As a general rule, the state of New Jersey is considered to be very friendly to the public when it comes to record access.
With a number of laws in place to provide for public record access (including laws that predate the federal Freedom of Information Act, even), this state has a long and illustrious history of making sure that its citizens had as much access to public records as possible – keeping the state of New Jersey government open and transparent.
Some of the records that New Jersey maintains stretch back to when New Jersey was still a colony of the British Empire, with many records dating all the way back to 1664!
Below we highlight how to request public records, the different departments, and organizations that may need to be contacted to gain access to this information, and other details to help you navigate the process from start to finish.
Let’s begin, shall we?
New Jersey Public Record Overview
For starters, you’ll want to know that New Jersey has a number of state-specific rules, regulations, and statutory laws that they have passed regarding how public records are to be accessed.
The first laws in New Jersey regarding public record requests were passed back in 1963. These laws were passed just ahead of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which would federalize a lot of the laws that New Jersey had already had on the books for 12 months.
This series of laws – called the Open Public Records Act of 1963 – was the law of the land in the state of New Jersey up until it was updated in 2001.
The update made it both easier and more challenging for individuals and organizations to submit public record requests in the state of New Jersey.
On the one hand, New Jersey put together a gargantuan effort to digitize a lot of their public records that previously only existed in hardcopy versions (which were next possible to search with any real speed).
These new digital systems are a lot easier to navigate, particularly when it comes to doing more in-depth public record requests and combing court records throughout the state.
Thanks to the standardization and digitization of public records in the state of New Jersey it’s now possible to access public records stretching all the way back to 1621 from all 33 counties in the state.
Not only does the state maintain these records (and do a great job at keeping these records clean and organized), but they also have a number of third-party organizations working in partnership with the state to make sure that these records are accessible, too.
All records need to abide by the New Jersey Inspection of Public Records Act, another piece of legislation passed by the state that presumes all government details and records are to be made available to the public upon request.
Public agencies have just seven days to respond to an inquiry or request for these records. If there’s a reason that the state can’t respond within those seven days they have to communicate the issue and provide a deadline that they’ll adhere to moving forward.
The only records that are not available to the general public (but can be found upon special request) are legislative records. Every other branch of government in New Jersey makes their records available completely.
The Impact of Federal Laws on New Jersey Public Records
Just like every other state in the country, New Jersey is beholden to the federal laws and regulations that govern public records.
The Freedom of Information Act (signed into law by Pres. Lyndon Johnson in 1966) is the biggest piece of federal legislation that governs how public records are to be handled at the federal and state level.
Certain components of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 1968 also influence public record requests at the federal level, laws that also dictate public record requests in the state of New Jersey, too.
How Exactly Does New Jersey Define Public Records?
The main laws governing public record requests in New Jersey are the laws within the Open Public Records Act (OPRA), legislation passed by the New Jersey state government back in 1963 (later updated and amended in 2001).
By statute, this piece of legislation provides a right to the public to access records created and held/maintained by the state of New Jersey (excluding those that have legal exemptions, of course).
Sometimes referred to as a state equivalent to the US federal Freedom of Information Act (mentioned above), these laws codify not just what public records can be accessed by the people of New Jersey but also how these rights to these records should be exercised as well.
For example, OPRA clearly states that public information requests need to be fully completed, signed, and then provided to the specific keeper of the records that are being requested.
This was later amended and updated in the 2001 refresh to the original 1963 set of laws to allow for these kinds of requests to be made online, though.
OPRA also dictated that public contract information should be provided as “immediate access” information, that convicted criminals in the state of New Jersey (or anywhere else in the United States) would not have access to public records, and that requests must be responded to within a seven-day block of time.
If requests are not responded to inside of that seven-day window of time, however, the individual making the public record request should assume that it is a denial.
Record requests that have been denied (indirectly as highlighted a moment ago or directly/overtly) can be appealed to the Government Records Council, a subdivision of the Department of Community Affairs.
Record appeals can also be submitted directly to the New Jersey Superior Court in some situations. If the Government Records Council does not respond to an appeals request within 45 calendar days, however, the case is automatically sent to the NJ Superior Court for review.
Examples of New Jersey Public Records
According to the New Jersey OPRA legislation, “all public records of the government bodies subject to the OPR a legislation” are to be provided to the public upon request.
These records can include (but are not limited to) any government records that have been “made, maintained, or kept on file in the course of official business by any officer, commission, agency, or authority of the state of New Jersey.”
Specific New Jersey Public Record Exemptions
At the same time, the state of New Jersey does have a number of public record exemptions in place that protect and secure the privacy of some information maintained by government records.
These exemptions include, but are not limited to:
- Government material (inter-and intra-agency material) that can be considered either advisory, deliberative, or consulted
- Communications between members of the legislature and their constituents
- Memoranda or other communications that may be created or used by members of the legislation during the course of their governmental responsibilities and duties
- Medical examiner records specifically pertaining to the body of deceased individuals
- Specific criminal investigatory notes and records
- Specific criminal victim notes and records
- Trade secrets, commercial information, or financial information
- Attorney-client privilege information
- Technical or administrative information that could, even potentially or indirectly, compromise digital security
- Building and infrastructure plans, as well as emergency procedures, if they could pose a security risk
- Information that could give undue advantages to bidders or competitors
- Claims or complaints of sexual harassment-related information
- Collective negotiation details
- Public bodies’ and insurance organizations’ communications
- Court (state or federal) ordered information deemed to be confidential
- Honorable discharge information (made only available to the spouse of the veteran)
- Social Security numbers, driver license numbers, credit card details, or phone numbers that are specifically unlisted
- College and university records
- Cases maintained specifically by public defenders that deem the information confidential
- Pension and personnel details of government employees
- Any records that are deemed exempt by New Jersey state statutes
How Are New Jersey Public Records Accessed?
As highlighted a moment ago, New Jersey (by state law) requires all public record requests to be made in writing (signed and sometimes notarized) directly to the public body custodian of those specific records in question.
Some people choose to hand-deliver these written and signed requests, others choose to mail them in or fax them to different departments and agencies, and others still may be able to email these written and signed requests, too.
It’s important to contact different record-holding organizations before emailing these requests, though. Not all public agencies are going to be able to accept public record requests this way. You’ll want to know exactly how different organizations like to have their requests submitted to streamline the process as much as possible.
As soon as your request has been submitted and received by that custodian they then have seven business days to respond. If a request has not been responded to within seven days, however, it is considered to be an “automatic denial”.
Any denial can be appealed directly to the Government Records Council or the New Jersey Superior Court.
How Much Are New Jersey Public Record Requests?
Public record checks in the state of New Jersey that are provided via electronic records have absolutely no fees whatsoever associated with the check itself.
This includes the information that is 100% publicly available on different websites and databases maintained by the state of New Jersey, as well as any digital information provided directly from the state, too.
If public record information needs to be sent via mail or has to be delivered in person there are usually small fees associated with the cost of printing and shipping those materials.
The price in those situations is often a few cents billed per printed page, with standard First Class mail postage charged as well. Generally, public record requests will cost about $0.75 per page for the first page through the 10th page, $0.50 per page for the 11th page through the 20th page, and $0.25 per page from the 20th page on.
Special “service fees” may also be charged depending on the specifics of the request, the department these records are being requested from, and the difficulty in tracking down some of the public records that are being sought after.
As a general rule, however, New Jersey public records are not very expensive. More detailed information about the kinds of fees individuals can expect to pay can be found by reaching out to a specific record-holding office directly.
Court records in the state of New Jersey are provided in full accordance with the New Jersey Open Public Records Act of 1995, an update to the original act of the same name that was passed back in 1993.
Modern court records are much easier to find (records created or maintained within the last 25 years or so), with the older court records harder and harder to find depending on whether or not a specific court for the district has digitized and standardized the paper records that they were maintaining.
Are New Jersey Court Records Public Information?
New Jersey Supreme Court Rules (as well as local and district statutes) regulate the kind of information courts can disclose, and unless they are specifically exempted all courts in New Jersey had to provide the following records to the general public upon request:
- Civil Division
- Special Civil Part
- Criminal Division
- Family Division
- All Municipal Courts
If digital records are not available either through the website highlighted above or from the district/state level court websites and databases you have found, you may have to formally request these records from the specific court system you believe is maintaining them.
How Do I Get Access?
Most court records can be found by visiting the New Jersey Court Records website (www.njcourts.gov) and searching through their digital records to see if this platform has the information individuals or organizations are looking for.
Records that are not already digitized will need to be uncovered with a different approach. Searchers will need to contact the clerk for the court they believe would maintain the records in question and request them directly.
This can be done in person, over the phone, or through the mail. If the contacted clerk cannot find the information requested they can usually help point searchers in the right direction for someone/an organization that can.
Criminal checks are going to have to go through the New Jersey Criminal Records maintained in partnership with the New Jersey State Police, the State Bureau of Identification, and the Identity and Information Technology Section of the state of New Jersey, too.
These requests will also have to adhere to the rules and regulations outlined by the New Jersey Administrative Code, the specific set of legislation that allows for the dissemination of these records held in the New Jersey Criminal History Record system.
The only people that can get approved for these kinds of records include out-of-state or federal government representatives, private detectives and investigators, and employers.
Individuals can also conditionally be granted approval to search these kinds of records, though the state usually requires some sort of valid reasoning to grant these requests.
What Info Will Criminal Records Include?
Criminal record reports will include information like:
- Personally identifying details (name, date of birth, etc.)
- Any available mugshots and fingerprints
- Distinguishing features – tattoos, birthmarks, and specific physical attributes
- Details regarding the type of criminal offense (misdemeanors as well as felonies charges), with descriptions of the crime committed
These records are pulled from the New Jersey court system, detention centers, and law enforcement organizations at both the local as well as the New Jersey state level, too.
How Long Do These Requests Usually Take?
Though running a public record check in New Jersey can take anywhere from three business days to about 7 to 10 business days (give or take), the state requires all public record check requests to have been responded to within seven business days explicitly.
If a department is unable to respond to public record checks within that timeline, they are required to respond with a reason for the delay and provide an updated timeline as soon as possible.
As a general rule, however, New Jersey does have a solid record for getting back to people sooner rather than later. Expect a response to your public record request within a couple of days and the actual information that has been requested very quickly, too.
How Long Does Criminal Info Stay on Record?
All information collected and saved by the New Jersey Criminal Records department is going to be held indefinitely, with no time limit whatsoever.
Public records regarding criminal history can sometimes be difficult to secure in certain situations. But they always stretch as far back as criminal history exists.
The only “hard limit” that most citizens are not going to be able to search beyond is the age of 18 for each individual. Those records are considered the criminal history of minor individuals and are sealed from the public view in almost all circumstances without express consent from the New Jersey courts system.
How Do I Request Criminal Records in New Jersey?
The fastest way to gain access to these records is to request them through the New Jersey Criminal Records organization at www.njsp.org/criminal-history-records.
Different kinds of warrants can be searched through public record requests in the state of New Jersey, though individuals will have to contact law enforcement officials directly to run these kinds of searches.
Active arrest warrants, as well as bench warrants, can be reviewed as part of the public record request process, though certain situations and exemptions preclude individuals from gaining access to this information.
Contacting a local Sheriff’s Department directly (or contacting a county clerk) can provide the most clarity on this kind of public records request.
Those professionals are going to be able to look up active or previous warrant records for a name that is provided, though this kind of request may have to be made in person or in writing (like all other record requests in New Jersey).
Arrest records are (generally) only going to be made available to authorized agencies – including state and local law enforcement agencies – in the state of New Jersey.
These records (kept and maintained by the New Jersey State Police) may show up on some criminal record requests that are more freely available through the traditional request process, but not always.
Those that search the New Jersey Courts website or the Department of Corrections digital database will only find information about individuals that have been convicted, too.
Obviously, a conviction means that at some point an individual was arrested for specific charges. But even these record databases may not provide specific details about those arrests.
On top of that, individuals that were only arrested and not convicted are not going to show up on the New Jersey Courts website or the Department of Corrections.
Interested parties may be able to get some information about publicly available arrest information by contacting local police departments, the New Jersey state police, or the office of an area sheriff.
At the very least, those law enforcement agents will be able to point individuals in the right direction of finding the arrest information they are looking for if they can’t provide it themselves – so long as that information is publicly available, to begin with.
The New Jersey Department of Corrections is responsible for maintaining all inmate records (as well as handling everything related to the correctional facilities throughout this state).
This is the department of government that will need to be contacted when individuals or organizations are looking for inmate information that may be maintained by state prisons, men’s and women’s prisons, youth correctional facilities, as well as anything having to do with sex offenders in the state of New Jersey.
What Do Inmate Records Detail?
Inmate information available in public records include:
- Personal information (name, date of birth, gender, etc.)
- Booking and mugshots photos
- Inmate location in the DOC system
- Inmate DOC registration number
- Any relevant jail transfer information and
- Current custody status
Where Can Inmate Records Be Found?
Inmate information is made available 100% online and fully searchable by visiting www.state.nj.us/doc_inmate.
Sex Offender Records
The New Jersey Sex Offender Internet Registry is open to anyone and everyone that wishes to run a search, available totally free of charge and online 24/7, 365 days a year.
New Jersey law requires all individuals that have been convicted, adjudicated delinquent, or even found not guilty by reason of insanity for any sexual offense to register in the state.
Information can be found at www.njsp.org/sex-offender-registry. Information is constantly updated by the Division of State Police, including information related to New Jersey’s “Megan’s Law”.
Those searching these online records should know that while the state of New Jersey does everything in its power to make sure that the information in this database is 100% accurate and constantly up-to-date, it may not be a total or comprehensive breakdown of every individual that has ever committed a sex crime in the state of New Jersey.
The state law (New Jersey Code 2C: 7-2) clearly breaks down the specific rules and regulations regarding who needs to register as a sex offender in the state of New Jersey and who does not. There’s a list of offenses broken down in this chapter of the state law that dictates whether or not someone that has been charged or convicted of these kinds of crimes needs to disclose this information at all.
On top of that, each individual registrant with this database is valid to determine whether or not they pose a low, moderate, or high risk of offense based on their prior history and the specifics of their conviction.
New Jersey law then provides these individuals with an opportunity to go in front of a judge before the community notification process actually takes place. They have a chance to plead their situation, telling the judge why they believe they shouldn’t have to register, and then it’s up to the judge’s discretion as to whether or not that specific individual as to add their information and details into the database itself.
This is why the sex offender registry in the state of New Jersey (generally) only contains information regarding sex offenders that have already been determined to pose a moderately high or significantly higher risk of his offense (including those in Tier 2 as well as Tier 3).
It’s very unlikely to find information regarding sex offenders that would have been classified under the Tier 1 scheme in the state of New Jersey.
Anyone using this database should also be aware of the fact that New Jersey state law makes it a crime (punished by prison between three and five years and a fine of up to $15,000) to take advantage of any of the information provided with this registry to commit criminal offenses, too.
Those charges will be added on top of any other criminal charges related to that specific criminal activity.
Vital records in the state of New Jersey are handled by the Department of Health, specifically the Office of Vital Statistics.
This organization manages all records of New Jersey births, marriages, and deaths stretching all the way back until 1919.
The same organization handles all information regarding domestic partnerships going back to 2004, civil unions stretching all the way back to 2007, as well as information regarding adoptions (foreign and domestic adoptions) going back to 1969.
Birth certificates for stillborn babies are maintained by the state of New Jersey going back to 1969, too.
Public record checks looking for vital information in the state of New Jersey need to be facilitated through the Department of Health, but these kinds of records are only going to be released to individuals that can prove they are either the individual on record or a direct relative of that person.
This information is not going to be available to employers, even upon request.
Requests made of the Department of Health for these records need to include:
- Location of the event in question
- A ballpark date of when the event would have taken place
- Full name of the individual in question (including potential maiden names or aliases)
- Case file number when searching for divorce records
- A marriage license number when searching for marriage records
All public records related to businesses in the state of New Jersey are going to be handled by the Division of Revenue and Enterprise Services, but more specifically the Business Records Service subdivision of that department.
Visitors to the Business Records Service website (found here) are going to be able to search all publicly available documents and data sets after creating an account on the platform.
Businesses can be searched by:
- Standing certificates
- Status reports
- Name search
Businesses can also be searched by their trade name or their “service mark”, and certificates can be validated through the Business Records Service as well.
For help finding the records of a specific business, or for requesting more details than are available through the online portal, contact the Division of Revenue & Enterprise Services directly.
They can be reached by mail at the following address:
Division of Revenue & Enterprise Services
PO Box 450
Trenton, New Jersey 08646
Public record requests related to historical records in New Jersey should be directed to the New Jersey State Archives, a division of the Department of State.
These archives are basically the central repository and collection facility for historical documents and records pertaining to the state of New Jersey, including:
- Historical vital records
- Historical land documents and information
- Historical probate records and
- Historical military service records
Some of these records go back as far as when New Jersey was still a colony of the United States, stretching as far back as 1664 right up until our present time!
On top of the digitized historical records available, the state archives are also responsible for maintaining county clerk and surrogate records (on microfilm) as well as microfilm of records maintained by the LDS church and local newspapers throughout the state, too.
More than 37,000 ft.³ of paper records have been collected on microfilm already across 32,000 reels – and that’s not even including the information that has been digitized.
Record requests can be made by visiting the physical archives in Downtown Trenton (located at 225 W. State Street). It’s not a bad idea to call ahead and let the archivists know what kind of information is being sought after. It’ll let them get a head start on the search, as well as clue you in on other records that may add a little more context and information as well.
All records maintained by the State Archives are available 100% free of charge to the general public, though there are sometimes small fees for photocopies and reprographics services. On top of that, there are some collections that cannot be accessed in person but can only be viewed either online or through the mail.
The State Archives website (found here) can be used to search individual collections, define special documentary treasures, and investigate some of the special projects and commemorations that New Jersey makes available to the public, too.
On top of that, there are “quick links” on this page that can bring you directly to the collections currently being promoted.
New Jersey History Searchable Database and Record Request Forms
Those looking for specific database and record request forms from the state of New Jersey are going to want to use the link above. All record request forms, including specialized request forms, can be found on this page, printed out and signed, and returned to the relevant departments – or to the State Archives – for processing.
Federal Writers Project Photographs
This specific State Archives database is an index and collection of more than 4000+ photographs taken as part of the Federal Writers Project in the state of New Jersey.
New Jersey Cultural Alliance for Response
These records have been provided by a network of organizations, agencies, and individuals that want to preserve and protect the unique cultural heritage of New Jersey. New pieces are being added to these archives on a regular basis.
Public Records Recovery and Amnesty
This is one of the largest collections of state records in the archives, containing records from almost all state agencies, subdivisions, and organizations that maintain public records in the first place.
Property and Tax Records
All information regarding property and tax records in the state of New Jersey will be handled by the Division of Taxation.
All “real property” in the state of New Jersey is assessed according to the value of that property – the true value of that property – aside from some agricultural and horticultural land that has been specifically exempted.
The authority for the assessment of these taxes is established in Article 8, Section 1 of the New Jersey Constitution.
Each individual county is able to assess their own percentage of the “true value” taxes of a property to be collected in taxes through the county board of taxation, with all 21 counties in New Jersey choosing to move forward with 100%.
Because New Jersey has a very strong tradition of “home rule”, the state government is not in any way to participate in the construction of local budgets – and it does not receive any portion whatsoever of property taxes that have been collected.
Those interested in receiving information about property and tax records in the state of New Jersey, therefore, have to direct their requests to each of the individual 21 New Jersey counties directly, speaking to their County Board of Taxation.
The Division of Taxation at the New Jersey Treasury can help point people in the right direction when looking for this kind of information, but most requests should be made directly at the county level.
New Jersey driving records can be provided during a public record request, with individuals contacting the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission directly to receive this information on drivers licensed within the state.
Individuals requesting this information are going to need to provide a user ID (to take advantage of the online database) as well as a New Jersey driver’s license ID number – the specific number provided by the state of New Jersey and printed on each individual license.
The cost is $15 (payable by all major credit and debit cards) and is accessible online, though they can also be mailed directly to individuals that want a hard copy, too.
To start this kind of search, visit www.state.nj.us/mvc.
Follow the on-screen prompts from there to get a detailed abstract of the history of an individual’s driving record in New Jersey.
Information is (generally) provided to individuals that are looking to search for their own driving history and their own driving abstracts.
This kind of information usually isn’t provided to employers directly, though it is often something that employers request potential employees to search for themselves (with reimbursement) if the job or position requires them to drive as part of their job moving forward.
What Should Be Done If My New Jersey Public Records are Incomplete or Inaccurate?
If New Jersey public records are found to be incomplete or inaccurate, it’s important to contact the specific record-holding agency or organization directly to find out how to resolve these issues.
Most of the time, corrections can be made just by speaking to the custodian of those records directly and alerting them to the problem. Sometimes, though, other records have to be furnished to make these corrections possible – and that may or may not be the responsibility of the individual trying to correct these records to begin with.
In some circumstances, it may be necessary to file a lawsuit to correct these inaccurate or incomplete records as well.
Those should be filed with the New Jersey Superior Court, with briefs that clearly outline the issue at hand as well as the remedy that is being requested (the resolution of the inaccuracies or the errors).