Public records are any filed or recorded documents, reports, photographs, licenses, and other forms of data that are open for the public to inspect as they are not considered confidential. Local, state, and federal government agencies maintain public records and determine access, fees, retrieval, and other policies.
Public records include criminal records, vital records, driving records, and other information, including case files, policies and procedures, and financial documents.
Individuals can obtain public records by mail, in person, or online. Although the general public has the right to access public records, there are restrictions, fees, and other hurdles that can make access difficult or even unattainable.
Which federal laws apply to public records in the United States?
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) went into effect in 1967, one year after President Lyndon Johnson signed it into law. The FOIA gives the public the right to access records from agencies within the federal government.
The FOIA requires that federal agencies provide documents to the public when a records request is submitted unless the information requested is exempted by law. If the information is exempt, the agency responsible must provide the reason why the information cannot be released.
How does Arizona law define public records?
According to Arizona law, all officers and public bodies must maintain records so that the public has an accurate database chronicling government activity. AR Title 39 mandates that all public records are open and accessible to the public during business hours unless prohibited by law.
Records are defined as:
- Documentary materials
There are many different types and formats of public records in Arizona, including:
- Accident reports
- Case files
- Legal memoranda
- Personnel records
- Policies and procedures
- Tape recordings of meetings where there are no written minutes
- Training videos and materials
- Adoption records
- Bank records
- Certain corrections department records
- Certain medical records
- Disciplinary records of some professional groups
- Donor information
- Any record determined to be damaging to the state’s best interest
- A record determined to be an invasion of personal privacy that outweighs the public’s right to know
- Research records
- Student records
- Trade secrets
This article will cover public records in detail, including court records, criminal records, vital records, business records, and more.
General Public Records Request
The Public Records Unit (PRU) is responsible for processing public requests of departmental records. Reports, photographs, and orders concerning repairs, warnings, or citations from accidents are excluded as the Department Records Unit processes these requests.
You can request records from PRU by any one of the following methods:
- Online: create an account using the Public Services Portal
- Mail: mail your request to the Arizona Department of Public Safety, Attention PRU MD3240, P.O. Box 6638, Phoenix, AZ 85005-6638
- In-person: visit the Arizona Department of Public Safety’s Public Service Center. The address is 2222 West Encanto Blvd., Phoenix, AZ 85009. The center is open Monday through Friday from 8:00 am – 5:00 pm and is closed on state holidays.
- Fax: you can fax your request to (602) 223-2945
To request records from PRU, you will need to complete the following steps:
- Request records using one of the methods described above (online, by mail, in person, or by fax).
- If you are requesting public records for commercial purposes, you must include a statement explaining why you are requesting the records (printouts, copies, or photographs) and how they will be used (ARS 39-121.03).
- You will receive an invoice via email, fax, or USPS mail once your request has been processed, which typically takes 15-20 business days. You are allowed to review public records before you copy or purchase them. If you want to review the records first, you must make an appointment by calling 602-223-2345.
- If you approve of the invoice and are ready to pick up the records, you can email DPS to set up an appointment.
- PRU accepts credit cards, business checks, cashier’s checks, or money orders.
- The fees for records are as follows:
- DVD: $15.00 (limit of 4.7 GB)
- Email: $9.00 (limit of 5 MB)
- Fax: $9.00 (limit of 20 pages)
- Flash Drive: $20.00 (limit of 16 GB)
- Paper Copies: $9.00 for the first 9 pages, $0.10 per any pages after that
We have provided an overview of Arizona’s court system, if court records are publicly available, and how to search for court records in this section.
Let’s first look at how the court system is set up in Arizona to understand the process better. In the state of Arizona, there are three levels of court:
- Justice and Municipal (or City) Courts: these non-record courts have limited jurisdiction, meaning they handle limited types of cases and are not required to keep a record of court proceedings, although some courts do.
- Superior Court of Arizona: this statewide trial court has general jurisdiction and is responsible for keeping records of all court proceedings.
- State Appellate Courts: these courts have jurisdiction to review appeals from trials or decisions, many of which come from the superior court. However, the Supreme Court handles death penalty appeals and certain disputes between elected officials and counties.
Arizona has two appellate courts that hear all appeals within the state. At the intermediate level is the court of appeals. The highest level is the Supreme Court.
Court of Appeals
Arizona’s court of appeals was established in 1965. The court of appeals is directly above the superior court and has two divisions:
- Division One is located in Phoenix and consists of 16 judges. Division One has statewide responsibility for appeals from the Tax Court, Department of Economic Security, and Industrial Commission.
- Division Two is located in Tucson and consists of six judges.
The court of appeals has jurisdiction in all cases appealed properly from superior courts. A three-judge panel hears cases, provides decisions, and reviews appeals.
The appeals process is typically the same for both criminal and civil, although there are no filing fees for criminal cases.
Every court of appeals division has a clerk of the court that manages case files, maintains official records, and performs administrative tasks.
The Superior Court of Arizona, a statewide trial court, has general jurisdiction and hears many different types of cases. The superior court keeps permanent records of court proceedings.
There are 15 counties in Arizona, and each county has its own superior court with at least one superior court judge. You can find information regarding each of the counties’ superior courts below:
- Yavapai County
- Navajo County
- Santa Cruz County
- Pinal County
- Mohave County
- Yuma County
- Apache County
- Pima County
- Coconino County
- Gila County
- Maricopa County
- La Paz County
- Greenlee County
- Cochise County
- Graham County
The superior court in Arizona acts as the following:
- An appellate court for municipal and justice courts
- A supervisor for juveniles and adults on probation
A superior court clerk is elected to a four-year term. Each county in Arizona has a clerk; they are responsible for:
- Managing court case files
- Document certification
- Issuing subpoenas, summonses, and marriage licenses
- Fee collection
- Completing other tasks as mandated by law
Other personnel serves Arizona’s superior courts, including jury commissioners, court administrators, and court commissioners. The size of the county is a factor in determining the type and number of positions.
Other types of courts within Arizona’s court system include:
- Juvenile Court: If a county has more than one superior judge, it also has a special juvenile court.
- Tax Court: While the Tax Court is a division of Maricopa County’s Superior Court, it handles cases statewide.
- Arbitration: Arbitration hearings typically occur outside a courtroom, but if a decision is appealed, it will head to a superior court.
Are court records public information?
In 1901, Arizona passed the Arizona Public Records Law, allowing every Arizona resident access to public records at any state level.
Court records are available from 177 out of 184 courts in the state are available online via the state’s Judicial Branch website. The courts that are not available to search can be found here. You can search court cases by name or case number using this site.
To access Superior Court civil and criminal court documents, you will need to use the eAccess portal. You can also contact the appropriate Superior Court’s Clerk’s Office for information about court records.
The Criminal History Records Section, a division of Arizona’s Department of Public Safety, serves as the state’s central criminal records repository. For further information regarding the Central State Repository, review Arizona Revised Statutes 41-1750.
According to this statute, Arizona criminal justice agencies must report information regarding arrests and dispositions to the Central State Repository. Only authorized individuals and agencies can access copies of criminal records.
Employee Background Check
Agencies may only conduct a fingerprint-based state, and federal criminal history background checks if authorized by Public Law 92-544 or ARS 41-1750(G). The agency is required to submit the approved state statute, tribal resolution, or ordinance showing that a criminal history background check is allowed by law.
Only non-profit organizations may receive Arizona state criminal history background check information for employment purposes. Private companies are not allowed to run a check.
Arizona law does now allow the Central State Repository to issue a clearance letter or conduct a criminal history background check for any of the following reasons: obtaining a visa, adoption from a foreign country, or immigration reasons. For a notarized copy stating this law, call the Criminal Records History Section at 602-223-2222.
If you need a local clearance letter, contact your local police department.
Warrant Records Search
An Arizona arrest warrant is a document issued by a court after hearing the probable cause that allows a law enforcement officer to detain an individual.
Information found on an Arizona arrest warrant may include:
- Arrestee’s full name and other identifying personal information
- Alleged offense
- Location and time of the arrest
- Issuer’s name and issue date
- Expiration date
You can search for a warrant in Arizona using one of the following methods:
- Online: Search Arizona’s Judicial Branch’s Public Information Access to Court Information database. You can search by name or case number.
- By phone: You can call the Criminal Court Administration Information Desk (602-506-8575), the AZ DPS (602-223-2233), or call your local law enforcement agency.
Warrant Search by Court
Several courts in Arizona maintain their own online portal for public records of warrants, including:
- Arizona Supreme Court
- Arizona Court of Appeals, Division 1 and Division 2
- Chandler Municipal Court
- Tempe Municipal Court
- Mesa Municipal Court
- Paradise Valley Municipal Court
- Maricopa County Justice of the Peace Courts
- Maricopa Superior Court
- Gilbert Municipal Court
- Pima Consolidated Justice Court
- Pima County Superior Court
Warrant Search Exclusions
Arizona excludes the following types of warrant searches from public searches: mental health cases, witness information, most juvenile cases, probate cases, local ordinance violations, and unserved Orders of Protection cases.
We’ve compiled a brief overview of Arizona’ arrests as well as crime statistics based on FBI reports that occurred in 2019:
- 44,223 arrests, including 39,872 adults and 4,351 juveniles
- 27,118 violent crimes
- Aggravated assaults made up the most incidents of violent crimes, with 17,433 offenses
- $176,420,826 in stolen property
What is the difference between an arrest record and a criminal record?
An arrest record details a specific arrest made by a law enforcement officer. In contrast, a criminal history record is an overview of a person’s entire criminal background, including arrests, convictions, warrants, and more.
What is a public arrest record?
Law enforcement agencies create official arrest records after a person has been apprehended or arrested. Arrest records do note state admission of guilt to the misdemeanors and felonies the person was charged with. Arrest records are commonly used as evidence and can determine whether a trial will be held.
Arrest records can be public record for an undetermined time frame, even if the suspect is acquitted.
What does a public arrest record include in Arizona?
A public arrest record generally includes the following information:
- The arrested person’s personal information, such as name, date of birth, address, phone number, and other contact information
- A physical description of the arrested person, such as sex, race, height, weight, hair color, any defining tattoos, scars, or birthmarks
- A description of the incident as reported by the arresting officer
- Arrest location and date
- Interrogation information
- Photographs and fingerprints
- Type of crime (misdemeanor or felony) and what specific charges were filed
- Court date
Who can access arrest records?
In Arizona, the law allows the general public to access arrest records. There are exemptions to the law, stating that the government can withhold information from the public for a variety of reasons, including the following:
Based on § 39-123, specific records associated with eligible individuals, such as judges, peace officers, probation officers, public defenders, justices, law enforcement, national guardsman, and any other court order personnel. are exempt from disclosure. You cannot access records if they include or pertain to any of the following information:
- The address or home phone number of the eligible individual unless the record’s custodian or office provides written consent and no harm would come of the release.
- Photographs of eligible individuals, unless the officer was arrested or formally charged with a felony or misdemeanor, or if the photography is for a newsworthy event. If a law enforcement agent discloses any of this information in an improper manner, they are guilty of a felony.
If a law enforcement agent discloses any of this information in an improper manner, they are guilty of a felony.
If your arrest record request is denied, the agency must explain why they are not legally allowed to provide you with the records.
Search Arrest Records via Arizona’s Criminal Record Review
If you are the subject of the criminal record in Arizona, including arrests, and would like to review your record, you are required to submit a Record Review Packet. You will need to complete the following steps:
- Contact the Criminal History Records Section to request a Record Review Packet; the number is (602) 223-2222.
- Review the instructions contained within the packet.
- Complete the fingerprint card – you will need to go to a law enforcement agency to have your fingerprints taken. Make sure that the fingerprint card is the FBI’s standard blue applicant fingerprint card.
- Fill out the Contact Information Sheet.
- Include a pre-addressed return envelope.
You will receive a response within 15 days of receipt of your completed Record Review Packet. Your information as the requestor, including your name and address, will remain confidential in the response.
Arizona Conviction Records
Once an individual is found guilty of the charges filed against them by a jury or judge, the court will produce official court documents. These documents are called conviction records.
Conviction records provide detailed information of the indictments, hearings, pleas, and the sentences of individuals charged with criminal misdemeanors and felonies.
Arizona Inmate Records
In Arizona, there are six private prisons and ten state-run prisons that are managed by the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC). In addition to the state-run and private prisons, Arizona also has town and city jails, often run by local police departments, and county jails which Sheriff’s offices often manage.
The ADC is responsible for maintaining the inmates’ records, which are official documents that typically include the following information:
- The inmate’s name, gender, and date of birth
- The inmate’s registration number
- The inmate’s most recent incarceration location
- The inmate’s mugshot
- Jail transfer information
- Custody class
- Commitment and sentence information
- Parole information
- Disciplinary actions
- Work programs
- Prison release date and type of release (subject to change)
Search Arizona Inmate Records
You can search for an inmate in an Arizona private or state prison using the ADC’s Inmate Datasearch tool. You can search by name (first and last) or by inmate number. You can email ADC regarding the Inmate DataSearch tool with questions or concerns.
You can also access and review inmate case files, including offense details, at the appropriate Office of the Clerk of the Court.
Arizona Probation Records
Probation records are official documents that provide details regarding convicts’ sentencing, probation, and release. The Adult Probation Services Division (APSD) manages the state’s adult probation services and programs in Arizona. APSD works with various agencies, courts, probation departments, and other entities to carry out its responsibilities.
If you would like to request records regarding probation, you can either visit in person at 1501 W. Washington, Suite 344, Phoenix, AZ 85007, or call 602-452-3460.
Sex Offender Information
The Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) is responsible for managing the state’s sex offender database online per ARS 13-3827.
There are three levels of sex offenders in Arizona, with the least serious offenders classified as Level 1 and the most likely to offend again classified as Level 3. Per Arizona law, if a sex offender is released, DPS must notify communities, neighbors, and law enforcement agencies.
- Level 1 sex offenders: only law enforcement agencies are notified when the sex offender is released
- Level 2 sex offenders: DPS must notify any organization directly involved with children, all registered community organizations with children, and the victims of sex offenses
- Level 3 sex offenders: notification includes level 2 groups and the sex offender’s neighbors
You can search for sex offenders using Arizona Sex Offender Registry’s sex offender search tool. You can search by name or by offenders in your area.
Arizona statutory law considers certain vital records confidential. Only authorized parties may request and access confidential vital records.
The Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) Bureau of Vital Records issues and maintains certified vital record copies, including birth, fetal death or stillbirth certificates, and deaths occurring in Arizona. Certified copies typically mean that the record can be used for legal reasons.
To search for the following vital records, you must make an appointment with the Arizona Department of Health Services Bureau of Vital Records:
- Amendments or corrections of birth records occurring before 1997 and deaths occurring before 2008
- Delayed Birth Registration
- Foreign-Born Registration
- Putative Father Registrations/Searches
Arizona Birth Records
Birth records are considered confidential in the state of Arizona. Only the following individuals may request birth records:
- A registrant listed on the record must be 18 years of age or older. If a registrant is under the age of 18 years old, they must show proof of emancipation.
- A registrant’s parent, adult sibling, spouse, grandparent, adult child, or grandchild
- A registrant’s legal guardian
- An attorney who represents any of the individual’s listed here
- Conservators, powers of attorney, adoption agencies, or any other authority legally allowed to obtain birth records
To Request Birth Certificates Online
If you would like to request a birth certificate online, you can use VitalChek, the only independent company ADHS approves of.
The fee is $20 per certificate. There is a $12.95 processing charge per order as well. VitalChek accepts most major credit cards.
To Request Birth Certificates by Mail
If you are the registrant on the record or one of the other approved parties noted above, you can request an Application for Certified Copy of Birth Certificate by mail. You will need to complete the following steps:
- Fill out the Application for Certified Copy of Birth Certificate [Español]
- Provide a copy of your valid government-issued photo ID (front and back), which must include your signature or have your signature notarized. Note: Include proof of eligibility if you are the parent on the birth certificate or not the registrant.
- The appropriate fee, which is $20 unless requesting an amendment or correction, which is $30. Visa, Mastercard, money orders, and cashier’s checks are accepted. Make money orders or cashier’s checks out to the Office of Vital Records. For debit or credit cards, including the entire card number with the expiration date.
- Include a self-addressed stamped envelope
Birth certificate requests typically take five business days after receipt of an application. You also have the option to request expedited service.
Arizona Death Records
Like birth records, Arizona statute deems death records confidential and can only be requested by the following individuals/parties:
- Immediate family members of the decedent, including grandchildren or grandparents, who are 18 years of age or older, or their legal representative or attorney
- Legally authorized parties, such as funeral directors, hospitals, or insurance companies
- Government agencies
To Request Death Certificates Online
As with birth certificates, death certificates are available via VitalChek.
The fee is the same: $20 per certificate with a $12.95 processing charge per order. VitalChek accepts most major credit cards.
To Request Death Certificates by Mail
If you would like to request a death certificate by mail, you will need to send the following information to the state:
- Filled out Application for Certified Copy of Death Certificate [Español]
- Provide a copy of your valid government-issued photo ID (front and back), which must include your signature or have your signature notarized. Note: Include proof of eligibility
- The appropriate fee is $20 unless requesting an amendment or correction, which is $30. Visa, Mastercard, money orders, and cashier’s checks are accepted. Make money orders or cashier’s checks out to the Office of Vital Records. For debit or credit cards, make sure to include the entire card number and the expiration date.
- Include a self-addressed stamped envelope
Death certificate requests also take approximately five business days after receipt of an application. You can also request expedited service.
Arizona Marriage and Divorce Records
Because marriage and divorce records are considered court records, they are available to the public unless sealed by a judge.
In Arizona, the marriage and divorce records are managed by the Clerk of the Superior Court in the county where the event took place. You can find the county using the link provided for contact information regarding marriage and divorce records.
Arizona Adoption Records
You can only access adoption records, which are sealed in Arizona, with a court order. Adoptive parents must send a written request to ADHS with a completed Application for Certified Copy of Birth Certificate and Adoption Worksheet.
Adoption records are sealed in the state of Arizona and may only be accessed by court order. Adoptive parents who wish to obtain a copy of a birth certificate after adoption may send a written request to the Arizona Department of Health Services with the following information:
- a completed Application for Certified Copy of Birth Certificate
- a completed Adoption Worksheet.
- a certified final decree of adoption from the superior court that granted the adoption
- a fee of $30 with $20 per additional birth certificate copy requested.
- money orders, Visa, Mastercard, or an attorney’s company business check are accepted
Mail the request to the Bureau of Vital Records, Attn: Adoptions, P.O. Box 6018, Phoenix, AZ 85005.
The Arizona Corporation Commission maintains business records for the state. You can search for or request records online, by mail, or in person.
To search for LLC or corporation records online, you will need to submit one of the following criteria: entity name, statutory agent name, principal name, or entity ID.
You can also fill out a Records Request Form and send it to the Corporations Division Records Section in person or by mail. The address is 1300 W. Washington St., Phoenix, AZ 85007. The fees are as follows:
- Archival Records Search – Stock search (no document copies) $5.00
- LLC certified copy: $15.00 per document plus 50 cents/page
- Corporation certified copy: $5.00 per document plus 50 cents/page
- Certificate: $10.00
- LLC plain or uncertified copy: $5.00 per document plus 50 cents per page
- Corporation plain or uncertified copy: 50 cents per page
- Add $35 for expedited processing.
The Arizona State Archives is responsible for collecting, preserving, and providing permanent public records, historical photographs, manuscripts, and other valuable historical information to the public and all government branches. You can find the State Archives in the Polly Rosenbaum State Archives and History Building. Public records are managed by the Records Management Center in the state of Arizona.
You can access the following information through the State Archives website:
Property Tax Records
You can conduct property tax searches In Arizona via the applicable county’s tax assessor-collector. There are 15 counties in Arizona, each with its own assessor. You can find more information by following the links listed below, which will take you to the appropriate county website.
- Apache County
- Maricopa County
- Cochise County
- Pima County
- Navajo County
- La Pez County
- Gila County
- Yuma County
- Greenlee County
- Santa Cruz County
- Coconino County
- Graham County
- Yavapai County
- Mohave County
- Pinal County
The Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) is responsible for maintaining driving records or motor vehicle records (MVR). An MVR is a vehicle or driving record printout that contains a driver’s information, including their name, address, photo, driver’s license number, social security number, and medical/disability status.
The Federal Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (or DPPA), 18 USC 2721-2725, as adopted in Arizona law, regulates how driver license (MVR) information can be released.
If eligible, you can request an MVR via the following methods:
- Online: Complete a driver’s license motor vehicle record request online. The fee for an online MVR is $3.00 per request, even if your request does not produce results.
- By mail: Complete a Motor Vehicle Record Request form and submit $5 for a five-year certified driving record or $3 for a three-year uncertified driving record.
- In-person: Visit any MVD or authorized third-party office
Collision or Incident Reports
You can search for collision or incident records that State Troopers or other DPS employees investigated, which is maintained by the Department Records Unit (DRU). You can also search for photographs, citations, warnings, repairs, records, and offenses as described below:
- Collision Report: You can request a Collision Report from the DRU for any accidents that happened on a state highway or incident and were investigated by DPS Troopers. DPS Troopers typically provide the DRU with completed reports within 14 days of the incident.
- Call the DRU at 602-223-2230 or 602-223-2236 at least 14 days after the incident to request a report. According to Arizona Revised Statute §28-667, accident reports cannot be used for commercial solicitation.
- Photographs: You can request photographs from an accident, incident, offense, or arrest from the DRU.
- Citations, Warnings, or Repair Order Records: DRU can provide you with copies of State Trooper-issued citations, written warnings, or repair orders if you submit a request.
- DRU Record Requests: You must complete a Request for Department Records in order to receive a copy of a DPS accident report, photographs, or citations, warnings, and repair orders.
- Offense Reports: Government agencies can request an offense report for criminal justice purposes. Requests can be emailed or faxed to 602)- 223-2915.
What do I do if there is an error with my public records in Arizona?
If you feel there is an error on any of your Arizona public records, it is best to contact the government agency responsible for managing the specific record. Many departments have helpful tips and forms to submit to have an error addressed and corrected.