Table of Contents
- 2What Counts As Public Records in Texas?
- 3What About My Privacy?
- 4Public Records Laws in Texas
- 5Why Access Public Records in Texas?
- 6Criminal / Arrest Records in Texas
- 7Jail, Prison, and Inmate Records in Texas
- 8Sex Offender Records in Texas
- 9Drunk and Impaired Driving Records
- 10Court Records in Texas
- 11Driving Records in Texas
- 12Vehicle Titles
- 13Property Records in Texas
- 14Missing Persons Records
- 15Voter Registration Information in Texas
- 16Wills, Probate, and Estate Records in Texas
- 17On General Background Checks
- 18Vital Records
- 19Marriage and Divorce Records
- 20Birth and Death Certificates
- 21Adoption Records
- 22Health and Medical Records
Access to public records is one of your fundamental rights as an American. Like all states in the union, the Lone Star State must uphold the ethical tenets of a democracy. Freedom of information is one of the most important foundations of the democracy.
Although you can access any and all public records in the state of Texas, doing so can be tricky and time-consuming.
The size of the state, the fact that many records are held at the local or county level, and the bureaucratic nature of government all present challenges when searching for public records.
The purpose of this article is to guide you towards the appropriate venue where you can locate the public records you need.
What Counts As Public Records in Texas?
Public records include governmental documents, such as minutes from public meetings and state legislative proceedings, as well as the information on private citizens.
If taxpayer money funds an agency or organization, its records are considered public information.
Even some private companies need to make their records public information if they provide services to the public.
The following are all considered public records in the State of Texas:
- Court documents
- Driving records
- Arrest records
- Marriage and divorce records
- Birth and death certificates
- Property records
- Will, probate, and estate records
- Prison, jail, and inmate records
- Police reports
- Historical maps and photographs
While there are some limitations to what counts as public records in the state of Texas, generally all these and other documents that are held by the government are covered under freedom of information laws.
What About My Privacy?
The balance between freedom of information and the right to privacy is one that can be difficult to maintain in a democracy.
Both privacy and freedom of information are critical in American society.
Therefore, while most public records can be accessed, there are some safeguards in place to protect your privacy and that of your fellow citizens.
According to Title 25 of the Texas Administrative Code 181.28, when accessing an individual’s personal records, such as vital records or arrest records, you do need to provide the proper identification.
Federal law also provides you with protection against infringements on your privacy, such as the Privacy Act of 1974.
The Department of Health and Human Services Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) protects your medical records, and keeps all your health history confidential.
To protect your privacy and promote public safety, the State of Texas does limit what information can be accessed and by whom.
For example, you may be denied access to the following:
- Pending lawsuits
- Trade secrets
- Personnel files
- Student records from state schools
- Victim information and victim impact statements
- Personal financial data
- Private communications
- Anything covered under attorney-client privilege
- Anything past the statute of limitations
To be clear, you are legally entitled to request any public record but in cases like these the agency may have the right to turn down your request.
Public Records Laws in Texas
Title 5 of the Texas State Government Code covers the commitment to open government.
A democracy depends on transparency and access to information, as the government is representative of the people.
While each state has slightly different laws and approaches to accessing public records, citizens have a right to access public records.
In many cases, you do not need to provide a reason to request public records. It is simply your right to access them.
Texas also considers freedom of information a matter of public safety. This is especially true when it comes to the way the state maintains its criminal records.
Chapter 60 of the state’s Code of Criminal Procedure mandates the creation of a central database of criminal records called the Computerized Criminal History System (CCH).
Since 1967, the United States Freedom of Information Act has ensured that all citizens of the nation are empowered to access public records.
Thus, anything that is not considered trade secrets or something that would compromise national security is considered public record.
Why Access Public Records in Texas?
People need to access public records for a number of reasons. For example:
- You may need your own vital records, such as a birth certificate, when you are applying for a new marriage license, to register to vote or run for office, when applying for a residency permit in a new country, or when sponsoring a family member to live in the United States.
- An employer may have the right to access your public records, such as arrest and criminal records. This is especially true for government workers and those working in some sectors like education and healthcare.
- If you are an attorney, a journalist, or a researcher, you may need access to different types of public records.
- You may need to access a will to resolve conflicts with your family’s estate.
- As a victim of a crime, you may be entitled to the perpetrator’s jail or prison records.
- If you are a property owner, you are entitled to do a background check on any potential renters or tenants.
- When you purchase a new home or land, it is also in your best interests to access the public records related to that property.
- If you are renting a moving truck or van, you can check the vehicle registration or driver record for the company.
How Do I Find…
Criminal / Arrest Records in Texas
The Texas Department of Public Safety manages many criminal records as part of its Conviction/Criminal History Database.
Unlike many other states, Texas does maintain a centralized database of arrest and criminal records.
All precincts and law enforcement agencies in the State of Texas are required by law (Code of Criminal Procedure, Title 1, Chapter 60) to submit their arrest, prosecution, and other related records to the Department of Public Safety.
The state’s centralized database is called the Computerized Criminal History System, which is part of the Texas Criminal Justice Information System (CJIS).
With the CCH, you will have a much easier time accessing criminal records. Law enforcement agencies across the state have access to these records to make it easier for them to do their jobs, while the general public has access to these records to keep communities safe.
All police departments, sheriff’s offices, and other criminal justice agencies in the State of Texas are required to submit their arrest and criminal records to the Department of Public Safety for anything that is a misdemeanors or greater.
Before you begin your search, you must register by creating an account.
To maximize your chances for a successful search results, the Department of Public Safety recommends that you have the full first and last name, including birth name or maiden name, and birth date.
The records will include information such as arrest date, arresting agency, charges files, and prosecution records.
In fact, the records may also include court records. See here for a list of what to expect from your criminal records search results.
According to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission federal law, employers in the State of Texas are not permitted to discriminate against those with criminal arrest records. However, employers are entitled to perform background checks on their employees and may even be required to do so in some sectors.
Jail, Prison, and Inmate Records in Texas
In the interests of freedom of information and victim rights, the State of Texas permits you to perform a search on any incarcerated offender.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice, not the Texas Department of Public Safety, manages the Corrections Tracking System.
However, the Corrections Tracking System is also part of the Texas Criminal Justice Information System (CJIS) along with the Computerized Criminal History System.
To search for an inmate, you need the person’s last name and first initial. Alternatively, you can search for the person using the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) number or the State Identification Number (SID).
You may search for an inmate for any reason: such as locating a friend or family member who has been incarcerated. Victims may also conduct inmate searches.
The inmate search form can be found on the Texas Department of Criminal Justice website here.
Keep in mind, not all inmates will be held in Texas state prisons, though. An inmate may be held in a local or county jail.
If the inmate you are looking for does not show up in a Texas Offender Information Search, you may need to search the records of a federal, county, or city jail.
If you are searching for an inmate in a city jail, a federal prison, or county jail, you will need to perform your search differently. For example, Inmates held in county jails in the state of Texas can be located by contacting that county directly.
You can also find a list of criminal justice and law enforcement agencies throughout the state here.
Sex Offender Records in Texas
As Texas is dedicated to maintaining public safety and promoting victim rights, the Texas Department of Public Safety also maintains a sex offender registry.
This may be helpful for victim empowerment, for when you are considering moving to a new community, or for parents wanting to keep their children safe.
To search the registry, you can visit either state or national sex offender records.
To access the Sex Offender Registry in the state of Texas, use this form.
Some sex offenders will be registered with the federal government’s National Sex Offender Database.
Drunk and Impaired Driving Records
In the State of Texas, you can access Driving Under the Influence (DWI) records.
Searching the impaired driving records in the State of Texas is especially helpful for employers seeking information on an applicant’s commercial driving record, or if you are planning to hire a company to transport goods or people for you.
Court Records in Texas
Court records are maintained at both state and county levels in Texas.
As in all states, Texas has multiple jurisdictions. If a case was heard in a state courtroom including the courts of appeals, then the records will be held by the Texas Judicial Branch.
You can request court records by mail, email, or fax.
The online form (PDF) to requesting Texas court records can be found here.
However, if a case was heard in a county or municipal court, then you would need to directly contact that court.
A full list of Texas county and municipal courts can be found here.
Driving Records in Texas
The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles maintains most driver records in the state.
However, it is the Texas Department of Public Safety Driver License Division that maintains your personal driver records. You may want to access this information for insurance purposes.
To access your own driver record, visit the Department of Public Safety online using the following form.
If your employer has requested a copy of your driver record, you would use this form.
If you are an employer who needs to access an applicant’s or current employee’s driver record, you would also use the same form.
Permission to access someone else’s driver record is only granted in some situations to protect your privacy.
For example, insurance companies may request your driver records.
If you need a copy of the title of your vehicle for any reason, such as when you are selling it to another person, you can apply for a certified copy through the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles—either online or in person–here.
Property Records in Texas
Deeds, mortgages, and titles are all considered public information in the state of Texas.
Unfortunately there is no centralized state database of property records in Texas.
Instead, property records are held either in a county or city office.
A complete list of Texas counties and appraisal districts can be found on the Texas Comptroller website.
Unclaimed Property Records in Texas
The Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts also maintains a database of unclaimed property.
A division of the Texas Comproller office, the Texas Unclaimed Property website allows you search for any property that may be part of your family’s estate, unclaimed property that you may have, or to check an existing claim status.
Unclaimed property includes money in bank accounts, items or cash in safety deposit boxes, stocks, dividends, insurance policies, utility deposits, trust distributions, unredeemed paychecks, and more.
Missing Persons Records
The State of Texas makes it easy for you to conduct your own missing persons records search.
Part of the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Missing Persons Clearinghouse Online Bulletin allows you to search for person who went missing in the state of Texas.
Also included in the Texas Missing Persons Clearinghouse Online Bulletin is any public records related to the abductors, any known travel companions, as well as unidentified persons.
In fact, there is a separate search for companions or abductors in missing persons cases in Texas.
To be included in the Missing Persons Clearinghouse Online Bulletin, an official missing person report must have been filed by a law enforcement agency.
The missing person must also be entered in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) records, and a photograph must also be included in the record.
The Texas Department of Public Safety also allows you to search for unidentified living or deceased individuals.
Voter Registration Information in Texas
You can look up your own voter registration information through the Texas Secretary of State website.
- You may want to look up your voter registration information for several reasons. For instance:
- You just moved back to the state of Texas from somewhere else.
- You want to check to see if your voter registration data is up to date or correct.
- You want to make changes to your voter registration data, including your party affiliations, which impact your ability to vote in primary elections.
- You need to find out which polling place to visit on Election Day or for early voting.
- You need to know the election dates.
Wills, Probate, and Estate Records in Texas
As with property records, records related to will and probate are kept at the county level and not in a state centralized database.
County clerks will maintain all probate records, including wills.
A person’s will is usually filed where the person last maintained their permanent residence.
Archived will and probate records can be found using genealogical resources.
On General Background Checks
Some employers and government agencies are entitled to perform a background check on an applicant.
A standard background check can include other personal information such as your credit history, your employment history, history of renting property, or civil lawsuit history.
Managers in fields such as healthcare, caregiving for seniors or children, emergency medical services and other first responders, and those who wish to work with or transport hazardous materials (HAZMAT).
Many professional licensing organizations can also perform a background check.
If you are applying to adopt a child, you will also need to submit to a background check in the state of Texas.
You will need to offer your permission for a potential employer or professional organization to perform a background check.
If you are applying for a job with earnings of more than $75,000 per year, your employer is also entitled to perform a thorough background check in the state of Texas.
For convenience, the Texas Department of State Health Services offers a one-stop website where you can order the following vital records:
- Birth certificates
- Death certificates
- Marriage verifications
- Divorce verifications
Allow at least three weeks for your order to be processed.
There will be a small fee for each request.
Marriage and Divorce Records
The Texas Department of State Health Services is where you would go to find all marriage and divorce records processed in state.
As in most states, the marriage and divorce records are most easily obtained directly from the local county clerk or district clerk’s office.
Birth and Death Certificates
Birth and death records are also maintained by the Texas Department of State Health Services.
The Texas Voluntary Central Adoption Registry (CAR) was created in 1983.
Therefore, in the State of Texas, a person can voluntarily offer information to the Department of State Health Services. Mutual consent is required to find information about an adoptee, sibling, or birth parent.
The information is part of the Texas Vital Statistics Unit.
Health and Medical Records
Generally, personal medical records are not considered public information.
Federal law like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA)
If you believe your medical records have been compromised or accessed by unauthorized individuals, you have rights.
Physicians may access your personal medical records, but the law prevents other unauthorized entities from getting hold of your information.
However, you may have unwittingly allowed authorization to access your personal medical records. This may happen when you file a workers’ compensation claim.
Some types of health records may become public information, such as when they are used for epidemiological data collection to prevent infectious disease, and do not contain any personal patient information.
Do you want to access Texas public records for research or legal purposes? Or to perform a background check on a potential employee or renter of your property? Or to find out what information is on your own criminal record? No matter what the reason, you can access this information easily online.
Access to public records in the State of Texas is your legal right. You have the right to request government records for any reason.
Laws in the State of Texas also protect your privacy and prevent unauthorized access of your personal data.
Hopefully this article has clarified how you would seek and find the Texas public records you need.