Iowa Public Records

Wondering about the ins and outs of Iowa public records? You’ve come to the right place. We’re going to take you through everything you need to know about finding and accessing public records in the state.

Which Federal Laws Apply to Public Records in the United States of America?

In 1966, the Freedom of Information Act (shortened to FOIA) was passed by President Lyndon Johnson which went into effect in 1967. This law applies to all public records held within the United States of America and states that the people have the right to access these records from public agencies.

The Freedom of Information Act has nine exemptions that restrict access to certain types of files or parts of documents. Take a look at each of them below:

  1. Internal agencies practices and rules
  2. Classified foreign relations and national defense information
  3. Data or information that is prohibited from public disclosure following another federal law
  4. Trade secrets and similar business information
  5. Inter-agency communications that are held under legal privileges (attorney-client, for example)
  6. Information detailing personal privacy (generally held under the Privacy Act) or data defining identifiable information of an individual
  7. Information made by and for law enforcement if the disclosure of the records would do one of the following:
    1. Interfere with enforcement processes
    2. Strip someone of the right to a fair trial or impartial adjudication
    3. Invade someone’s personal privacy
    4. Disclose the identity of an anonymous source
    5. Leak techniques for law enforcement, prosecutions, or investigations
    6. Endanger the physical safety or life of a person
  8. Information regarding financial institutions’ supervision
  9. Geological data on wells

Each state has compiled its own version of the Freedom of Information Act for its counties.

How Does Iowa Define Public Records?

The Iowa Open Records Law is a variety of laws made to ensure that the public has access to records of public government bodies at all levels.

Chapter 22 Examination of Public Records in the Iowa Open Records Law sets out the definition of many terms including “public records”. It states that public records, in the case of the Iowa Open Records Law, includes all documents, tape, or otherwise that is stored, preserved, belongs, or maintained in any format by the state or any township, city, county, corporation, political subdivision, or non-profit organization.

The law determines that every person has the right to examine and receive copies of public records held in Iowa. This includes the right to make photographic copies while the record is held by the custodian of the public record, as mentioned in 2016 Iowa Code Title XV § 622.46.

All the provisions stated under Chapter 22 of the Iowa Open Records Law can be enforced by injunctions or mandamus if other remedies aren’t available. However, they can also be enforced under the Iowa Administrative Procedure Act, Iowa Code Chapter 17A, by judicial review in certain circumstances.

You do not have to issue a statement of purpose with your records request and public agencies are not legally allowed to ask for this. However, you will need to be patient when accessing public records in Iowa. The law states that all agencies have 10 to 20 days to respond to requests.

Unfortunately, this isn’t strictly enforced so you could effectively be waiting for an indefinite length of time. Government agencies are also not mandated to let you know if public record searches will take longer than the 10 to 20 working days.

The Iowa Public Information Board includes government and media representatives who can issue enforcements relating to the Iowa Open Records Law. This includes recommending officials that should be taken from the office.

In 2011, the “punishment” issued by the Iowa Public Information Board was demoted from a misdemeanor to numerous fines. The harshest penalty that can be given is currently a demotion from the position of custodian of records. This happens to officers who have violated the federal FOIA and the state’s Open Records Law twice.

You can request records in Iowa regardless of whether you are a state citizen or not. But, you must keep in mind the various document exemptions of the law. Although, if your request has been denied, you can request a rehearing from the agency that denied the request or you can go straight to the Iowa Public Information Board to appeal.

Examples of Iowa Public Records

The Office of the Chief Information Officer in Iowa declares that many records, reports, and similar information are regarded as public records. This includes but is by no means limited to the following:

  • Criminal records (including inmate, warrant, and arrest records)
  • Sex offender information
  • Court records
  • Property and tax records
  • Driving records
  • Vital records
  • Historical records

Exemptions to Iowa Public Records

There are 73 exemptions listed in the Iowa Open Records Law, Chapter 22 Examination of Public Records § 22.7 that prevents certain information from being disclosed to the public. Some of these exemptions are standard across the majority of the United States of America, but others are exceptional to Iowa.

Below you can find an exhaustive list of these exemptions, including links to relevant codes to further educate yourself on the details:

    • Personal information on a specific student, former student, or potential student held, created, maintained, assembled, or collected by a school or educational institution — Iowa Code § 22.7(1) — This exemption cannot be called upon to prevent higher education institution from disclosing information to a parent/guardian regarding their child’s involvement in the violation of a federal, state, local, or institutional law. Nor can this subsection be used to prevent disclosure to a parent/guardian regarding alcohol/drug use/possession of their child. Furthermore, this subsection can’t be used to prevent electronic transference of a student’s information onto another educational institution, as stated in Iowa Department of Education § 256.9 subsection 44.
    • Hospital, medical, and counselor records — Iowa Code § 22.7(2) — This refers to records relating to the condition, diagnosis, treatment, or care plan of a patient or former patient. The subsection also relates to outpatients both past and present. The Iowa Department of Public Health defines regulations on information sharing relating to the maternal and child health program.
    • Communications between a crime victim and their counselor — Victim Rights § 915.20A
    • Trade secrets — Iowa Code § 22.7(3) — Trade secrets are defined in Iowa’s Uniform Trade Secrets Act as information such as a pattern, formula, device, technique, or program that would disclose integral workings of and consequently damage a company.
    • Records that are the work product of an attorney relating to claims made against or by a public body — Iowa Code § 22.7(4) — The Iowa Rule of Civil Procedure 1.503(3) defines the rules that allow such documents to be disclosed to members of the case.
    • Peace officers’ investigative reports, privileged records, portions of telephone records, sections of electronic mail, or other information found in Undercover Law Enforcement Privilege Confidentiality § 80G.2Iowa Code 1 22.7(5) — The location, immediate facts, date, time, and circumstances around the crime are not eligible to be confidential under this subsection except in rare circumstances where disclosure would lead to a jeopardized investigation or impose immediate danger to an individual. Although it’s worth noting that witness statements given to peace officers investigating a motor accident are public records, according to the Shannon By Shannon v. Hansen, 469 N.W.2d 412,415 (Iowa 1991) case.
    • Reports given to government agencies that could give competitors an advantage if they were disclosed — Iowa Code § 22.7(6) — This also applies to reports that would not serve a public purpose if they were released. Generally, custodians of product data should be the officials to ascertain whether information revelation would serve no public purpose or give a competitor a significant advantage, as stated in Iowa 73 OP. Attorney General. 55, 56 (February 23, 1973).
    • Appraisals or corresponding information relating to the sale/purchase of a property for public use before the contract has been executed — Iowa Code § 22.7(7) — More information can be found in Procedure Under Eminent Domain § 6B.45
    • Information on industrial prospect being presently negotiated — Iowa Code § 22.7(8)
    • Criminal identification files of law enforcement entities — Iowa Code §22.7(9) — Although, current and prior arrest records and criminal history information are public records.
    • Compensation and reimbursement claims relating to legal assistance submitted to the Iowa state public defender — Iowa Code § 22.7(10) — This relates to documents requiring payment from indigent defense fund defined under Costs Compensation and Fees Indigent Defense § 815.11 and Public Defenders § 13B.4A
    • Personal information found in confidential records of government entities referring to identifiable individuals who are officers, employees of the government, or officials — Iowa Code § 22.7(11a) — The following information found in these documents are public records (defined in Undercover Law Enforcement Privilege Confidentiality § 80G.3):
      • Name of the individual, compensation, and employment terms if not excluded from public disclosure as per other parts of Iowa Code Chapter 22. Here compensation can be anything from disability insurance, health benefits, vacation, sick leave, and more.
      • Dates employed by a government entity
      • Positions held by the individual
      • Educational facilities attended by the individual
      • How the employment ended (resignation, termination, discharged, demoted from disciplinary action)
    • Personal information found in personnel records of government entities relating to student employees — Iowa Code § 22.7(11b) — Such information can only be released under 20 U.S. Code § 1232g Family Educational and Privacy Rights.

Financial statements sent by the Department of Agriculture by/on behalf of a grain dealer/warehouse operator — Iowa Code § 22.7(12) — Find out more in Grain Dealers Chapter 203.

Although it may seem like it, this is not an exhaustive list of the exemptions stated in the Iowa Code. However, we have covered most of them. If you would like to read more, do not hesitate to read the entirety of Chapter 22 here.

Where Can I Get Iowa Public Records?

Under the Public Records Policy updated on 12 January 2021, the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO for short) is the overseer of all records deemed public.

To obtain public records in Iowa, you must submit a request through the Office of the Chief Information Officer. You can do this in one of four ways as defined below:

In-Person

If you wish to request public records in person, you must head to this address:

Office of the Chief Information Officer
200 E. Grand Ave.
Des Moines, IA 50309
By Mail

For mail requests, you need to address the sealed envelope to the address above.

By Email

If you wish to email your request, write to the following email: gloria.vanrees@iowa.gov

Online

To make a request online, follow these steps:

  1. Go to the Iowa Information and Public Records Request Portal by clicking the link provided here.
  2. Before clicking “Make Request”, try hitting the “Search” button. This way you can check for records that have already been requested and pulled. If you find what you need, you won’t need to make a new request.
  3. If you don’t find the information you’re looking for, click “Make Request”. This will lead you to a form where you’ll need to enter this information:
    1. Description of the record including the title and the date/date range
    2. Your email (optional)
    3. Your name (optional)
    4. Your address and phone number (optional)
  4. You don’t need to input your personal details if you don’t feel comfortable doing so. However, not providing an email address means you will have to keep coming back to the site to check whether your record has been pulled.

Are There Any Fees Associated with Making an Iowa Public Records Request?

According to the Public Records Policy, the Office of the Chief Information Officer will charge a fee for public documents if the actual cost of producing the documents isn’t incidental. However, the fee cannot be more than the actual cost of searching for and releasing the records.

If copies are required, then the first 30 pages printed by a printer or copier are given to you for free. After that, the fee is $0.10 per printed page.

The OCIO also gives an estimate of the administrative compiling fee at a flat rate of $32 an hour. The first three hours, however, are provided for free. The estimation provided by the OCIO will take into account the following:

  • Time to locate records
  • Any screen records
  • Time to delete information that is exempt from public disclosure
  • Personnel copying time (both printed and PDF)

As a general rule, the Office of the Chief Information Officer states that for large email groups, attachments, and chains, it should take two minutes to screen and redact each one.

For electronic data or records that must be processed in a certain format, the fee is $60 per hour. If the records are held with a third-party organization or company, then you’ll have to pay the standard hourly rate of the third-party entity.

You will always be given an estimate beforehand and you’re typically expected to pay after the records have been handed to you. However, if the fee is fairly large, the OCIO may expect you to pay in advance.

Once you have submitted the payment, the OCIO will detect the actual salary of the people handling your request.

If the actual cost is less than the initial quote, you will receive a refund of the amount you overpaid. If the actual cost is more than the initial quote, you’ll be given the records completed within the predetermined budget and notified of the cost should you wish to complete the request.

Court Records in Iowa

How do Iowa Courts work? To better understand the court function and structure in the state, let’s have a quick look at each type in turn.

The structure and basic function look like this:

  • Iowa Supreme Court
    • Can accept a case and send a case from/to the Court of Appeals
    • Court of Last Resort (i.e. its decision is final unless there is a federal issue involved)
    • 7 justices
    • Decisions become law that lower Iowa courts must follow
  • Court of Appeals
    • Only decides cases given by the Iowa Supreme Court
    • Decides cases where legal issues are settled
    • Court of Intermediate Appeal (90% of appeals given to this court)
    • 9 judges in 3 panels of 3 judges
    • People can ask the Iowa Supreme Court to review a decision made here
  • District Court
    • Most cases begin here
    • Once the court files a decision, someone can appeal to a higher court
    • Three levels of judges here:
      • District judges — Have general jurisdiction on all case types
      • Associate judges — Can be district, juvenile, or probate associates
      • Magistrates — Have limited jurisdiction
    • One district court in each of the 99 counties in Iowa
    • Districts are sectioned into eight judicial districts for easier administration and scheduling:
      • District One — Allamakee, Buchanan, Black Hawk, Clayton, Delaware, Chickasaw, Dubuque, Fayette, Grundy, Howard, and Winneshiek
      • District Two — Boone, Butler, Bremer, Cerro Gordo, Floyd, Calhoun, Carroll, Franklin, Hancock, Hamilton, Greene, Hardin, Winnebago, Humboldt, Marshall, Mitchell, Webster, Story, Sac, Pocahontas, Worth, and Wright
      • District Three — Buena Vista, Cherokee, Clay, Crawford, Dickinson, Ida, Emmet, Kossuth, Lyon, O’Brien, Monona, Sioux, Plymouth, Woodbury, Palo Alto, and Osceola
      • District Four — Audubon, Fremont, Cass, Mills, Montgomery, Harrison, Pottawattamie, Shelby, and Page
      • District Five — Adair, Clarke, Adams, Decatur, Guthrie, Jasper, Dallas, Madison, Lucas, Marion, Polk, Taylor, Ringgold, Wayne, Warren, and Union
      • District Six — Iowa, Johnson, Jones, Linn, Benton, and Tama
      • District Seven — Clinton, Jackson, Scott, Cedar, and Muscatine
      • District Eight — Appanoose, Henry, Keokuk, Jefferson, Des Moines, Davis, Lee, Mahaska, Monro, Louisa, Wapello, Washington, Poweshiek, and Van Buren

Are Court Records Public Information in Iowa?

The Iowa Judicial Branch ensures a transparent court system, allowing court records regarding cases, operations, and administration to be public. The exemptions stated in Chapter 22 of the Iowa Code do, however, apply here. Some information may have to be redacted or withheld according to other laws, ongoing investigations, and specific statutes relevant to the record.

Where Can You Get Copies of Court Records in Iowa?

To receive copies of court records, you have to direct your request to the correct custodian in the judicial branch. You can ask for them in writing or verbally during standard judicial office hours. Although, it’s worth remembering that if you have a complex request, the custodian may ask that you submit the query in writing.

The Iowa judicial branch has set up various custodians depending on the type of requester or records:

Criminal Records in Iowa

The Iowa Department of Public Safety is a government agency that is in charge of all criminal records in the state. The Division of Criminal Investigation is the section of the department that allows criminal records to be available to the public through criminal background reports.

How to Search for Criminal History Records in Iowa

Currently, you can make requests for criminal history records via the Criminal History Record Dissemination Unit by mail, fax, or in person. Unfortunately, an online service isn’t available yet but they are constructing it. Once finished, it will be known as the Iowa Criminal History Record Check website.

To Request By Fax or Mail

    1. Complete the Criminal History Request Form and the Criminal History Billing Form.
    2. Send to the office by mail or fax using the following details:

Iowa Divisions of Criminal Investigation
Support Operations Bureau, 1st Floor
215 E 7th St
Des Moines IA 50319
Fax: 515.725.6080
Phone: 515.725.6066

To Request In Person

Unless you are the subject of the request, you won’t receive immediate records under Chapter 692.2(1) of the Iowa Code. If you’re requesting a criminal history check on somebody else, you’ll have to leave it for normal processing.

Head to the following address to make an in-person request:

215 East 7th Street
Des Moines
Iowa

How Long Does a Criminal History Record Check Take in Iowa?

Criminal history record checks in Iowa take approximately one to three working days to complete. However, for complicated requests, the duration might be longer. According to Iowa Code Chapter 22, agencies have up to 30 days to fulfill requests but usually, the judicial branch won’t take longer than a week (7 days).

How Long Does Arrest Information Stay On a Criminal Record in Iowa?

Arrest information can stay on your criminal record indefinitely. However, if no disposition was received within 4 years from the arrest, the arrest information will be wiped from your record permanently.

Moreover, if you were arrested but no fingerprint card was received by the Department of Criminal Investigation in Iowa, then it will not show up on your criminal record.

Can You Challenge Your Criminal History Record Information?

Yes, you can challenge the information found on your criminal history record check in Iowa. If you wish to do so, you should write to this address:

Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation
Support Operations Bureau, 1st Floor
215 E. 7th Street
Des Moines, Iowa 50319
(515) 725-6066
(515) 725-6080 (fax)
Alternatively, you can attend the office in person during standard business hours to appeal the information.

Warrant Records in Iowa

Warrant records are written by a judge or grand jury that grants law enforcement officials permission to search somebody’s property, confiscate evidence, or arrest an individual person (not a group).

Usually, warrants are obtained when there is sufficient proof that a crime has been committed by the individual.

These records are searchable by the public online or via the county sheriffs.

How to Search for Warrant Records in Iowa

To search for warrant records online in Iowa, you can use the Iowa Statewide Warrant Search System.

At times, it will be quicker to contact the county sheriff directly. Below, you can find a table containing the top counties’ Sheriff’s contact details.

CountyAddress and Phone

Polk County, Des Moines Polk County Sheriff
1985 NE 51st Place Des Moines, Iowa 50313
(515) 286-3814
Linn County, Cedar Rapids Linn County Sheriff’s Office
53 3rd Avenue Bridge Cedar Rapids, IA 52401
319-892-6100
Scott County, Davenport Use Scott County Iowa Warrant Search Online Database
Black Hawk County, Waterloo Use Black Hawk County Search Warrants Online Database
Johnson County, Iowa City Johnson County Sheriff’s Office
511 S Capitol Street Iowa City, IA 52244
(319) 356-6020
Woodbury County, Sioux City Woodbury County Sheriff’s Office
407 7th St Sioux City, IA 51101
(712) 279-6010

What Is The Difference Between an Arrest Record and an Arrest Warrant?

An arrest record is a document that is created following an arrest or apprehension detailing the occurrence specifics. An arrest warrant, on the other hand, is a document given by a judge or magistrate that allows law enforcement to arrest or search an individual for a suspected crime.

Arrest Records in Iowa

Take a look at this brief overview of Iowa arrests and crimes compiled based on FBI reports:

  • The rate of violent crimes in Iowa is 2.67 per 1,000 people.
  • Living in Iowa, you have a 1 in 58 chance of becoming a victim of a property crime.
  • The incarceration rate in Iowa is 568 per 100,000 people. This statistic includes jails, prisons, juvenile facilities, and immigration detention.

What Do Arrest Records in Iowa Show?

Arrest records in Iowa show the following details:

  • Active warrants
  • Drug convictions, including marijuana
  • DUI convictions
  • Mugshot
  • Parole and/or probation history
  • Sex offender information (if applicable)

What Is The Difference Between an Arrest Record and a Criminal Record?

A criminal record is an extremely comprehensive document detailing somebody’s entire criminal background including arrests, convictions, warrants, and much more. Arrest records are simply documents that detail one arrest occasion.

What Is a Public Arrest Record in Iowa?

As we’ve mentioned above, law enforcement produces these records once an individual has been apprehended/arrested. These are used as evidence (usually) and can help figure out whether a trial will be held.

These records are then made public, as long as they are not exempt under Chapter 22 of the Iowa Code.

What Does a Public Arrest Record Include in Iowa?

Public arrest records in Iowa show the following information:

  • Personal data of the individual including first name, birth date, fingerprints, race, height, and weight
  • Personal identifiers such as tattoos, birthmarks, beauty spots, scars, piercings, and more
  • Address of the jail or detention center
  • Name of the officer who arrested the individual
  • Date and time of the arrest
  • The place of the arrest
  • Name of the warrant issuer
  • The status of the case
  • Details of the alleged crime

Who Can Access Arrest Records in Iowa?

Through the Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) under the Iowa Department of Public Safety, anyone can access arrest records in Iowa upon making a request. To make a request, refer to the earlier sections on obtaining a criminal history record check.

Are There Any Reasons Why You Can’t Access an Arrest Record in Iowa?

You may not be able to view an arrest record in the state if the information it contains is exempt under Iowa Code § 22.7.

Inmate Records in Iowa

Iowa has roughly 18,000 inmates inside its corrections system. Each inmate has a record that contained personal and case information. All of them are distributed and maintained by the staff who run the management of each individual facility.

What Is On an Inmate Record in Iowa?

While the specific information contained on an inmate record in Iowa can differ, generally you’ll find the following:

  • Personal information about the inmate (name, birth date, gender, etc.)
  • Personal identifiers (tattoos, piercings, scars, etc.)
  • Mugshot
  • Location
  • Registration number
  • Transfer information
  • Custody status

Where Can You Find Inmate Records in Iowa?

The Iowa Department of Public Safety allows you to use their website to find information on current inmates. You can also access parole information through the Board of Parole Iowa website.

To make a search, simply enter a name or the designated offender number.

Vital Records in Iowa

Official registration of life events such as births, deaths, and marriages started on July 1, 1880. To this day, the Iowa Department of Public Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics deals with all of these records of the state.

To access a vital record, you must provide the following information:

  • Event location
  • Date of event (approximation at least)
  • Full name of the person (plus maiden name)
  • Case file number (if searching for divorce records)
  • Licensing number (if searching for divorce records)

You can provide this information to the Bureau of Vital Statistics via phone, in-person, or by mail. There is no online system for searching vital records in this state. If you’re making in-person requests, you must pay the fee in cash, money orders, or checks (made out to the Iowa Department of Public Health).

Background Hawk - Team

Background Hawk - Team

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