Like every other state in the US, Minnesota provides access to public records and information upon request to the general public – including citizens of Minnesota as well as those that live outside of the state.
Navigating the public record system in Minnesota, however, can be a bit complex and convoluted.
The legislation was passed in the early 1970s to streamline things somewhat (digitizing a lot of records that previously had only existed in hardcopy), the laws, rules, and regulations at the state level may be gaining access to public records here a bit more challenging than elsewhere in the United States.
Things have been made even more complex through different legislative actions and lobbying efforts over the last 50+ years since the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act was passed. A number of amendments designed to simplify things have only caused more confusion.
Below we aim to clear up as much of that confusion as possible!
What Federal Laws Apply to Public Record Requests in the US?
Federal law pertaining to public record request access supersedes all state laws in Minnesota, providing citizens there some relief when pursuing this kind of information.
The main law at the federal level that handles how information should be requested from the Minnesota state government is the Freedom of Information Act that was signed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1966.
While pertaining specifically to public record access for federal government agencies (including the ones that operate within Minnesota), many of the components of this act have found their way into the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act as part of different amendments.
How Does Minnesota Define Public Records?
In 1974, the state of Minnesota passed a series of laws bundled into a package called the Government Data Practices Act.
This was done partly in response to a surprising report that showed the Army had secretly been surveilling citizens without their knowledge and without their permission, but it was also done in conjunction with recommendations that were being made by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare as well.
That Minnesota state department understood that computers were going to change the way that public records were kept and accessed, publishing a report in 1974 called “Computers and the Rights of Citizens”.
The state recognized that it was important to maintain all government data available and provide it publicly whenever possible unless specific state laws, statutes, or temporary classifications – as well as federal law – deemed that information nonpublic, totally private, or confidential.
The original package of laws came in at just six pages, but over the nearly 50 years since the passage of that act, it has grown into a 171-page section of logs outlined in the Minnesota Statutes Chapter 13 and 20 sections of the Minnesota law books.
Over time all of these extra amendments and changes (not only passed on the state level but passed on the federal level as well) have made it a little more challenging and a little bit more difficult to navigate the actual public record process in the state.
For example, some information maintained by the Minnesota state government is considered “nonpublic” even though it is generally pretty benign information as well as the kind of information provided by other states freely in their public records.
At the same time, information like government employees’ salaries is available totally to the public – something that most other states in the US deemed to be nonpublic, private, and confidential.
Public records being run in the state of Minnesota are more likely than not going to require Freedom of Information Act applications alongside the traditional public record application requests because of how complex the situation can be.
Though Minnesota clearly defines public records under Minnesota Statute 13.02.7 as “any data collected, created, received, maintained, or disseminated by government entities regardless of its physical form, storage, or conditions of use” there is a multitude of exemptions that have been carved out over the last 50 years.
These exemptions include, but are not limited to:
- Information classified by the Minnesota state government
- Personal data of students in the state
- Any and all examination data
- Information including Social Security numbers
- Information relating to the security of the state
- Sealed ballot information
- Sealed bid information
- Details regarding parking space leasing agreements
- Details regarding Labor Relations
- Any and all health information, except information provided to practicing physicians for medical analysis
- Civil litigation information
- Anything pertaining to attorney-client privilege
- All library borrowing records
- All licensing data, outside of name and address information
- All personal information and data regarding undercover agents
- All information regarding potential government sales or purchasing agreements
- All welfare information
- All foster care information
- All information regarding the employment and training data of state employees
- Any financial information provided by companies pursuing different awards
- Retirement information, outside of name, pension details, and benefits
- Any farm data that can include income information, credit history, insurance coverage, etc.
- Any of the complaint data provided directly to the Attorney General office
- Employee relation information
- Energy company data regarding financial details and statistics
- Information from the transportation department, including construction estimates, accidents and operation information, etc.
- Any donor and gift information from museums and universities
- Any information having to do with domestic abuse
Where Can I Make Public Record Requests in Minnesota?
To begin the public records search process in Minnesota, individuals need to first submit public record requests.
This request can be sent in via email, through traditional mail, or even be called in over the phone to specific record-holding departments as well.
Applications (generally) required to provide detailed information including, but not limited to:
- Your name and contact information
- The document or information that you are seeking (with as much detail as possible)
- How quickly you would like to have the information provided, if possible
- How you would like your information to be provided (digitally, hard copy, etc.)
Each and every department in the state of Minnesota has its own specific rules, its own specific process, and specific idiosyncrasies for accessing public information.
You’ll want to contact the department directly for more details about how to best streamline your application, giving you the greatest chance of getting the information you’re after as quickly as possible.
What Kinds of Fees are Associated with Public Record Requests?
Criminal public record searches conducted through the Department of Public Safety in conjunction with the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension are going to cost $15 (minimum) depending on the kind of check that you are running through their systems.
Name checks are a little less expensive than fingerprint checks, and statewide fingerprint checks are always going to be a little bit less expensive than fingerprint checks that include running information through FBI and national databases as well as those maintained by the state of Minnesota.
As far as public records and vital records go, a significant amount of these records can be found online through the different department databases that are maintained by those organizations and agencies – and many of them can be searched 100% free of charge.
Vital records in particular are available free of charge (for the most part) unless hard copies of specific information and certificates are needed. That’s when fees can start to climb, but each department assesses those fees on its own.
The same can be said about court records in the state of Minnesota.
Each individual district court has the opportunity to set their own fee schedule as well as the kind of payments they are willing to accept. Some will accept almost every payment form under the sun, others will only want to accept cash, and others still are willing to meet somewhere in the middle.
Court records in the state of Minnesota are managed by the Minnesota Judicial Branch, with many of their records available publicly online again 100% free of charge.
How Should I Request Court Records?
These records can be searched by visiting www.mncourts.gov/publicaccess website, with information from Minnesota District Courts, Minnesota Appellate Courts, Minnesota Court of Appeals, and the Minnesota Supreme Court available for search.
What Kind of Information is Included in Minnesota Court Records?
Minnesota court record files are notoriously very large, including documentation from several different courts (wherever applicable).
The state regularly provides detailed transcripts from each individual court case within all of these files, making them some of the most complete court documents available for public access anywhere in the country.
It’s not unusual to receive documentation that includes:
- Court docket details
- Full-court minutes
- Extensive court files and support materials
- Court order breakdowns
- Sentencing as well as judgment documentation
- Records regarding juries
- Witness files as well as witness documentation
Criminal public record checks conducted in the state of Minnesota are generally pretty simple and straightforward to navigate, though again there are a number of exemptions to the types of information you’ll be able to pull when you conduct a check like this.
All of this information is handled by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety in conjunction with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
Both the DPS and the BCA together provide all the information in their databases to anyone interested in running these kinds of checks, making that data accessible online (100% free of charge) through the www.chs.state.mn.us website.
There are “standardized” columns of information that will be available when searching through this database, including:
- Name and date of birth
- Mugshots (where applicable)
- Breakdown of distinguishing features
- Full set of fingerprints
- Information regarding misdemeanor and felony offenses
- Strict descriptions of the crimes that have been alleged to be committed
Detailed reports regarding the types of offenses, courts of conviction, the dates of conviction, and information surrounding the sentencing situation are going to be provided here as well.
Unlike other states that provide criminal history when a public record check is conducted, Minnesota does not provide information regarding:
- Arrest records
- Juvenile records
- Any criminal history from states outside of Minnesota
- Any criminal history regarding federal offenses or
- Information deemed by the Minnesota court community to be “private”
How Long Do Criminal Record Searches Take?
As a general rule, the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) in Minnesota works to have criminal record searches processed as quickly as possible. They try to make sure that all approved record requests are handled in about 10 days or less.
When a fingerprint public records request through the BCA is processed, however, expect it to take about three weeks from start to finish to get the information that is being sought after.
It may take even longer than that, depending on when the CBC Program Office receives the fingerprints and when the BCA actually processes the request itself.
How Long Does Criminal Information Stay on a Record?
Information in this database goes back 15 years following the completion of a criminal sentence.
Can Criminal History Be Challenged/Expunged/Sealed?
Minnesota does have a legal process available for the complete expungement of criminal records, though it is available only in some very specific and certain circumstances.
In order to have criminal records expunged, individuals will have to fill out a considerable amount of paperwork provided by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety office, will have to request a hearing in front of a judge, and will have to prove there is a specific reason to have relief from this expungement.
Records in Minnesota can also be challenged or sealed, with juvenile records sealed automatically upon the 18th birthday of the individual with those records.
The Minnesota court system handles all challenges and requests for records to be sealed, too. Contact a local clerk for more information about how to move forward with those processes.
Minnesota does provide information regarding active arrest warrants upon request in some circumstances, though these requests will have to be made directly to specific sheriff offices for them to be approved.
Unless the individual requesting the information is the individual who has the arrest warrant out for them specifically, the only information provided will be that there is a current arrest warrant out.
More information about public arrests and warrant records can be found by visiting the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Public Criminal History website found here: https://chs.state.mn.us/.
What’s the Difference Between Arrest Records and Arrest Warrants?
Arrest warrants are documents that have actually been issued by judges or magistrates in the Minnesota court system, allowing law enforcement to use their authority to arrest a specific individual that has been suspected of committing a crime (or to search and seize specific property).
Arrest records, on the other hand, are documents that are created by law enforcement offices that make that arrest, process the individual or the property the arrest warrant was written for, and are only ever created after the apprehension has been concluded.
Arrest records in Minnesota are (generally) pretty easy to access, particularly if the individuals requesting these records are requesting their own records.
Those types of requests should be made directly to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) directly and must be done in writing.
All requests need to include:
- The full name of the individual making the request
- The date of birth of that individual
- As well as any names and aliases that may have been used in the past
On top of that, the requests need to be signed, dated, and notarized by a Minnesota notary public. An $8 personal check, money order, or cashier’s check should be included as well (made payable to the BCA).
This should then be sent off to the following address:
Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension
1430 Maryland Ave. E.
St. Paul, MN 55106
Those looking to review arrest records for individuals that are not themselves are going to go through a different process.
Public criminal history information (which is always a bit more watered down) is going to be available through the Minnesota Public Criminal History Record Search database (found here).
Individuals will need the first name and the date of birth of the individual being searched to use this database effectively.
On top of that, individuals can visit any Bureau of Criminal Apprehension office in person (including the main headquarters in St. Paul) and request access to these publicly available records as well. Visitors will be directed to a public terminal in the lobby area that can be used free of charge.
More specific, detailed, and “private” criminal history requests need to be made in writing and follow the same rules highlighted above for individuals requesting their own personal records.
A check payable for $15 needs to be included with these private searches, however, a seven dollar increase over the eight dollar fee mentioned a moment ago.
Those checks should be sent directly to the following address:
Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension
1430 Maryland Ave. E.
St. Paul, MN 55106
What’s the Difference Between Arrest Records and Criminal Records?
Arrest records are exactly that – records for each time an individual has been arrested or apprehended.
Criminal records, on the other hand, are far more comprehensive and detailed, including information like:
- Arrest information
- Warrant information
- Charge and conviction information and
- Incarceration information
What Will Arrest Records Include?
Arrest records in Minnesota will share information regarding:
- The name and date of birth of the individual that was arrested
- Mugshots and fingerprints (when applicable)
- Any parole or probation information (when applicable)
- Sex offender status (when applicable)
- Information regarding the warrant that they were arrested on (when applicable)
Who Has Access to Arrest Records?
Individuals have the right in Minnesota to search for their own arrest records, as do attorneys that are going to be representing individuals that have been arrested and are going to be moving through the Minnesota court system.
Law enforcement agencies (local, state, and federal) also have access to these records.
The fact that Minnesota has (comparatively) a relatively low inmate population that hovers around 10,000 throughout the state system allows them to keep pretty clean, organized, and easily accessible records for those looking to conduct public record checks.
Like a lot of other states across the country, Minnesota makes its inmate records available to the general public with very few exemptions – providing detailed information about each individual inmate.
How Can I Find Inmate Records?
All of this information is collected and maintained by the Minnesota Department of Corrections through their DOC Offender Search program.
Details can be found at www.coms.doc.state.mn.us, with all of the inmate information and records currently available 100% online on a 24/7 basis through this specific platform.
Those looking to search these records are going to need to provide some key information about current inmates as well as those that were detained within the Department of Corrections in Minnesota in the past.
Information like inmate name, date of birth, and any other information that can be used to identify them can be helpful to make this search move although faster.
What Kinds of Information Will Inmate Records Include?
The kind of details provided doing a DOC search can include:
- Inmate name, date of birth, gender information
- Any mugshots that are available on record
- Inmate location within the DOC system
- Inmate registration number
- Jail movement and transfer information and
- Current custody status
While the DOC does a great job at making sure that this information is kept as up-to-date as possible, it’s important to understand that information isn’t updated on this platform in real-time.
It may take up to a week or more for newly incarcerated individuals to be brought online in the system, and it may show individuals currently incarcerated that have been released for up to a week or two after they have concluded their sentence.
Sex Offender Records
Minnesota requires LEVEL III offenders (as well as those that are court-mandated to register) to register with the state and provide their full information in a 100% free, online searchable database maintained by the state.
The Minnesota Department of Corrections is responsible for maintaining this database, with the Commissioner of Corrections providing the public access to this information online.
The website can be searched by visiting https://coms.doc.state.mn.us/PublicViewer/Home/Index at any time (day or night) without having to spend any money whatsoever.
On top of that, Minnesota also provides its citizens with the opportunity to search for wanted fugitives within the state as well.
This can be searched by visiting https://coms.doc.state.mn.us/PublicViewer/Fugitive/, with many of the same search tools used in the sex offender registry available to be taken advantage of with this database, too.
Vital records searches are going to need to be conducted through the Minnesota Department of Health and the Office of Vital Records more specifically.
You’ll need to know that these kinds of records are not available in person, and showing up to any local DOH office will only help you to get your hands on the application for this information. Nothing can be turned over in person per Minnesota statute.
In fact, vital records maintained by the state of Minnesota are only ever going to be available either through the DOH website (https://www.health.state.mn.us/people/vitalrecords/index.html), through the traditional mail, or via fax.
Marriage records specifically are maintained by a totally different database – the Minnesota Official Marriage System. Divorce records are kept by each individual county District Court office, too.
If you are looking for marriage and divorce record information, understand that not all court districts are willing to accept credit or debit cards as a valid form of payment when you secure the hard copies of these records.
You may need to bring cash with you, though some offices will also accept personal checks or money orders that have been made out to the court office specifically.
On top of that, the fee schedule for gaining access to this kind of information is going to be unique from one district to the next. There’s no standardized set of fees as outlined by the Minnesota government itself.
Any records whatsoever having to do with businesses that have been registered or filed in the state of Minnesota are going to be handled by the Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State through the Business & Liens Department.
Those interested in searching these records are able to do so online at the Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State website by visiting this link. The searchable databases are regularly updated (at least every week) and provide detailed information about the businesses that have been registered in the state.
Searching for business information can be done by searching the name of the business, the individual that owns the business, or the DBA.
This site can also be used to file a new business or nonprofit, to handle any tax liens that may be assessed to a business in Minnesota, and to better understand the laws and regulations regarding businesses in this state, too.
Public historical records in Minnesota are handled almost exclusively by the Minnesota Historical Society, and their main website (and searchable databases) can be found by visiting this link.
The MNHS is responsible for operating a variety of different libraries and museums as well as cultural sites throughout the state, but their online searchable databases are open to the public 24/7 and are completely free of charge.
Hundreds of thousands of digital newspaper pages are archived in these databases, with a number of special collections available to be searched online as well.
These collections include photographs, artifacts, maps and atlases, artwork, recordings, and interviews with the people of Minnesota throughout the state history.
The Minnesota People Records Search is also accessible through the MNHS organization, providing a tremendous amount of genealogy research help for those that want to trace their ancestry using state records, too.
Those looking to take advantage of the research and resources available through the Gale Family Library can connect with research assistants that can assist them through this website. There is a fee for taking advantage of the help that these researchers provide, though it is quite nominal.
Property and Tax Records
Property and tax records in the state of Minnesota are handled on a county by county basis for the most part.
Individuals interested in searching the publicly available property and tax records in this state are going to need to contact the county treasurers directly for assistance. This can be done by using the contact information found on the Minnesota County Website or by calling those county treasurers individually.
If Minnesota county treasurers aren’t able to provide the information that is being sought after, the Minnesota Department of Revenue may be of more help. The website they use to specifically deal with property records and taxes can be found right here, though you can also reach this office at 651-556-6091.
In the event that written requests for these public records need to be made, individuals will want to send a signed (and notarized) request directly to the Property Tax Division of Minnesota.
Use the following address to make that happen:
Property Tax Division
Mail Station 3340
600 N. Robert St.
St. Paul, MN 55146-3340
Minnesota driving records can be accessed through the Minnesota Department of Public Safety and the Driver and Vehicle Services.
A lot of people are under the impression that the Minnesota Department of Transportation handles this kind of record-keeping, but you’ll want to contact DPS and Driver and Vehicle Services specifically to get a copy of your Minnesota driving history.
This request can be made by visiting www.dps.mn.gov/divisions/dvs and navigating to the form and application section of the site.
Individuals and organizations can request that information directly via the online form, or they have the opportunity to print the application out, mail it into the DPS, and then wait for a response via the mail as well.
This information contains a full breakdown of an individual’s driving record (outside of restricted information), including details like license type and classification, traffic incidents and accidents, traffic violations, license suspensions, revocations, and license cancellations.
What Should I Do If My Minnesota Records are Inaccurate or Incomplete?
If, during the process of researching public records in Minnesota, information is found to be either incomplete or inaccurate a message needs to be sent to the Office of the Minnesota Attorney General (currently Keith Ellison, as of 2021) for help remedying the situation.
A written request to correct or to complete the information being sought after should be sent directly to the following address:
Office of Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison
445 Minnesota Street, Suite 1400
St. Paul, MN 55101
Those looking to call about these corrections can reach this office at 651-296-3353, 800-657-3787, or 800-627-3529.
It might also be necessary to contact the Federal Trade Commission to remedy these public record errors or omissions.
They can be reached by mail at:
Consumer Response Center
600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20580
Or on the phone by dialing 877-382-4357 or 866-653-4261.