Looking for public records or background checks in the state of Michigan?

Although Michigan notoriously lags behind many other states on its public records laws, you still do have a legal right to access public records.

Finding public records laws in Michigan is not always difficult, and in some cases can be quite easy.

This guide will help you understand what to expect when you initiate a search or request for a public record.

Depending on the type of public record you need, you may need to present some identification or authorization. Not all public records are public in the sense that any person can see them, and there are government records that are kept classified for a number of reasons.

Generally speaking, the public has a legal right to access documents that have been created by public agencies—institutions that are funded by the taxpayer.

The government actually has the burden of proof to deny your request, and usually denials are due to legitimate reasons.

This guide will teach you more about Michigan public records laws, and then help you locate the appropriate state agency where you can make a freedom of information request.

What Are Public Records?

“Public records” is a broad term referring to documents, files, and multimedia of all types that were created, maintained, and stored by a public (ie. government) agency or organization.

In some cases, a private organization may hold public records, as when the government has outsourced some documentation service or used a private organization as a subcontractor.

For the most common public records requests in Michigan, you will be dealing with things like:

  • Driving Records
  • Criminal Background Checks
  • Court Records
  • Arrest Records
  • Jail or Prison Inmate Records
  • Vital Records like birth certificates or death certificates
  • Property Records

Public records can refer to images and maps just as much to typewritten documents.

With digitalization and online storage, Michigan has made many more public records readily available to you as a resident.

The Internet also makes it easier and quicker for you to find what you are looking for, and while you can phone or submit a report in writing, in most cases all you need to do is submit an online request.

You may have to pay for any printed copies of the public records you need, and in some cases pay for the service, but many service requests are free.

Some public records are truly public, such as the proceedings of state legislature meetings or trials in court.

Other public records are actually private files on individual citizens like you: such as your personal background check or your driving record.

To protect your privacy, only authorized persons or organizations can access your personal data.

Public Records Laws in Michigan

In 1976, Michigan’s State Legislature passed the Freedom of Information Act (MCL 15.231 et. seq.).

The Michigan Freedom of Information Act is modeled after the federal Freedom of Information Act.

Freedom of information laws like these are critical to a democracy, as they empower the individual and the populace to participate fully in the process of self-governance.

Exceptions to freedom of information are made in the interests of public safety: such as needing to protect state secrets in the interests of national security or to protect trade secrets to promote free enterprise.

The Michigan Freedom of Information act protects your right to access public records.

The Michigan Freedom of Information Act also mandates how government agencies operating within the state must keep and disseminate records upon request to the public, according to the principle of open government.

The Freedom of Information Act in Michigan has been updated several times since 1976. Learn more about Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act.

How Do I Find…

Criminal Records / Background Checks

One of the most common public records requests in Michigan is the background check.

Also known as a criminal history check or a search for criminal records, this request is common for several reasons.

Employers commonly conduct background checks during the hiring process. While these types of background checks are usually legal, it is illegal in the State of Michigan—and nationwide—to discriminate against an applicant.

Another common request for criminal history or background checks is from professional organizations.

If you are applying for a professional license in the State of Michigan or a professional certification, then the governing organization may be required to conduct background checks. This is especially true for education, healthcare, and other professions in which you work with vulnerable populations.

In the State of Michigan, the Michigan State Police maintain the Criminal Justice Information Center.

When you need a background check, you can use the system on the Michigan State Police.

There are two types of background checks you can request: one based on the name, and the other on fingerprints.

There are different procedures for each type of background check, and the latter is more commonly used by law enforcement agencies.

Both types of criminal history or background checks are done through the Michigan State Police IChat system:

Make an IChat request.

Court Records

Cases that were heard at the top courts in Michigan, including the State Supreme Court and the Michigan Court of Appeals can be searched online through the Michigan Courts website.

Almost all court records are considered public records, to keep court proceedings open by law. However, some records may be exempt from freedom of information laws because they contain sensitive information.

Otherwise, you can access court records in Michigan.

You can search by case docket number for Michigan Supreme Court or Court of Appeals public records.

However, the majority of civil and criminal court records in Michigan will be held at the county level.

The only way to find the public records associated with cases heard in county courts is to visit the county court office or office of the county clerk.

The following types of courts exist in the State of Michigan:

  • Circuit Courts
  • District Courts
  • Municipal Courts
  • Claims Courts
  • Concurrent Jurisdiction and Unified Trial Courts

To find Michigan public records in county courts, find out the jurisdiction of the case and then visit the county court website.

Why search for court records?

Even if you are not an attorney, you have a right to search for court records. Court records are public records and are covered by state and federal freedom of information acts.

Unless information is protected by the attorney-client privilege, or is information that would be damaging to national security, the courts are obliged to release the public records to you.

However, juvenile court records are generally not considered public records.

Jail and Prison Records

You also have the right to search for inmate files in the state of Michigan.

The Michigan Department of Corrections now has the Offender Tracking Information System.

With the Offender Tracking Information System, you can look up anyone who is currently serving a sentence, in a state prison, or as a parolee or probationer.

Use the Offender Tracking Information System (OTIS) now.

If you are searching for someone serving a term in a county jail, then you may need to contact that county directly.

Some components of inmate records are considered public records, such as the location and sentencing information.

Victims and their families often want to know where perpetrators are serving time, and when perpetrators are being released. In some cases, victim restitution programs encourage communication between offenders and victims.

The friends and family members of inmates also have a right to search for their loved ones using the Offender Tracking Information System.

You may also need to send money to an inmate, and can locate that individual more easily using this guide.

Driving Records

Driving records can contain sensitive information, which is why there are different types of public records related to your personal driving history.

The most straightforward request for a Michigan driver’s record is for you to request your own record.

To request your own Michigan driving record, use this form.

Certain authorized parties can access your driving record in the State of Michigan.

To request someone else’s driving record, use this form.

Michigan’s Department of State makes it fairly easy for third parties, such as employers, to request a person’s driving record.

You may be interested in a person’s driving record for a number of reasons.

  • You are hiring a babysitter and want to make sure they are a safe driver.
  • You are considering between several job applicants.
  • You want to conduct a background check on a potential tenant.
  • You are an employer and need a driving record to determine the person’s level of responsibility.

Some government agencies, both within the State of Michigan and outside, may also have a right to access your driving record.

The process by which government agencies request and receive individual driving records is different from when you make a personal request on your own or another’s behalf.

Government agency requests for another person’s driving record use this form.

There is a fee for copies of your driving record, or someone else’s records.

If it is a crash report you are seeking, for whatever reason, then you would visit the Michigan State Police Traffic Crash Purchasing System.

Information related to driving records and traffic crashes may be helpful when settling disputes with insurance companies or lawsuits related to car crashes and traffic accidents.

Sex Offender Records

Many states, Michigan included, maintain a database of registered, convicted sex offenders.

In fact, Michigan’s Legislature passed a law (Act 295), which mandates that state law enforcement keep a sex offender registry.The reason for this is simple: the knowledge keeps the public safe. The public is empowered with information that will help them make choices related to their residence and schools.

Educators and school administrators also have a responsibility to be aware of the presence of known sex offenders in their communities. Being knowledgeable helps keep the children and all residents of the community safe.

However, the sex offender databases cannot be used for nefarious purposes, such as to harass or assault the persons on the list.

The sex offender databases in Michigan are to be used for information purposes only.

It is easy to search the sex offender registry.

Missing Persons Records

The pain of not knowing where a missing adult or child is, or whether they are safe, can be unbearable.

You have access to public records related to missing persons in the State of Michigan.

Search for a missing or abducted child in the State of Michigan through the State Police website.

If need be, contact the local police department for more information about missing persons: adults or children.

You can also find out more information about missing persons who may have crossed state lines by using the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) website.

When children and adults go missing and are formally reported to the local police, that information does become public record so that you can find out more and do whatever you can to help.

Unclaimed Property

Most state treasury departments take charge of any unclaimed cash, wages, or stocks.

The Michigan Department of Treasury has an easy way for you to locate any unclaimed property that is in your name.

You may be the original owner of that property, or the authorized benefactor. In any case, you will need to present proper identification to claim the funds from the Michigan Department of Treasury.

Keep in mind unclaimed property does not refer to real estate property.

Only cash, the items in a safety deposit box, stocks and bonds, earnings from stock dividends or wages from work, insurance policy payouts, or unclaimed deposits from utilities companies are some of the types of unclaimed property that many Michigan residents are sometimes unaware they even have.

In the last five years alone, over $400 million has been returned to the rightful owners in the State of Michigan alone.

Check for unclaimed property in Michigan now!

Voter Registration

Voting is the most powerful right you can exercise in a democracy.

For that reason, you should always stay on top of your own voter records, and have access to your own voter registration information in Michigan.

The Michigan Voter Information Center has an easy way for you to look up your voter registration information online.

You can search for your information by name, address, or driver license number.

If you recently moved, you will need to check this information for your future polling places or to find out how to receive an absentee ballot for an upcoming election.

While other people may be able to check that you are registered, they cannot discover the personal information associated with your voting information such as your home address, your email address, or your ID number.

Wills and Probate Records

Searching for wills or probate records in Michigan?

Many people conduct these types of searches for genealogical research.

Historic records are archived, making the search for new or recent will and probate records in Michigan a little more difficult.

Wills are private records unless a will is contested or settled in probate court.

Therefore, if you are searching for a will you may not be able to find what you are seeking necessarily.

If you are searching for probate records in the state of Michigan, you would need to find out the county in which the probate was settled, and then contact that Michigan County Probate Court.

People seek probate records for personal reasons, for family research, or for legal purposes as when disputing a will.

A list of Michigan County Probate Courts.

Property Records

People often search for public records related to a piece of property.

Usually that is because you are investigating the background of that property because you are interested in making a purchase, or perhaps it is related to settling a will or estate.

With few exceptions, property records are maintained locally.

The best way to search for property records in the State of Michigan would be to find out first what county that property is in.

Then, search for property records by Michigan County.

Some Michigan properties may be listed in the Michigan Land Bank Fast Track Authority database.

Vital Records

Vital records refers to anything like birth, death, marriage, and divorce records.

These types of records are public records, in the sense that they are maintained by public offices in the interests of public health, but not all of the information in vital records will be released to the general public.

Searching for vital records is among the most common types of public records searches in Michigan.

There are fees associated with copies of your vital records, such as when you want a copy of your Michigan birth certificate or marriage certificate.

In Michigan, vital records are maintained by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Thankfully, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services makes it easy for you to search for birth certificates, marriage records, divorce records, and death certificates online through a centralized third party database known as VitalChek.

Search the VitalChek for your vital records in Michigan now.With VitalChek, you can pay with a credit card online and your request will be processed as quickly as possible.

People need copies of vital records for many reasons.

When you are applying for a formal name change, moving to a new country, adopting a child, applying for a work visa, getting married or divorced, or settling a will, you need official copies of vital records in the state of Michigan.

Here is how to find the different types of vital records.

Birth Certificates

If you need an official copy of a birth certificate for someone who was born in the State of Michigan, birth certificates or birth records of all types can be found through the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Search for birth certificates.

Keep in mind that only you or an immediate relative may be eligible to receive an official birth certificate in the State of Michigan.

Marriage Certificates

Do you need an official copy of a marriage certificate? If that marriage took place in the State of Michigan, you are in luck. The record of that marriage is available to you through the State Department of Health and Human Services.

You will need a copy of the marriage certificate for situations like name changes, applying for a divorce, or applying for an adoption.

Request an official copy of a marriage certificate in Michigan.

Divorce Certificates

You may also need an official copy of a divorce certificate in Michigan, especially if you are getting remarried or when you are settling legal disputes.

Request an official copy of a divorce certificate in Michigan.

Death Certificates

Death certificates may be necessary for legal purposes, to settle estates or to settle the accounts of the deceased. You can apply for official copies of death certificates including the apostille, usable for official purposes using VitalChek.

Request a death certificate in Michigan now.


This guide to searching for public records in Michigan outlines the basics of your search. You now know which government departments to contact for which records, and how to find what you need.

Michigan makes it fairly easy for you to conduct background checks, search for vital records, or find out information about an inmate. Hopefully this guide also clarified some issues for you.

Public records in Michigan are not limited to personal vital records and court records, though. While it is common to search for background checks on prospective tenants or employees, it is also important that you have access to government documents.

All open meetings and legislative proceedings also generate minutes and documents that are considered public records.

Public records may be sealed for certain reasons, such as protecting your privacy, or protecting national security. Otherwise, the principle of open government dominates in Michigan, as elsewhere in the United States. A democracy depends on freedom of information.

The State of Michigan has laws in place that mandate public records and ensure your right to request them.