Table of Contents
- 1What Are Public Records?
- 2Public Records Laws in Massachusetts
- 3Who Has Access to Public Records
- 4What Happens If I am Denied Access?
- 5What About Privacy?
- 6Why Access Public Records
- 7Criminal Records / Arrest Records
- 8Warrants and Most Wanted Records in Massachusetts
- 9Jail and Inmate Records
- 10Sex Offender Records
- 11Missing Person Records
- 12Court Records
- 13Driving Records
- 14Vehicle Records
- 15Property Records
- 16Unclaimed Property Records
- 17Voter Registration Records
- 18Wills and Probate Records
- 19Vital Records
- 19.1Birth Certificates
- 19.2Marriage Certificates
- 19.3Divorce Certificates
- 19.4Death Certificates
As one of the first states in the Union, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is undeniably committed to protecting your rights as a citizen.
One of those rights is the freedom to access any information that is considered part of the public record.
A democracy functions well only with transparency, when its citizens are empowered to take part in government directly by reviewing public records. While there are some exceptions to what you can access, most of the information you are likely to need will be available to you.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts makes it relatively easy for you to access public records.
As of 2017, state law requires every government agency at every level, including municipalities, to have its own Records Access Officer (RAO).
The creation of the RAO within each government agency throughout the state of Massachusetts makes it easier for you to submit a request and find what you are looking for.
However, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts does not maintain one centralized database of all public records. No state in the union does.
Rather, you still do have to contact the appropriate state, county, or local agency that is in control of those records.
Don’t know who to contact? Not a problem. This article will help guide you in the right direction so you can quickly and easily find the public records you are looking for in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
What Are Public Records?
Public records refer to government documents and proceedings of local and state meetings. It also refers to an individual’s personal data or records held by individual state or local agencies.
Specific definitions of public records in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts can be found in MGL c.4 s. 7 cl. 26 Definition of Public Records.
Public Records Laws in Massachusetts
The Massachusetts Public Records Law guarantees freedom of information and judicious access to public records.
MGL c.66 Public Records offers more information about public records laws in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
The MGL c.66A Fair Information Practices Act outlines the state government’s obligation to help the public access public records.
St. 2016, c.121 (H4333), or the Act to Improve Public Records, became effective in January of 2017. The Act to Improve Public Records makes important changes that impact how records can be accessed, who can access them, and how the state works to protect the privacy of its citizens.
Of course, the federal Freedom of Information Act also pertains to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Who Has Access to Public Records
Public records such as legislative or council proceedings can be accessed by almost anyone, as long as the records are not exempt from freedom of information laws.
For example, if a record contains state secrets or anything that would threaten national security, your request to access that record may be denied.
Likewise, if you are not a party authorized to access a person’s records such as criminal history or vital records, then your request may be denied.
The Office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth more clearly outlines the rules and regulations related to accessing Massachusetts’s public records.
What Happens If I am Denied Access?
You could be denied access to the Massachusetts public records you seek for a number of reasons.
Perhaps you did not give the necessary information for processing the request, such as proper identification.
Alternatively, your request might be denied because you did not pay the fees.
In some cases, your request could be denied because the agency claims that document is exempt from public records law.
In any of these cases, you can appeal your denial of access to public records in Massachusetts.
You may submit an appeal in email or in a letter.
What About Privacy?
Massachusetts state law does protect the privacy of individuals by preventing unauthorized access to personal records such as background and criminal checks or vital records.
Section 2 of the 950 CMR 32 Public Records Access Regulations deals extensively with matters of privacy protections and your rights in Massachusetts.
To access public records that contain an individual’s personal information, you need to have a legitimate claim.
You can prove that you are accessing your own public records by providing correct identification.
Authorized third parties may include other government agencies, and some employers when you agree to release your records as part of your application process.
Therefore, when you apply for a job, make sure you recognize when you have authorized your employers to access your records.
Why Access Public Records
There are many reasons to access public records.
State government records, including budgets and financial reports, meeting notices, minutes of open meetings, and other proceedings of the democracy are relatively easy to locate.
You can access information related to business permits, land use records, hazardous waste sites, and more because all of this is considered public information.
The Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts office offers direct access to these types of government records.
- You may also want to access public records because you are doing research, or need information for your own legal case.
- You have the right to access your own vital records or criminal records.
- If you are a homeowner, you may have the right to conduct limited background checks on your tenants or applicants so you know if they have criminal backgrounds.
- Employers in specific sectors such as childcare, senior care, education, healthcare, and some government agencies may have the right to access your records when you apply for a job or if you are a current employee.
- Applying for professional licenses or certifications
- Applying for residency or citizenship
How to Access…
Criminal Records / Arrest Records
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts maintains two distinct types of criminal records.
1. Criminal Offender Information Form (CORI)
The first type is maintained by the Massachusetts Courts, in conjunction with the Department of Criminal Justice Information Services.
This type of background check is also referred to as CORI.
It is a name-based criminal background check, and does not include any biometrics.
If you are authorized to access a person’s criminal history, you can conduct a CORI, name-based criminal background check in Massachusetts.
If you are searching for your own criminal records, you would need to use the Self-Audit CORI form.
2. Statewide Applicant Fingerprint Identification Services (SAFIS-R)
The second type of criminal records kept in Massachusetts are linked to biometrics databases, such as for fingerprints.
These biometrics records are created by local police departments, but submitted to the state Criminal Justice Information Service.
Called SAFIS-R, the fingerprint database is accessible only by employees of approved agencies, usually within the criminal justice system.
Therefore, your fingerprints are not considered a public record.
Your privacy is as important as your right to access public records.
Therefore, if you believe that your criminal justice background information was unlawfully released, or accessed by an unauthorized party, you can file a complaint.
To file a formal complaint, make sure you have some sort of documentation of the violation and use this form.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has clear rules as to what information can and cannot be released.
Warrants and Most Wanted Records in Massachusetts
Whether for yourself or someone else, you may need to search for pending arrest warrants. You may simply want to know if someone is on a list of wanted persons or persons of interest.
The Massachusetts Department of Corrections maintains a database of the state’s most wanted persons.
Likewise, the Massachusetts State Police has a Most Wanted List.
Counties in Commonwealth of Massachusetts also maintain their own “most wanted” lists.
The local division of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration also maintains a searchable database of wanted individuals in Massachusetts.
Victims also have the right to know the status of perpetrators in unresolved cases, and the Victim Information and Notification Everyday (VINE) service can be used in these cases.
Jail and Inmate Records
The Massachusetts Department of Corrections maintains records for current inmates.
You may want to search the current inmate database for any reason.
You can also search the Massachusetts inmate database through VINE.
- You want to send money to an inmate
- You want to locate a friend or family member
- You want to find out how much time a person is serving in prison
To find an inmate you can use the online search for each Massachusetts county.
Sex Offender Records
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts maintains a sex offender registry.
This registry is maintained by a separate state entity called the Sex Offender Registry Board.
Searching the Sex Offender Registry Board in Massachusetts empowers individuals and families with information.
The records may help you to make decisions about where to live in the Commonwealth.
Missing Person Records
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts maintains a database of all persons reported missing by State Police.
For searches for missing children, you can also search the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children database.
Before you access court records in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, you need to know the jurisdiction. Some cases will be tried at the state level, in the state court system.
State cases are those heard in the following:
- The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC)
- The Massachusetts Appeals Court,
- The Massachusetts Trial Court.
To access any court records from the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC), Appeals Court, and Trial Court, you can visit the Executive Office of the Trial Court website.
However, not all cases are tried at the state level. Many cases are heard in municipal courts, like the Boston Municipal Court.
Other trial courts within the state of Massachusetts include the following:
District Court, which hears both criminal and civil cases in 62 locations across Massachusetts.
- Housing Court, which would handle cases related to evictions or civil cases related to situations like property damage, discrimination in renting, or personal injury
- Juvenile Court, which focuses on most issues pertaining to juveniles in Massachusetts.
- Land Court, which would handle any local property issues such as zoning or planning.
- Probate and Family Court, which handles issues such as divorce cases or disputes over family will and trust in Massachusetts.
- Superior Court, which handles major felony cases or large claims civil cases.
A record that does contain information about driving-related offenses, your driving record is maintained by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Registrar of Motor Vehicles.
For example, the driving record will include instances of traffic violations or DUIs.
If you are searching for your own driving record, you would submit a request for an Unattested Public Driving Record.
Similarly, if you are an employer who wants to conduct a driver record check on a potential employee, you would search the Unattested Public Driving Record.
The Unattested Public Driving Record will contain relevant information about the individual’s civil and driving offenses or license suspensions.
If you are an employee of the courts or similarly authorized, you can also request access to a person’s True and Attested Driving Record. This record is generally used only in court cases and other official purposes.
In some cases, you may need to release access to your full driving record, your True and Attested Driving Record. For example, if you are applying to be a commercial driver, your employer may be authorized to request your full, True and Attested Driving Record.
You may need to do this at the request of a government agency or employer.
The Registrar of Motor Vehicles in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts maintains vehicle registration data.
There are several ways you can search for property records in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
One of the easiest methods is to go directly to the Massachusetts Land Courts website, where you can find all public records related to standing orders and rulings by the land courts.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is divided into 21 individual registry districts, each with its own Register of Deeds.
Each Register of Deeds holds public records related to real estate ownership.
Therefore, another way is to use the Massachusetts Land Records website, where you can search each registry district individually.
Alternatively, you can search the county or district public records for land and real estate records individually.
Property foreclosure records are also maintained both at the state and local levels in Massachusetts.
You are in your best interest to search property records if you are a first-time home buyer, or may need to do so if you are facing foreclosure and want to know your rights.
Alternatively, you may need to search for property tax information, which is maintained at the town or municipal level in Massachusetts. You may need tax information if you are interested in purchasing or selling property.
You can conduct a search for liens in the state of Massachusetts, too.
Unclaimed Property Records
Unclaimed property includes bank accounts, safety deposit boxes, insurance policies, stocks, bonds, or wages.
The Massachusetts State Treasurer maintains an Unclaimed Property Division, which holds unclaimed funds.
The State Treasurer will hold the unclaimed property indefinitely, until the rightful heir or original owner submits a valid request.
If you have unclaimed property in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, or are the heir to unclaimed property, you can use this form to conduct an initial search.
Voter Registration Records
Individual cities or towns in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts maintain voter records.
However, you can search for your own voter registration status in Massachusetts through the Secretary of the Commonwealth website.
Wills and Probate Records
To find copies of your own family’s probate records, or any case related to a will, trust, or estate in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, you can search for such records through the state’s Probate and Family Court dockets.
You might need information related to a divorce, in order to settle a financial dispute, or proof of parental guardianship to settle a matter related to a will. There is a fee associated with obtaining a copy of records like these.
Vital records refer to birth, death, and marriage certificates. If a birth, death, marriage, or divorce takes place in the state of Massachusetts, then you may search for those records using a statewide, centralized database.
The statewide database is maintained by the Registry of Vital Records and Statistics.
If you need to make any amendments to your own vital records, such as a name change, you can do so on the Registry of Vital Records and Statistics website.
Although the state does maintain vital records, you may still want to contact an individual county.
If you or a close relative was born in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, you can submit a request for a copy of the birth certificate.
You can also submit your request using the third party system VitalChek.
Your request should include as much information as possible, such as:
- The person’s name
- Date of birth
- Place of birth
- Your identification—to prove you are the person, or that you are a close relative or legal guardian.
There is a fee associated with processing your request for a copy of the birth certificate.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Registry of Vital Records and Statistics maintains copies of all marriage certificates obtained in the state.
You can submit a request for a copy of an existing marriage certificate directly through the Registry.
You can also use the VitalChek website to submit a request for the copy of the marriage certificate.
It may take several weeks to process the request, and there is a fee involved.
Also, you must prove that you are one of the parties in the marriage or a close relative by submitting a copy of your identification with your request.
The Massachusetts Registry of Vital Records and Statistics does not maintain a list of divorce records, because these are considered court cases.
However, the Registry of Vital Records and Statistics can provide you with the information you need to submit a request for divorce records.
You can find out which probate court the divorce was granted in, including the docket number.
Death certificates are also maintained by the Registry of Vital Records and Statistics.
Although you do not need to say why you need the copy of the certificate, you will need information such as:
- The person’s name
- Date of birth
- Place of birth
- Your identification—to prove you are the person, or that you are a close relative or legal guardian.
As with other vital records, you may have to pay for the copy of the death certificate.
You can also use the VitalChek online resource to submit a request for a death certificate in Massachusetts.
If you are searching for vital records as part of your genealogy research, you can access some historical records maintained in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
For example, you can search archived obituaries in Massachusetts.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts makes it relatively easy for you to locate public records. This website makes it even easier for you to conduct public records searches in Massachusetts by showing you exactly where to look for specific information.
For whatever reason, you have the right to search public records and request copies for yourself.
Unlike many other states, Massachusetts does maintain centralized, statewide databases of information that is typically stored at the local level, including criminal records and vital records.
Generally, public records that relate to legislation or government proceedings, to issues related to land use or public works, are accessible to you as long as the information is not exempt. Examples of exemptions to freedom of information laws would include trade secrets or information that could jeopardize public safety.
Public records that contain personal information, such as your criminal history or vital records, can also be accessed. However, the law does also protect your privacy. You will need to provide proof of your identity when seeking your own personal records.
If you are an employer, a landowner, or anyone who wants to seek someone else’s criminal background check or other information, you may need to receive the person’s express authorization to do so.