Table of Contents
- 1Why Public Records?
- 2What Are Public Records in North Carolina?
- 3Public Records Laws in North Carolina
- 4Criminal Records / Background Checks
- 5Jail and Inmate Records
- 6Court Records
- 7Driving Records
- 8Sex Offender Records
- 9Missing Person Records
- 10Property Records
- 11Unclaimed Property
- 12Voter Registration Records
- 13Wills, Probate, and Estate Records
- 14Vital Records
- 14.1Birth Certificates
- 14.2Marriage Certificates
- 14.3Divorce Records / Decrees
- 14.4Death Certificates
If you are looking for public records in the State of North Carolina, you have come to the right place.
This guide is arranged to help you find the public records you need quickly and easily. The Internet has made it easier for you to find the North Carolina records you are looking for, but you still need to know where to look and how to proceed.
This guide will help.
Why Public Records?
Why do you need public records? People search for public records in North Carolina for a number of reasons.
One reason is for a background check. Employers, landlords and property owners, and government agencies may request a background check to process applications.
Another reason you may be looking for public records is when you are settling a dispute regarding a trust, will, or estate. You may need to find property records in North Carolina or to see if you are legally entitled to any unclaimed property in the State of North Carolina too.
You may want to search court records when doing research on a case, or you may need a copy of your divorce decree for when you are getting remarried.
The most important reason to search for public records is that it is your right to do so.
Read on to learn more about public records in North Carolina.
What Are Public Records in North Carolina?
In the State of North Carolina, as elsewhere in the United States, public records comprise all the documents, files, images, and data that is created, compiled, and maintained by taxpayer funded agencies.
Even the documents, files, and data generated by private organizations but in the service of government can be considered public record.
Some examples would include birth records and death records. The government needs to keep track of population demographics for public health and census reasons.
Another example would be court records. Court records are considered public knowledge, or public information. In a democracy, it is essential that the general public have access to public records.
For this reason, the federal government and the state government have laws in place that ensure you will be able to access public records in North Carolina or anywhere else you need.
There are some exceptions to what you can access, though, and what is considered public record.
For example, you can’t access information that would betray state secrets or trade secrets: anything that would compromise national security.
Likewise, you cannot access information that would impede the rights of others. Some information is simply not considered public record, such as your school transcript or your bank account.
Your privacy is as important as your right to access information. The laws related to public records in the State of North Carolina are designed to balance your right to privacy with your right to a free, transparent government.
Public Records Laws in North Carolina
In the State of North Carolina, the most important law that pertains to public records is currently N.C.G.S. § 132-1(b)
This is North Carolina’s main public records law, which has been in place in one form or another since around 1935.
If you have heard of the term freedom of information, it refers to the principle that democracies function only when the individual citizens have the freedom to access information that is related to their government.
The federal government has its own Freedom of Information Act.
Freedom of Information is ensconced in law, which is why the Department of Justice oversees the Freedom of Information Act.
However, most of the public records that you will be looking for in the State of North Carolina will be held by state government agencies, not federal ones.
Therefore, you can use this guide to show you which state agency has the records you need.
Unfortunately, there is no single centralized database of all public records in the State of North Carolina, or anywhere else for that matter.
Until such a time as a centralized database exists, you need to know which government agency to contact and how to file a request for information, or for copies of documents like your criminal history.
Court records are held by the judicial branch of the North Carolina state government, whereas the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) is where you would go to find vital records like birth, marriage, and death certificates.
This guide will outline for you the various North Carolina government organizations and which records you can find there.
How Do I Find…
Criminal Records / Background Checks
One of the most common requests for public records in the State of North Carolina is for criminal history records.
Criminal history records can include arrest records, but usually police reports and other information not related to a case that resulted in an actual conviction will not be considered public record.
The reason for this is that we believe that a person is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
A person who was arrested or under suspicion was not found guilty in a court of law and therefore any law enforcement documents related to that person could potentially impact that person’s reputation, impeding their ability to get a job and otherwise causing discrimination.
Searching for a person’s criminal history records is often referred to as a background check.
To learn about how to conduct a background check on yourself or someone else in North Carolina, you go to the North Carolina Judicial Branch website.
Unfortunately, the State of North Carolina Judicial Branch does not have a statewide database you can search easily for criminal history.
Instead you need to locate the county in which the records were created.
Fill out and take Form AOC-CR-314 to a superior court in a specific North Carolina county. The fee for this service is $25.
You use the same form online to conduct a criminal history or background check in North Carolina:
However, if all you need is a non-certified criminal history check then you can go through the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation.
The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation allows you to search for your own criminal history only.
Only authorized employers or government agencies have legal authority to access your criminal records or to receive a background check on you without your permission.
When you apply for a job in the state of North Carolina, your employer may ask you to authorize access to a background check. It always helps to know what your rights are in cases like these.
Some, but not all, employers can make it mandatory for applicants to release their criminal history records.
This means that third parties do not have the automatic right to access your criminal history records in the State of North Carolina.
However, you have the right to access your own criminal records.
Jail and Inmate Records
Persons who have been convicted of a felony in the State of North Carolina and who are serving a prison or jail sentence will be searchable through the state Department of Public Safety.
In fact, the Department of Public Safety in North Carolina also allows you the possibility to search for offenders who are on probation or parole.
You may want to find out information about a loved one or friend, and you can do so by an offender lookup.
Many people also look up offender data for other reasons, such as wanting to send money or to know how much time is left on the person’s sentence.
Some victims want to know more about the person(s) involved in the crime.
You can search by offender name and date of birth.
As with many states, finding Court Records in the State of North Carolina can be tricky due to the fact that there are different types of courts with different jurisdictions.
A large number of cases are heard at the county level. The county court clerks will maintain all the court records.
You can search for both civil and criminal court records by going directly to the county courthouse.
Court records can be helpful in a number of situations, and are almost always considered public records to protect your freedom of information.
Some court records, such as juvenile court records, may not be considered public records in North Carolina.
There are some state court records, when a case was heard at the state level.
The large majority of civil and criminal court records will, however, be at the county court level.
Searching for driver records in the State of North Carolina?
You can check for accident or crash reports, vehicle records, and personal driving records through the North Carolina Department of Transportation website.
Although public records, the information contained on your driving records can be sensitive. For this reason, the North Carolina DMV only issues true certified copies to authorized parties.
Prospective employers and insurance companies may need to request limited copies, which do not contain as much information as the certified true copies.
However, if you are applying for a job that by law must receive a copy of your driving record and driving history for public safety and security purposes, then your prospective employer may have the right to request this information.
Some government organizations and professional licensing organizations may also be able to access your driving records.
For more information on the type of driving records available, and what information they contain, visit the North Carolina Department of Transportation website.
Sex Offender Records
It is your right to have access to information related to convicted sex offenders.
You need to know if there are convicted sex offenders in your neighborhood, or near your children’s schools or after school programs.
In fact, schools and any child care-oriented business has a direct responsibility to the children and parents they serve to remain aware of the possible dangers in the community including the presence of known sex offenders.
For this reason, the government of North Carolina maintains a Sex Offender Registry.
You can use the North Carolina Sex Offender Registry to empower yourself with information and to keep your family safe.
However, keep in mind that the law prohibits the abuse of the information. You cannot use the sex offender registry to harass or assault persons on the list, for example.
Missing Person Records
Tens of thousands of persons go missing each year.
To make it easier for you to find information about children or adults who have been reported missing in the State of North Carolina, the North Carolina Department of Public Safety created the Center for Missing Persons.
The North Carolina Center for Missing Persons uses the Amber Alert and Silver Alert systems and works with law enforcement regularly to keep the information current for the more than 10,000 persons who are reported missing each year in North Carolina.
The Center for Missing Persons also offers caregivers and loved ones information through a toll-free number as well as an app.
(Deeds, Mortgages, Etc.)
Sometimes you need to find information related to a property that belongs to you, to someone in your family, or for a business you manage.
The North Carolina Association of Registers of Deeds maintains a county-by-county list of registers.
It is usually best if you know which county the property was or is located in, because many property records are held at the county level.
Search the North Carolina Association of Registers of Deeds to find property records in the State of North Carolina.
You may need information related to property records for any number of reasons, such as keeping track of a will and estate probate case, or learning more about a property you may be interested in buying or selling.
Unclaimed property does not refer to real estate.
However, unclaimed property does refer to unclaimed funds that are sitting in dormant bank accounts or in safety deposit boxes.
Other examples of unclaimed property include wages and paychecks that had never been claimed, insurance payments or policy payouts that had not been claimed, stocks, bonds, or any cash that belongs to a person.
These funds do not vanish. The State of North Carolina makes every effort to reunite the individual or their loved ones with the unclaimed property.
If for whatever reason they forgot or neglected to make provisions for the property in their will, the North Carolina Department of State Treasurer will help you.
Millions of dollars each year goes unclaimed and is just sitting at the North Carolina State Treasurer’s office waiting for its rightful owner.
To find out if you have any unclaimed property, file a claim now.
You will need to prove you are entitled to the unclaimed property, by showing proper identification.
If the unclaimed property belongs to an immediate relative and you are legally entitled to that property as outlined in a will, then you will need to provide proof of that information.
Voter Registration Records
You can search the North Carolina State Board of Election Enforcement for registered voters.
This type of information can be extremely helpful when you recently moved and need to find out your nearest polling place, or to make sure your information on file is correct.
Similarly, the voter registration information is kept as public record to ensure that you can exercise your right to vote in the State of North Carolina.
Wills, Probate, and Estate Records
Wills, estate records, and similar information are not necessarily considered public record.
When a will is settled in a probate court, however, those court records will become public records.
You can search for probate records as you would any other court record in the State of North Carolina: by filing a request directly with the court
If you are searching for archived wills in the State of North Carolina, such as for genealogy research, then you may be able to find the documents you are looking for via the North Carolina State Library digital collections.
Requests for vital records in the State of North Carolina are common, because people often need to show proof of identity when applying for a visa, when getting married or divorced, or for legal purposes.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) is where you would go when looking for any vital records in the state.
Please note that it can take up to five weeks to process a request for vital records through the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
You can request expedited, same-day service at the Raleigh location only.
In addition to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, the Register of Deeds is another government organization that maintains vital records for the state.
Through the Register of Deeds, you may be able to find copies of birth, death, and marriage certificates—but not divorce decrees, which are considered court documents.
You can also choose to visit the local county health department when you are looking for vital records in the State of North Carolina. For example for Mecklenburg County, you can request marriage, divorce, birth, and death certificates.
To successfully request your birth certificate in the State of North Carolina, have ready the full name at birth, both parents’ full names, the date and place of birth, and also the relationship you have with the person.
If you do not have a relationship with the person in question, you will be unable to receive a certified copy of the birth certificate but can still request a non-certified copy.
You can also request a marriage certificate from the State of North Carolina if the marriage took place in the state.
To receive the marriage records, submit your request with the names of the parties, date and place of the marriage, and proof of your relationship to one or both of the parties.
You can also request a non-certified copy if you are unrelated to the couple.
Divorce Records / Decrees
To find divorce records or decrees in the State of North Carolina, you do need to contact the county clerk or county court offices.
Alternatively, you can request both certified and non-certified copies of the divorce records from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
The Department of Health and Human Services in North Carolina can also help you retrieve copies of death certificates.
If you need a certified copy of a death certificate for legal purposes, you do need to prove your relationship to the person(s) in question.
You have a legal right to seek and receive an abundance of public records in the State of North Carolina.
The United States generally has strong laws protecting your rights to access information, based on the principles of open government, transparency in government, and freedom of information.
Because laws are in place at the state and federal levels, it has become relatively easy for you to access public records such as criminal background checks, vital records like birth certificates, or property records.
Hopefully this guide has simplified the process of finding the correct public records you are looking for. The fees for obtaining public records, and the processes used to apply for those records, may change over time.
Therefore, please do visit the websites of the appropriate state agencies and arm yourself with information. It is your right to access the public records you need for whatever reason; exercise that right now.