing may be canceled. When a date is obtained, fill it into the forms.

  • Fill the forms completely and accurately.

Fill the expungement forms. Make sure all details are accurate and in order. The Minnesota Judicial Branch provides a step-by-step guide to expungement with several sections on filling the forms properly. This is a valuable resource and is very helpful when filling the forms.

  • Complete the form and mail copies of forms to appropriate agencies

After the copies of the forms are filled, the final sections must be signed in front of a notary public or county court clerk. Copies must be made of every complete form to be sent to the necessary agencies in the forms. All forms must be packed in separate envelopes for each record to be expunged, then arrange the packages for mailing. The process of notifying agencies of your petition for expungement is called the “service of process.” Court rules state that the person asking for expungement cannot also perform the service of process, so another adult must do this. This person must be over the age of 18 years and must have inspected the documents to be aware of their contents. After this, seal the envelopes and let this other person put the envelopes in the mailbox. They must then fill and sign the part of the form called the Affidavit of Service in front of a notary public.

  • File the original forms at the court

After the copies have been mailed, petitioners must take the original documents and other attachments to court for filing. It is vital to keep a set of copies of all the documents for your records. Ask the clerk in the court for the process to file for expungement, and they will say if a fee is needed. The fee will usually depend on if the petitioner was convicted of the crimes to be expunged. The normal fee is over $200, but it varies with each county in the state. The petitioner can fill further forms for a fee waiver which a judge will determine. If the judge allows the fee to be waived, then filing for expungement will cost nothing.

  • Attend the hearing

The hearing must be attended unless notice is received from the court stating that it is unnecessary to attend. The petitioner must arrive early and listen for their case, then follow the instructions given by the judge or clerk. It may be possible that they may not be asked to speak, which is why it is so important to fill the forms properly. At the end of the hearing, the judge will state his decision. The petitioner may receive a written order at that moment or receive the decision and a written order in the mail.

If the expungement petition is granted, the court will seal the records 60 days after the judge delivers his decision. Any agencies instructed to seal the records in their custody will also do so 60 days after they receive the judge’s decision. A full guide to expungement is provided online by the Minnesota Judicial Branch. This provides a step-by-step guide to the expungement process, including filling forms and other important information and instruction. Petitioners may want to consult this guide before or during their expungement process.

What is the Best Public Records Search Database?

Choosing the best public records search database will depend on the type of record being considered. Usually, the database operated by the government agency’s appointed custodian will be the best public record search database. In Minnesota, a lot of government agencies maintain public record databases online. For instance, in Hennepin County, the Hennepin Sheriff’s Office provides access to an online inmates roster that gives information on all inmates in custody. On the other hand, in Ramsey County, users may have access to records kept by the county recorder using the RecordEASE database for a small subscription fee. Dakota County also provides an inmate search tool that a user can use to find information on all current inmates at the county jail.

How Long Does it Take to Obtain a Minnesota Public Record

There is no specified time limit for the designee or the responsible authority to provide a public record when it is requested. However, the government public data act states that all public data requests must be handled promptly and appropriately. The time an entity takes to respond to a data request can depend on several factors, including:

  • The size and complexity of the government entity
  • The kind of data requested
  • The volume of data requested
  • Where the data is stored and how easy it is to retrieve
  • The clarity of the request when it was made
  • The number of staff who are available to respond to record requests

However, if you are the subject of the data you are requesting, the responsible authority must respond immediately or within ten business days.