Public records and your rights to access them differ from state to state. Here, you can find all the information you need to know about the laws and regulations behind public records in North Carolina.
How Does North Carolina Define Public Records?
The North Carolina Public Records Law gives a right to access public records to the general public. The statutes that define the scope of the law are mainly contained in Chapter 132 of the North Carolina General Statutes which was passed in 1935. Some other statutes and chapters deal with more specific issues that shall be noted later on.
North Carolina defines public records as any document, letter, maps, books, photos, films, tapes, electronic data, artifacts, and other material regardless of its characteristics or form that has been made, held, gathered, or received by a public business or agency.
According to the North Carolina General Statutes 132-6, any person has the right to examine, inspect, and receive copies of public records. You do not need to disclose the purpose for your request under this law either and public agencies must allow your request if it does not fall within the various exemptions and exclusions.
The law of this state says that agencies should allow you to view and examine the records requested within a “reasonable time”. They should retrieve and make copies of such records “as soon as possible”, according to the North Carolina General Statutes 132-6(a). The actual response time is calculated based on the scope and size of the requested records.
However, it’s worth noting that agencies aren’t asked to work overtime to provide records for inspection or copying past normal business hours.
Governor McCrory’s Executive Order 12 asks that all public agencies retain emails for five years after the request has been made and fulfilled. This order also states that email messages need to be treated as public records if they have been sent or received in accordance with a public business transaction.
North Carolina is one of the only states that offer little to no enforcement when it comes to accessing records. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to response times and there is not a formal appeals process.
Examples of North Carolina Public Records
North Carolina public records include but aren’t limited to:
- Court records
- Business records
- Historical records
- Vital records
- Property records
- Criminal records
All public records in North Carolina are available for inspection and copying unless exempted as defined in Chapter 132 of the North Carolina General Statutes or other such laws as listed below.
North Carolina Public Records Exemptions
A governmental agency in North Carolina can deny access to part or all of a record if it falls under one of the exemptions listed below. You can refer to the specific linked code to find more information on each exemption category:
- Confidential legal communications — North Carolina General Statutes § 132-1.1(a) — This includes written communication to any public official or board made within the scope of attorney-client privilege by any attorney serving any governmental body concerning a claim against the governmental body. Such communications do, however, become public records three years after the communication took place.
- State and local tax information — North Carolina General Statutes § 132-1.1(b) — This doe not include information falling under G.S. 195-259.
- Public enterprise billing information — North Carolina General Statutes § 132-1.1(c) — Information providing information regarding utility services in connection with owner’s rights or operation of public enterprise. This statute is not intended to be abused in order to restrict access to public disclosure by a city/county of billing information. Such records will be disclosed if the following applies:
- City/county deems it necessary to help bond underwriters, potential investors, etc.
- Necessary to assist city/county/state/public enterprise in maintaining quality and integrity.
- Necessary to assist law enforcement or public safety officials.
- Address confidentiality program information — North Carolina General Statutes § 132-1.1(d) — This relates to the specific addresses and contact information of those participating in the program. Such information can only be disclosed as set out in North Carolina General Statutes Chapter 15C.
- Information relating to the controlled substances reporting system — North Carolina General Statutes § 132-1.1(e) — This relates to the information garnered by the aforementioned system that was created under Article 5E, Chapter 90 of the General Statutes.
- Personal identifiable admissions information — North Carolina General Statutes § 132-1.1(f) — This relates to information retrieved by The University of North Carolina and any Community Colleges System Office.
- Public agency proprietary computer code — North Carolina General Statutes § 132-1.1(g) — Any code written by/used by agencies of the North Carolina government that are not stated under the North Carolina General Statutes § 132-1.
- Security information of employment — North Carolina General Statutes § 132-1.1(h) — Confidential data received, made, or held by the Division of Employment Security in this state. Here, confidential information is defined as in G.S 96-4(x). However, there are exceptions to this exemption that can be found in G.S. 96-4.
- Confidential information — North Carolina General Statutes § 132-1.2 — This includes files, parts of files, and information that fits the following:
- Trade secret as defined in North Carolina General Statutes § 66-152(3)
- Property of a private individual as set out in North Carolina General Statutes § 66-152(2)
- Connected to public contract performance or bid applications, proposals, or developments
- Documented as confidential at the time of the information disclosed to the public agency
- Account number for digital payments as stated in North Carolina General Statutes § 147-86.20
- Passwords or file numbers maintained by the Secretary of State in accordance with North Carolina General Statutes Chapter 147
- Image of signature, driver’s license number, social security number, or any other personal identifiers on a voter’s document
- Seal of licensed design professionals who are licensed under Chapter 83A or 89C of North Carolina General Statutes
- Federal government’s process of closure/alignment of military infrastructure and installations before a final decision has been reached
- Personal identifiers of those involved with the drugs/supplies used for purposes authorized under North Carolina General Statutes Chapter 15 Article 19
- Personal identifiers of those who won more than $50 million in a lottery game as stated in North Carolina General Statutes § 18C-132(j1).
- Proprietary design work submitted to the Department of Transportation
- Settlements made by/on behalf of public agencies and their officials — North Carolina General Statutes § 132-1.3(b)
- Criminal intelligence and investigation information — North Carolina General Statues § 132-1.4 — This relates to all information relating to persons compiled by law enforcement to prevent/solve law violations including witness statements, investigators, photographs, measurements, and more. Certain information relating to criminal investigations will be made a public record, including the following:
- Time, location, date, and nature of violation reported to law enforcement
- Name, gender, age, employment, the alleged violation of an arrested/charged person
- Circumstances around arrest
- Recordings of 911 calls
- Communications broadcast over public channels
- Name, gender, age, address of complaining witness
- Emergency response plans — North Carolina General Statutes § 132-1.6 — This includes those of community colleges, hospitals, and universities.
- Sensitive public security information — North Carolina General Statutes § 132-1.7 — This includes the following:
- Prison operation plans
- Patterns or practices adopted by those tasked with executive protection and/or security
- Prevention or response plans to criminal/gang/organized activities
- Terrorist activity prevention or response plans
- Mobile numbers for fire department employees, sworn law enforcement officers, and anyone with emergency response duties
- Adoption of public funds regarding safety and security implementation
- Autopsy photos/videos/recordings — North Carolina General Statutes § 132-1.8
- Trial preparation documents — North Carolina General Statutes § 132-1.9 — The right to a fair trial limits disclosure of this information, along with other articles found under §132-1.9.
- Social security numbers and similar information — North Carolina General Statutes § 132-1.10
- Cost-benefit and other assessments relating to economic developments — North Carolina General Statutes § 132-1.11
- Expansion/location of businesses or industrial projects information — North Carolina General Statutes § 132-6(d)
- Financial statements made by the Department of Commerce — North Carolina General Statutes § 143B-431
- Information relating to nature and location of archaeological sites — North Carolina General Statutes § 70-18
- Certain information relating to bidding for contracts — North Carolina General Statutes § 133-33 — This includes contracts made before bidding, the identification of contractors, and information regarding bid proposals for public contracts and partnerships.
- IT bids and proposals — North Carolina General Statutes § 143-129.8
- Bids and proposals relating to public transportation — North Carolina General Statutes § 143-129(h)
- Personal information cited on DMV records — North Carolina General Statutes § 20-43.1 and 18 U.S.C. § 2721
- Certain tax information — North Carolina General Statutes § 105-259(b)
- Personal files of State employees — North Carolina General Statutes § 126-22
- Accounts and minutes of closed sessions — North Carolina General Statutes § 143-318(e)
- Settlements discussed in closed sessions — North Carolina General Statutes § 143-318.11(a)(3)
- Law enforcement information relating to juveniles — North Carolina General Statutes § 7B-3001
- Financial statements made by the Department of Commerce by an individual asking for help from the Department — North Carolina General Statutes § 143B-431
- Compliance review papers of the State Controller — North Carolina General Statutes § 143B-426.39B
- Specific Official Records of the Office of the Commission of Banks — North Carolina General Statutes § 53C-2-7
- Names of those applying/receiving help from social services when the records are held by members of the Department of Social Services — North Carolina General Statutes § 108A-80
- Communications between patient and physician — North Carolina General Statutes § 8-53
- Prescription information made and sent to the Department of Health and Human Services — North Carolina General Statutes § 90-113.74
- Information of a mentally ill, physically disabled, substance abuser, or developmentally disabled person assisted by care facilities, treatment, rehabilitation, or habilitation programs and establishments — North Carolina General Statutes § 122C-3(9)
- Information gained from treating a client in mental health, substance abuse, or development disabilities authority — North Carolina General Statutes § 122C-52(a)
- Patient medical and financial records held by the health department and public health authority — North Carolina General Statutes § 130A-12 and North Carolina General Statutes § 130A-45.8
- Specific birth certificate information including medical records — North Carolina General Statutes § 130A-93 and 102
- Information on individuals with communicable diseases — North Carolina General Statutes § 130A-143
- Records of those with cancer — North Carolina General Statutes § 130A-212
- Records made and held by healthcare establishments in accordance with admitting, treating, and discharging patients — North Carolina General Statutes § 131E-97
- EMS client reports and records — North Carolina General Statutes § 143-158
- Privileged patient medical records that are held by the Department of Health and Human Services — North Carolina General Statutes § 143B-139.6
- Specific information found on voter registration forms — North Carolina General Statutes § 163-82.10(a)
Remember that North Carolina statutory provisions change all the time so this list may not be exhausted by the time you’re reading. It’s always best to check the relevant codes and regulations before completing a records request.
Where Can You Get North Carolina Public Records?
The North Carolina General Statute § 132-6 sets out that any person has the right to inspect and copy public records. These rights extend liberally to both natural persons and what is known by the state as “artificial” persons (i.e. partnerships, cooperatives, associations, entities, etc.).
No laws are determining that certain public agencies have to ensure all requests are in writing or that they need to know the identification of the requester. Although, it’s worth remembering that the agency is beholden to North Carolina General Statutes 132-6(a) which states that they must make the records available in the requester’s preferred format.
The G.S. states that agencies must respond as promptly as practicable to requests but there isn’t a time limit stated. For small requests, this should be anywhere between a few hours and a couple of days. If your request is much larger, then you will be expected to wait longer. Usually, you won’t be kept in the dark for longer than two weeks.
The North Carolina government set forth a Public Records Request Policy that is to be adhered to by the Office of the Governor and other agencies in managing record requests of all types. You can determine how to request records by following this policy too.
You should address all public record requests to the Public Information Officer (commonly referred to as a PIO) of the specific department. The agency can ask you to submit your request in writing but this is not required by the state’s law. Alternatively, the agency may have a specific public records request form that should ask for the following information:
- Date of the request
- Your first and last name
- Contact information (phone number, postal address, and email address)
- Description of the record in as much detail as possible such as:
- Custodian of the record
- The record’s name/title
- The date or date range of the record
- Whether you’re looking to copy the record or just inspect it
- If you’re looking for a copy, the format/medium you’d like to receive it in (depending on the agency, some formats will be unavailable)
After you have submitted your request, the agency should acknowledge receipt within three working days (although this isn’t required in the North Carolina General Statutes Chapter 132). If your request is deemed too broad, ambiguous, or will need over four hours of staff time to fulfill, the PIO will get in touch with you to clarify, revise, or narrow the request.
Are There Any Fees Associated With Making a Public Records Request in North Carolina?
The North Carolina General Statutes § 132-6 and 132-6.2 state that fees for copies of public records will be granted but no statutes refer to fees for inspection. This is seen in most statutes around the country and courts across the USA generally decide that no fee should be charged if all the agency custodian did was locate and retrieve the record.
The statute does not expressly state an exact fee for copies of records. Instead, the General Statutes § 132-6.2 provides a guideline about the proper amount. According to this law, the fee charged should be based on the actual cost of creating the copy. This does not include indirect costs that come about when copying, nor does it include personnel costs.
With that being said, North Carolina General Statutes § 132-6.2(b) authorizes agencies to set forth a special service charge for any requests that involve extensive labor and/or considerable IT usage. However, it’s not quite as simple as that, the following still has to be considered by the agencies when deciding whether to ask for the special service charge:
- Does the request take more than four hours of clerical/supervisory assistance to fulfill? If so, the agency can consider a special service charge for the staff time spent searching for, copying, and preparing the records.
- How much will the charge be? It should equal the hourly rate of pay of the staff involved in the searching for, copying, and preparation of the records.
- No special service charge should be larger than the actual costs involved in the process.
- Any time spent separating confidential and non-confidential information on a record should not be included in the calculation of the special service charge.
Court Records in North Carolina
There aren’t any local courts in North Carolina. Instead, the entire Judicial Branch (i.e. the court system) is unified across the state. It’s different from the federal system and the majority of people who go to court will be tried in state courts.
The courts of the Judicial Branch in North Carolina are split into three divisions:
The appellate is structured as follows:
- The Supreme Court — one Chief Justice and 6 Associate Justices — the state’s highest court. It decides cases from all courts in the system. There is no jury.
- Court of Appeals — 15 judges, split into panels of 3 for hearings. It’s considered an intermediate appellate court that was put in place to relieve the Supreme Court from being inundated.
Superior Court Division
Trials with juries are held here. The Superior Court Division deals with felony crimes, appeals from district courts, and any civil case involving more than $25,000.
District Court Division
Again, district courts hold trials with juries to figure out the factors of a case. Here, serious but lower-level crimes are handled, along with civil cases between $10,000 and $25,000.
Magistrates fall under the District Court Division and deal with civil and criminal matters under the authority of a chief district court judge. It’s referred to as a “small claims” court since it typically deals with civil cases under $10,000. However, it also deals with preliminary proceedings for criminal cases.
Are Court Records Public Information?
Yes. Court records that are produced by a law enforcement government agency or affiliate are presumed public until it has been officially sealed or exempt following other statutes, according to the North Carolina General Statutes Chapter 132.
Where Can You Get Copies of Court Records?</h3 >
Even though it might seem strange, the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts (shortened to NCAOC) is not the custodian of court documents or criminal case information.
To obtain court records, you can use the public, self-service terminal at all clerk of court’s offices in each of the 100 counties in North Carolina. Here, you will be able to search for the record by one or all of the following:
- Victim name
- Witness name
- Case number
- Defendant name
If you are looking to obtain paper court records, then you need to visit the clerk of the court’s office in the specific county where the case is handled. You will be able to acquire copies of these records for a fee.
The North Carolina Judicial Branch website provides a handy list of all courthouses and clerk of court’s offices in each county. Click here to find out more.
Criminal Records in North Carolina
Criminal records are documents that provide details of criminal acts committed inside the state. They typically contain the following information (although this can vary slightly):
- Full name
- Other identifying data
- Criminal offenses
- Past warrants
- Present warrants
- History of arrest
- Conviction documents
The North Carolina Department of Public Safety is the government section responsible for all criminal records in the state. These records have been acquired and are maintained by the various courts, detention centers, correctional centers, and law enforcement agencies dealing with each case.
All criminal records are available in various county and state databases, allowing people to access them as quickly as possible when the time comes.
Criminal History Search
There are a few ways to conduct a criminal history search on yourself or someone else in North Carolina: certified background check, self-service non-certified, SBI, and third-party vendors, according to the North Carolina Judicial Branch.
Certified Background Single County Check
Using the Form AOC-CR-314 you can request a certified criminal history search for yourself or someone else in one county (not statewide).
The completed form can be given in person to the clerk of the superior court office at the county courthouse along with the $25 fee. Or you can mail the form and a $25 money order/check to the clerk of the superior court office at the county courthouse.
Self-Service Criminal History Search
You can use the public computers at any clerk’s office in a courthouse without charge to access criminal records. If you wish to print them, however, there might be a fee depending on the courthouse you visit.
SBI (State Bureau of Investigation) Statewide Background Check
If you want to find your own criminal record, you can submit a fingerprint card, form, and fee to the SBI. Sometimes this is referred to as a “Right to Review your North Carolina Record”.
Third-Party Background Checks
The N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts can’t guarantee that the information gained from third-party vendors is current or accurate. However, they do have a list of companies that they work closely with which can be found here. Just bear in mind that charges differ from company to company.
How Long Does a Criminal History Record Check Take in North Carolina?
Generally speaking, a criminal history record check will take approximately 7 business days from the date of receipt. However, this can change depending on the method you’ve chosen. The SBI, for example, mails the records to you so this could take more time than usual.
How Long Does Arrest Information Stay on Your Criminal Record in North Carolina?
Arrest information can stay on your criminal record in North Carolina indefinitely, even if it didn’t lead to a charge. However, if your arrest did lead to a charge, you might be able to qualify for expungement.
North Carolina’s General Assembly passed a reform bill in June of 2020 called the Senate Bill 562 or the Second Chance Act. This expanded the eligibility of North Carolina’s expungement of non-violent crimes. It also allows for automatic expungement of not guilty or dismissed charges after the end of 2021.
Expungement eligibility in North Carolina applies under the following conditions:
- Juvenile Offenses — If you were under 18 when you were arrested or charged with a Class H, misdemeanor, or I felony.
- Expanded eligibility — After 7 years of good behavior on numerous non-violent misdemeanor convictions.
- Automatic relief — If you were not found guilty or your charges were dismissed.
Can You Challenge Your Criminal History Record Information in North Carolina?
Yes, if you believe there is inaccurate information on your criminal record, you should ask for a Written Exception form from the SBI. Complete the form and mail it with the correct documents.
The SBI will then conduct an audit of your record to determine whether they agree. If they agree, the information will be deleted from your record. If they don’t agree, then you can request a hearing under the North Carolina General Statutes 150B-23.
Warrant Records Search in North Carolina
In North Carolina, arrest warrant records show the following information:
- Full name
- Personal identifiers of the subject
- Description of the suspected offense
- Date of arrest
- Location of arrest
- Expiry date (if applicable)
- Date of warrant issue
- Name of the person who issued the warrant
How to Search for Arrest Warrant Records in North Carolina
You can search for arrest warrants by contacting your local sheriff’s office. Alternatively, you can search on your county’s website to see all active warrants in your area. There are third-party companies you can use but it’s always advisable to go through the official channels.
What Is The Difference Between an Arrest Record and an Arrest Warrant?
An arrest warrant is a document made by a magistrate or judge who has defined a cause for an arrest. This document gives law enforcement the right to arrest a specific person of an alleged crime. In certain cases, there might be an additional search and seizure warrant attached.
An arrest record, on the other hand, is compiled after the arrest has happened.
Below, you can find a brief summary of North Carolina crime statistics compiled by the State Bureau of Investigation:
- In 2019, the rate of violent crime was 371.8 per 100,000 people.
- In 2019, law enforcement agencies reported 7,599 robberies.
- In 2019, the rate of aggravated assault was 262.4 per 100,000 people.
What Do Arrest Records in North Carolina Show?
North Carolina arrest records contain information relating to apprehensions and/or detentions. They are made to give details of the criminal activities participated in by the arrested person. These records do not prove that a person is guilty of a misdemeanor or a felon. It simply states that the person has been brought into a law enforcement establishment for questioning.
Arrest records in North Carolina contain the following information:
- Subject’s full name
- Subject’s date of birth
- Subject’s contact information
- Subject’s gender
- Time of the arrest
- Location of the arrest
- Details of the offense
- Name of the law enforcement officer who conducted the arrest
- The name and address of the county/city jail/detention center the subject was booked into
What Is The Difference Between an Arrest Record and a Criminal Record?
As mentioned earlier, a criminal record contains information relating to a person’s criminal background, including arrests, convictions, warrants, and everything in between. Arrest records, on the other hand, are made by law enforcement establishments once a person has been arrested or apprehended.
What Is a Public Arrest Record?
Arrest records are often used in trials and hearings to be given as evidence and to figure out whether a trial should go ahead. Even if the person was never convicted, the state of North Carolina opens the record to the public indefinitely (unless in expunged or sealed cases).
What Does a Public Arrest Record Include in North Carolina?
The specific information shown on an arrest record varies but it usually includes the following:
- Personal information (full name, gender, etc.)
- Identifying information (tattoos, birthmarks, etc.)
- Incident description
- Location and date of arrest
- Criminal charges
- Crime classification
- Court date
- Interrogation details
Who Can Access Arrest Records?
Anyone can access arrest records in this state thanks to the North Carolina Public Records Law and Chapter 132 of the General Statutes. However, there are exceptions that we discussed previously, and expunged or officially sealed records will not be disclosed to the public.
Inmate Records in North Carolina
North Carolina has roughly 31,000 inmates in its correction facilities. Inmate records contain information on all the inmates currently in the state’s system.
What Is On an Inmate Record?
In North Carolina, you will find the following information on inmate records:
- Personal information (full name, gender, etc.)
- Identifying information (tattoos, birthmarks, etc.)
- Mug shot
- Inmate location
- Registration number
- Transfer information
- Custody status
Where Can You Find Inmate Records in North Carolina?
You can find inmate records by going to the North Carolina Department of Public Safety website and inputting the inmate’s full name, race, gender, date of birth, or incarceration ID number.
Vital Records in North Carolina
North Carolina has dedicated offices containing all the marriage records, birth records, and death certificates. Any record that marks a milestone is known as a vital record.
To obtain these records, you have to give the following information to the State Archives of North Carolina, Register of Deeds, North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, or the North Carolina Vital Records:
- Event location
- Approximate date of the event
- Full name (including maiden names)
- For divorce records, a case file number
- For marriage records, a license number