Public records refer to information created, stored, received, recorded, filed, or maintained by a local, state, or federal government. Public records are open and accessible to all citizens.
Public records include government-related information and can be in any physical form. A public record can be a photograph, map, email, memo, document, and more.
There are many types of public records, including driving records, criminal records, court records, and more, all of which are managed by different government agencies. Each agency is responsible for providing access to the public records it is responding to.
Not all “public records” are actually “public.” There are many exemptions based on state and federal law, and it can be challenging to figure out what is available and what isn’t. That’s why we have put together this comprehensive guide on Ohio public records.
We will begin by covering federal and state laws that define public records.
Which federal laws apply to public records in the United States?
In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) into law with the goal of furthering the United States’ belief in an open and transparent government. The FOIA gives all citizens access to records maintained by federal government agencies.
Under the FOIA, a federal government agency must respond promptly upon receiving a public records request from an individual. If the agency denies the request, they must provide the requester with a written statement explaining what law prohibits the information from being disclosed.
How does Ohio law define public records?
Ohio’s Sunshine Laws give the citizens of Ohio access to government records. The Ohio Attorney General’s Office produces an Open Government Resource Manual that provides citizens and public officials with extensive information regarding the state’s Sunshine Laws.
Ohio has a Public Records Unit (PRU), consisting of attorneys and administrative staff, that offers educational resources, information, and non-legal advice regarding Ohio’s Sunshine Laws. The PRU helps process public records requests received by the Attorney General’s Office.
Ohio defines a public record as any record a public office maintains. The law states that city, county, state, township, village, and school district offices are considered public offices.
Under Ohio’s revised code, if you make a public records request, the public office responsible for the public records must respond to you promptly and allow you to inspect the record during regular business hours.
The public office cannot ask you why you are requesting a public record or how you will use it unless they need additional information to find the public record you are requesting. The public office must inform you of this rule.
A public office is required to provide copies of a requested public record within a reasonable amount of time and charge no more than the cost to copy the record.
If you request a public record and some or all of the information is exempt by state or federal law, the public office responsible for the public record will clearly redact the information and inform you of the redaction.
If you request a public record and the public office denies your request, they must provide you with a written explanation as to why the information you requested was denied.
Ohio Public Records Examples
There are many different types of public records, which vary from state to state. Ohio public records include, but are not limited to:
- Court records
- Criminal records
- Business records
- Driving records
- Government contracts
- Licensing records
- Historical records
- Property records
Of course, just because a public record is “public,” that doesn’t mean it is actually available for you to easily access – or access at all. The Ohio Revised Code Section 149.43 states that the following records are not public record:
- Medical records
- Records concerning probation and parole proceedings
- Adoption records
- Putative father registry records
- Trial preparation records
- Confidential law enforcement investigation records
- DNA records
- Inmate records provided to a court or the Department of Youth Services from the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction
- Department of Youth Services records
- Intellectual property records
- Donor profile record;
- Department of Job and Family Services records
- Trade secrets
- Information concerning the recreational activities of a minor (under 18)
- Test materials, exams, or evaluation methods used in the licensure of a nursing home administrator
- Records the release of which is prohibited by state or federal law
- Ohio Venture Capital Authority proprietary information
- Financial used in Ohio housing applications
- Personal information
- Voter information
- Active military service orders
- Protected health information
- Restricted portions of a body-worn camera or dashboard camera recording;
- Information regarding victims
- Information regarding witnesses to a crime
- Information regarding parties in a motor vehicle accident
For a complete list of exemptions, click here.
Where can I get Ohio public records?
As with other states, different government agencies in Ohio manage different public records. It is in your best interest to contact the agency responsible for the record you are seeking. For example, if you are looking for a birth certificate, you can contact Ohio’s Bureau of Vital Statistics. If you are looking for inmate records, you should check with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
Government agencies are required, by law, to respond to you promptly and let you know if the record is available or exempt by law. If available, the agency must provide you with the information in a timely manner.
A state’s judicial system is complicated, so it’s helpful to have an understanding of how it is set up before searching for court records. The section provides a synopsis of Ohio’s courts’ overall structure and function and how to request copies of court records.
There are three branches of government in the state of Ohio, including the judicial branch, legislative branch, and executive branch. The Constitution of Ohio clearly outlines the responsibility of each branch. We will take a close look at the judicial branch as it is the state’s court system.
The Supreme Court of Ohio
The Supreme Court is the state of Ohio’s court of last resort. The Supreme Court hears appeals originating in the state’s 12 district courts of appeals and has jurisdiction over the following:
- Death penalty cases
- Cases with questions concerning the Ohio constitution or the US Constitution
- Any case that resulted in a conflicting opinion from two or more courts of appeals
- Appeals from the Public Utilities Commission, Board of Appeals, or other administrative entities
- Special remedy cases such as writs of habeas corpus, quo warranty, mandamus, procedendo, or prohibition
- Contested election cases
The Supreme Court is responsible for determining the rules that govern the court’s practices and procedures.
The supreme court is also responsible for the admittance and discipline of attorneys.
There is one chief justice and six justices who are elected to six-year terms. To be elected or appointed to the supreme court, an individual is required to be an attorney with a minimum of six years of experience in the practice of law.
Courts of Appeals
Ohio’s courts of appeals, the state’s intermediate-level appellate courts, hear appeals from the common pleas, county, and municipal courts in three-judge panels.
As with the Supreme Court, the courts of appeals also have original jurisdiction to hear applications for writs of quo warranty, habeas corpus, mandamus, procedendo, and prohibition.
The 10th District Court of Appeals, located in Franklin County, is responsible for any appeals from the state’s Court of Claims.
There are 12 appellate districts in the state of Ohio, with a court of appeals serving each district.
The Court Of Claims
The Court of Claims, located in Columbus, OH, has limited, statewide jurisdiction over the following:
- Civil claims involving property damage, discrimination, personal injury, contract disputes, immunity of state officers and employees, and wrongful imprisonment
- Civil actions that are filed against the state of Ohio and its agencies
- Appeals from decisions an attorney general makes on claims based on the Victims of Crime Act.
The Chief Justice assigns judges to hear cases in the Court of Claims. Normally only one judge will decide on a case. However, in some instances, the Chief Justice can assign a three-judge panel for civil action cases.
A clerk or deputy clerk of the courts decides on civil complaints under $2,500 using the case file’s contents. These decisions are called administrative determinations and can be presented before the court to be reviewed. The court ruling is considered final.
The Supreme Court appoints commissioners, who hear appeals from victims of crime in panels of three. As with administrative determinations, the decision can be taken to court for a judge to hear, which is the final say in the case.
Courts of Common Pleas
Ohio’s trial courts, which have general jurisdiction, are the Courts of Common Pleas. There are 88 counties in the state of Ohio, with one Court of Common Pleas located in every county.
The General Assembly can legally divide a Court of Common Pleas into different divisions, such as domestic relations, probate, juvenile, and general divisions. Each division serves a different purpose, as described below:
- Domestic Relations Division: The Domestic Relations Division hears cases involving legal separation, dissolution or divorce of marriages, annulment, parental rights allocation, spousal support, and how children will be taken care of.
- Juvenile Division: The Juvenile Divison hears cases concerning neglected, dependant, and unruly children, child abuse, paternity, failure to send children to school, nonsupport. The courts also hear cases regarding minors who are under the age of 18 years and are being charged as an adult for a crime.
- Probate Division: The Probate Division hears cases regarding the probate of wills and the administration of guardianships and estates. Probate courts have jurisdiction over adoptions, marriage licenses, mental competency determinations, and some eminent domain matters.
- General Division: The General Division has original jurisdiction in civil cases not exceeding $15,000 and all criminal felony cases. General Divisions can also hear appeals from decisions made by certain state administrative agencies.
Municipal and County Courts
Ohio’s General Assembly established the state’s municipal and county courts. If a municipal court has jurisdiction over an entire county, then there is no need for a county court. You will only find county courts in locations that are not served by a municipal court.
Both county and municipal courts are responsible for the following matters:
- Preliminary hearings in felony cases
- Traffic misdemeanors
- Non-traffic misdemeanors
- Civil cases not exceeding $15,000
While Mayor’s courts are not courts of record and are not part of Ohio’s judicial branch, they are required to file statistics annually and quarterly with the Supreme Court.
Mayors must complete certain education requirements if their courts hear drug or alcohol-related traffic offenses.
Are court records public information?
Court records are considered open and accessible to the public; however, certain court records are deemed confidential under Ohio law.
Search Court Records
Under Ohio’s Sunshine Laws, you have the right to access Ohio court records. However, You cannot access certain records that are sealed or considered confidential by law.
Ohio does not have a central repository where you can search for court records from any court online. However, you can contact the court where the case was heard and request to inspect and copy court records.
Below you can find links with contact and location information for all of Ohio’s courts:
While there is no statewide database for all of the state’s court records, Ohio’s Supreme Court offers an online portal where you can access court records concerning Supreme Court cases. To search for Ohio Supreme Court Cases, enter any of the following information:
- Case number
- Case caption
- Prior case number, if any
- Prior jurisdiction, if any
- Case type
- When the case was filed (use only dates after January 1, 1985)
- Party first or last name
- Party entity name
- Attorney first or last name
A search will result in the following information:
- The case number, type, and caption
- Date filed
- Prior jurisdiction
- Docket items (PDFs of documents are available for download)
This section on Ohio criminal records provides detailed information regarding the following types of criminal records:
- Arrest records
- Warrant records
- Inmate records
- Parole records
- Probation records
- Juvenile criminal records
- Sex offender records
We will also cover which government agency maintains criminal records and how to search for them.
We will begin with arrest records.
When a law enforcement officer places an individual under arrest and takes them into custody, law enforcement administration creates an arrest record. Arrest records usually include the following information:
- When and where the arrest took place
- Details describing what happened
- Arresting officer’s information
- Witness information
- Physical description of the arrested person, including tattoos, scars, and marks
- Mugshot and fingerprints
- Arrested person’s personal information
- Criminal charges filed
- Interrogation details
- Bail amount
- Court date
Below is an overview of Ohio’s arrests as well as crime statistics based on 2019 FBI reports.
- Total arrests: 207,593
- Arrests for drug possession offenses: 61,122
- Arrests for drug sales offenses: 4,052
- Arrests for gambling offenses: 21
- Arrests for crimes against property: 38,687
- Arrests for prostitution violations: 770
- Arrests for crimes against society offenses: 124,746
- Arrests for crimes against person offenses: 44,160
- There were 293.2 violent crimes per 100,000 people in Ohio, compared to 379.4 per 100,000 people in the US.
- There were 2,055.7 property crimes per 100,000 people in Ohio, compared to 2,101.9 per 100,000 people in the US.
Ohio’s Office of Criminal Justice Services (OCJS) maintains the state’s arrest records. The OCJS is a division of the Ohio Department of Public Safety (ODPS).
Search for Arrest Records in Ohio
Typically an arrest record will not be available for the public to inspect or copy if it’s pending or if the arrest did not result in a conviction.
The Office of Criminal Justice Services is Ohio’s planning and justice assistance agency. The agency does not have online access for you to search for criminal records or run background checks.
You can call or visit the Sheriff’s Office in the county where the individual lives to request a criminal record check on that person.
While the OCJS doesn’t offer online services, Ohio’s Attorney General does offer background checks using the Bureau of Criminal Identification & Investigation (BCI&I)’s WebCheck. You can request a background check online and the BCI&I will deliver the results to you via mail.
Inmate, Parole, and Probation Records
Ohio’s Department of Rehabilitation and Correction oversees 25 of the state’s correctional facilities. There are three additional correctional facilities in the state of Ohio that are privately operated.
State-run facilities include the following locations:
- Warren Correctional
- Trumbull Correctional
- Toledo Correctional
- Southern Ohio Correctional Facility
- Southeastern Correctional Institution
- Ross Correctional
- Richland Correctional
- Pickaway Correctional
- Ohio State Penitentiary
- Ohio Reformatory For Women
- Northeast Reintegration Center
- Noble Correctional
- Franklin Medical Center
- Grafton Correctional
- Lebanon Correctional
- London Correctional
- Lorain Correctional
- Madison Correctional
- Mansfield Correctional
- Marion Correctional
- Dayton Correctional
- Correctional Reception Center
- Chillicothe Correctional
- Belmont Correctional
- Allen-Oakwood Correctional
Ohio also has three privately-operated correctional facilities:
Search Ohio Inmate Records
The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) is responsible for creating and maintaining the state’s inmate records. Inmate records include information regarding an offender’s parole or probation status.
You can conduct an Offender Search online to access information about an individual who is currently incarcerated in a prison in Ohio, currently under the supervision of the ODRC, or judicially released. Enter any of the following to begin your search:
- First or last name
- County of Commitment
- Residential County
- Zip Code
- Next Parole Board Hearing Date
- Offender Number
Your search will result in the following offender details:
- Full name and any aliases
- Offender number
- Date of birth
- Admission date
- Sentence Date
- Jail Time (minimum and maximum sentence)
- Committing County
- Docket Number
- Degree of Felony
- Judge Name
- Expected Release Date/Parole Eligibility Date
- Parole Hearing Information
Sex Offender Registry
The Ohio Bureau of Investigation (TBI) maintains the state’s sex offender registry. Ohio has 88 County Sheriff’s Offices is that are responsible for adding sex offender information into the registry.
Ohio law mandates that sex offenders register their home and work address along with their vehicle information with their local sheriff’s office. That information is considered public and is accessible on the eSORN database.
Not all details are publicly available online, including a sex offender’s email addresses, phone numbers, handles, and screen names.
However, you can search the eSORN database for email addresses, phone numbers, or internet names in what’s called a reverse lookup. If this information is associated with a sex offender who is registered, you will receive an alert.
The reverse lookup does not show you the offender’s identity. However, it will prompt the offender to immediately get in touch with the Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) or local sheriff’s office.
The sheriff’s office can then determine what the next steps should be.
Search the Sex Offender Registry
There are several ways to search Ohio’s sex offender registry:
- Area (the address, city, state, and zip code fields are required)
- First or last name
- Non-compliant offenders
- Internet name or email
- Phone number
A sex offender search will result in the following information:
- Name of the sex offender
- Address (including other known addresses)
- Registration number
- Physical description (age, sex, race, scars, tattoos, marks, height, weight, eye, and hair color)
- Offense description
- Date of conviction
- Conviction state
- Release date
- Victim classification and gender
There is no charge to search for sex offenders in the state of Ohio.
Vital records document major life events, such as birth and death. While every state has a vital records office, not all of them provide access to the same vital records.
The Ohio Bureau of Vital Statistics is responsible for maintaining the state’s vital records, including the following:
- Births (dating back to December 20, 1908)
- Deaths (dating back to 1964)
- Fetal deaths
- Heirloom birth certificates
There are several ways to go about ordering the records maintained by the Bureau of Vital Statistics. You can order online, by mail, or in person.
Order Birth or Death Records Online
You can order a birth or death record online. The process is quick and easy, although you cannot request your order to be expedited.
You will need to wait 12 weeks after the birth or death to request the record.
Once you submit your order, you cannot cancel it. The Bureau of Vital Statistics will mail your record to the address found on the credit card you use, which must be a US mailing address. If you do not want the record mailed to that address, you will need to submit your request by mail or in person.
To place an online order for a birth record, you must submit the following information:
- Complete legal name of the child
- Date of birth
- Mother’s maiden name
- City or county of birth
- Valid credit card
To place an online order for a death record, you must submit the following information:
- Decedent’s complete legal name and gender
- Date of death
- City or county of death
- A valid credit card
- Mother’s first, last name, and maiden name
Accepted credit cards include Visa, American Express, Mastercard, or Discover.
The processing time for a birth or death record is three weeks.
If the Bureau of Vital Statistics cannot find the birth or death certificate you request, they will send you a “No Record Letter” with a refund of $21.50.
Order Vital Records by Mail
You can request the following certificates by mail from Ohio’s Bureau of Vital Statistics:
- Fetal death
- Adoption records
- Affidavits of paternity
You will need to complete the following actions when requesting these records by mail:
- Complete the Application for Certified Copies
- Mail the completed application with payment (money order or check) to Ohio’s Bureau of Vital Statistics
The processing time for mail-in orders is approximately 4-6 weeks. After three weeks, you can send an email to check on the status of your order.
Order Birth or Death Records In Person
The main Bureau of Vital Records in Ohio is not currently offering in-person services; however, many local offices are open for business. Call ahead to ensure that the office is open.
Order Adoption Records
You can request adoption records from Ohio’s Bureau of Vital Statistics in person or by mail. Same-day adoption records are not available, and you cannot order adoption records online.
You will need to complete the following actions in order to obtain an adoption record:
- Complete the Application for Adoption File
- Include the required documents (two forms of approved government-issued identification) and payment
The Bureau of Vital Statistics will verify all documentation and research adoption records. It typically takes one month for adoption orders to be processed.
You can find out more information regarding adoption records, which vary based on the year of the adoption, here.
Fees for Vital Records
The fees for vital records in Ohio are as follows:
- Certified Birth Record: $21.50
- Certified Death Record: $21.50
- Certified Fetal Death Record: $21.50
- Stillbirth Certificate: $0
- Acknowledgment of Paternity: $7.00
- Adoption File Release: $20.00
- Heirloom Birth Certificate: $25.00
Ohio’s Bureau of Vital Statistics does not maintain marriage or divorce records: you can only obtain a certified copy of these records from the county that recorded the event:
- Marriage Certificate: You can obtain a copy of a marriage certificate from the appropriate county probate court. Each county probate court will have information regarding marriage certificates online.
- Divorce decrees: You can request divorce decrees from the county that finalized the divorce. Contact the county clerk responsible for more information.
The Ohio Secretary of State manages all business records for the state. You can search for the following information online:
- Business Search: You can search for a business name, including previous or exact names, the organizer/incorporator, or the agent/registrant.
- Trademark/Service Mark Search: You can search by mark number, mark description, mark, or registrant name)
A business search will result in the following information:
- Business’ entity number
- Filing type
- Fictitious names
- Original filing date
- Business name
- Expiration date
- Agent and registrant information
You can also download business-related documents, such as specific filings. Filing types include:
- Fictitious Name
- Trade Name
- Name Reservation
- Sole Proprietorship
- General Partnership
- Limited Partnership
- Limited Liability Partnership
- Limited Liability Company
- For-Profit Corporation
- Nonprofit Corporation
- Benefit Corporation
- Professional Corporation
- Service Mark
The Ohio History Connection Archives & Library can provide you with detailed information regarding the following historical records:
- Adoption and Guardianship Records
- Developmental Disabilities Records
- Land Research and Records
- Legislative History Research</li>
- Prison Records
- Photograph Research
- Newspaper Research
- Naturalization Records
- Military Records
- Mental Health Records
- Religious Records Research
- Vital Records
- Will & Estate Research
You can search Ohio’s online collections catalog for a comprehensive look at the state’s government records, newspapers, maps, photographs, books, and manuscripts.
The Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) is the agency responsible for the state’s driving records. There are several types of BMV records, including the following:
- Three-year Driving Record Abstract: includes accident reports, moving violation convictions, and any other occurrences resulting in the suspension, disqualification, or revocation of a license. You can request this type of record online, at a deputy registrar license agency, or by mail using this form.
- CDL Driver Record: federally-required driver history with the medical examiner certification information if available.
- Two-year Unofficial Driving Record: view your accident reports, moving violation convictions, and any other occurrences resulting in the suspension, disqualification, or revocation of a license over the past two years.
The fee is $5.00. The address to use when requesting any BMV record is:
Attn: BMV Records
PO Box 16520
Columbus, Ohio 43216-6520
Property Tax Records
There are 88 counties in Ohio, and each one maintains a database of property tax information. It is best to contact the county where the property is located to search for property tax records.
What do I do if I can’t find a public record or if there is an error with my public records in Ohio?
Sometimes it can be difficult to find a record, but it’s not because you aren’t looking in the right place. There are hundreds of exemptions that ensure certain public records stay confidential. You can access the law online, in person, by phone, or by email. You are entitled to access all public records, and you are entitled to an explanation as to why a public record is confidential.
The state of Ohio is required to let you know, in writing, why a record is not accessible. The agency must also include the state or federal law that is the ultimate reason for the denial.
If you believe that an error has been made regarding any of your public records, it is best to reach out to the government agency responsible for the public record. Typically you can find detailed information on the government agency’s website that details the steps to take in the case of an error.
You can also check a government agency’s FAQ section. Generally speaking, an FAQ section will provide you with valuable questions and answers. Usually, this will cover how to address an error occurring on your public record.
If you cannot find the answers you are looking for online, you can always call or visit the government agency responsible for the record.