Rhode Island Public Records

This article provides a comprehensive information guide on viewing and obtaining public records in the State of Rhode Island.

We will provide an overview of the primary Rhode Island public records categories, including detailed information on how to view them, acquire copies, what forms are needed, and fees if they are any.

If you cannot find the public records information you are looking for, contact the government agency in charge, or use one of several third-party services that specialize in public records acquisition.

This article includes information on the following types of public record:

  • Police Reports
  • Criminal History Records
  • Inmate Records
  • Sex Offender Registry
  • Court Cases (Civil, Supreme, Appellate, Superior)
  • Driving Records
  • Business Records and Business Filings
  • Property Records
  • Businesses and UCC Records
  • Vital Statistics (Birth, Death, Marriage, Divorce)
  • Historical and State Records

What Are Public Records?

Public records provide citizens with an opportunity to inspect records about the business of government and public bodies. In some cases, it also gives private citizens the right to access information on other citizens. This is most commonly the case with vital statistics and business filings.

Privacy laws exist in conjunction with public records laws. This ensures that no personal or financial information is ever released in cases where individuals are identified on public records.

Citizens have the right to access public records to ensure a just and fair society. The foundations of a healthy democracy are built on open access to the business of the government that represents us.

Over the last decade, public records have increasingly become available online. Digital records are the standard way of acquiring most records in this day and age. However, there may be some records that are more readily available than others.

Depending on the record, you may have to travel to a courthouse, police station, or government archive to access the original document if you meet the qualifications to do so. Often there is a copying and/or processing fee involved.

Typically access to public records is overseen by the Attorney General of the state in question. Public records deal with governmental affairs and information about law enforcement, business licensing, property ownership, court cases, and vital statistics and documentation about citizens residing in the state.

How the State of Rhode Island Defines Public Records

The mission of Rhode Island State public records laws is to give people the right to obtain or view public records. The APRA provides guidelines for accessing these records and stipulates which records are exempt from these rules, and therefore not available for public inspection.

The APRA outlines who is subject to these laws and who is not. It states that all local and state government agencies are considered public entities and therefore are subject to public records laws. Every public entity is required to maintain records for public inspection. Judicial departments are also subject to the laws of this act.

What counts as a public record? All documents about official business matters of the public body. This can include emails, photographs, land deeds, business documents, birth certificates, and many other documents and media types.

Important Links

Federal Public Records Laws

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is the central federal law stipulating that government records must remain open to the public unless exceptions exist.

Instituted in 1967, the FOIA allows public access to the actions of the Federal Government of the United States. Most individual states have their own individual statutes and laws surrounding the collection and dissemination of public records, but they all follow a similar format to the federal regulations.

The Privacy Act of 1974 is closely associated with the FOIA. Whereas the FOIA grants public access to information about the actions and topics of the federal government, it does not cover rules surrounding access to information about private individuals.

The Federal Privacy Act, on the other hand, details the rules for accessing records about individuals. The Federal Privacy Act allows individuals the right to view and make copies of files about themselves. It also allows other public entities to use this personal data in a variety of limited situations:

  • Historical and genealogical research
  • Because a court of law has authorized it
  • As needed by law enforcement agencies
  • If medically necessary

More information on how to make an FOIA request can be found through the FOIA government website. This website is run by the United States Department of Justice and therefore deals with federal, not state, laws.

What are the Exemptions to Accessing Public Records?

More than two dozen exemptions exist that designate a record inaccessible by the general public. Most of these are designed to protect people’s privacy, mainly if the document in question contains personal or financial information.

Generally speaking, a document in its entirety cannot be withheld if only certain parts of it are exempt from disclosure. In these cases, that information will be deleted from the document. If the entire document must be withheld, the document must be certified that the document in its entirety fell under one of the exemptions and was therefore not available as a matter of public record.

Each public agency is required by law to have procedures in place that grant the public access to its records. These procedures must be made readily available. In some cases, the agency’s website will provide instructions and digital forms that will get you some of the most commonly sought public records files (like birth certificates or court case data).

In other cases, you may be requested to write a letter to the department detailing your information, the nature of your request, and any documentation that might be necessary. The agency will then get back to you with the best way to proceed, or they give reasons why the records requested are unavailable.

You will also not be required to submit a reason for making your public records request. APRA prohibits agencies from requiring this.

Rhode Island Criminal History Records

There is a growing need for criminal background checks in both the public and the private sectors. In Rhode Island, a criminal history background check is commonly called a BCI.

This search is performed with an individual’s name and DOB. This criminal record is statewide, and as such, will not include information about out-of-state offenses. To learn more about getting a national criminal record see the section on National Background Checks below.

How Much Does A BCI Cost?

$5 by credit card or money order. Make it payable to BCI. Credit cards will be charged a processing fee.

In-Person Application

Go to Number 4 Howard Avenue in Cranston, Rhode Island, and appear at the Attorney General’s Customer Service desk. Bring a valid form of photo ID as well as your preferred payment method.

Only one BCI application can be made at a time. Additional applications should be sent by mail or should be dropped off and picked up at a later time to allow for processing.

Mail Application

If you are going to apply by mail, print and fill out the following release form. Provide a copy of your valid photo ID, such as a state-issued driver’s license or U.S. passport.

Also, provide a $5.00 money order made payable to BCI and a stamped, self-addressed envelope for return. Mail it all to the following address:

Rhode Island Office of the Attorney General 4 Howard Ave. Cranston, 02920

It will take up to seven business days for a response. If it is going to take longer, they will notify you when to expect a reply.

Can I Apply for a Third Party?

The process for submitting an application for a third party is similar to the above.

Fill out this third-party release form. If a company makes this request, they must attach a disclaimer on the company header and submit it with the filled-in release form.

Additionally, attach a copy of a valid form of photo ID. If mailing, provide a check or money order for $5.00 made payable to BCI. Credit card payments are available if using the BCI window at the Howard Avenue office.

A stamped, self-addressed envelope is also requested so that the material can be returned to you.

National Background Checks

Many newer Rhode Island Laws require fingerprint-based national background searches for employment purposes. You can either obtain these federal checks at the Office of Attorney General, the Rhode Island State, or your Local Police Department.

The types of employment required to obtain these background checks from the Attorney General’s office are:

  • Financial agents
  • Alarm companies
  • Electronic vendors, or vendors of precious metals.
  • Private security guards
  • Operators of a nursery school and its employees
  • Daycare operators
  • Adult daycare employees
  • Long term care employees
  • Nurses

A National background check is $35.00. If you need both a state and national background check for employment purposes, the cost is $40.00 for both.

Make checks and money orders out to BCI. Credit cards are accepted at the office windows but not anywhere else.

When you arrive at the Attorney General’s Office, a fingerprint technician will take your prints with a LiveScan machine. These prints are sent to the FBI, returning an FBI-generated background check to the Attorney Generals’ office.

Once the Attorney General’s office receives the FBI’s report, the fingerprint technician will go over your information with you and indicate whether or not a ‘disqualifying offense’ was found. If such an offense were found on a record, they would receive a letter informing them of the crime and provide them with a copy of the background report.

Fill out the following Fingerprint Form from the Office of Attorney General.

What Are Criminal Records?

When an individual is arrested or apprehended by a law enforcement entity, it results in the creation of an arrest record. This record gives information about the incident, personal information about the individuals involved, as well as any known previous criminal activity.

Arrest records are used most often during criminal cases. There the arrest record is frequently used during the trial when deciding sentencing. Regardless of conviction, arrest records can remain public for a long time after the trial. Citizens can access these records if they properly apply for them.

Criminal records and histories are more thorough than arrest records. They typically contain information about the arrest along with warrants, third-party complaints, convictions, and dropped cases, regardless of the reasons.

Arrest records are also different from warrant records. These records detail warrants for arrest issued by magistrates or judges against an individual. Arrest warrants grant law enforcement the authority to arrest individuals suspected of a crime and/or seize their property. These documents are created before the arrest, whereas the arrest record is made after the apprehension.

What Information Does it Include?

Some of the information that arrest records typically include may be redacted if requesting records for an individual other than yourself, depending on state laws. Otherwise, the information usually includes the following details:

  • Location and the arrest date
  • Chronology of events
  • Details/personal information of arrested individual
  • Photographs/evidence
  • Fingerprints
  • Charges filed
  • Crime classifications
  • Bail, if granted
  • Court dates
  • Details from any interrogations or other forms of questioning

What Charges Can Appear on a Rhode Island Criminal History?

In Rhode Island, charges fall into two classes: Misdemeanors and Felonies.

Misdemeanors in Rhode IslandRhode Island defines misdemeanors as an offense punishable by a fine up to $1,000, a term of incarceration no longer than a year, mandatory education, or community services. Rhode Island classifies misdemeanors as either petty or misdemeanors. Petty misdemeanors result in a less severe form of punishment. These include offenses like Larceny, trespassing, DUI, shoplifting, etc.

Felonies in Rhode Island – Felony offenses in Rhode Island are crimes punishable by jail sentences of at least one year. Felonies can also include tough conditions and large finds. Examples of felonies include arson, forgery, kidnapping, burglary, robbery, and murder.

Rhode Island Sex Offender Registry

In addition to maintaining the Criminal History Record search, the State of Rhode Island State Police and Department of Public Safety also oversees the Sex Offender Registry. The Sex Offender Registry lists individuals required to register due to a conviction for sex- crimes.

Either 10-year or lifetime registrations are possible, and the public has full access to the registry. The registry’s purpose is to provide the public with information regarding the whereabouts of registered offenders in the state of Maine.

Periodically, registrants must provide address verifications, but registrants may move and fail to notify the bureau of their address change. Any offender convicted in Rhode Island and moves elsewhere will have their information maintained in the registry until their obligation expires.

However, the Department of Public Safety cannot guarantee the accuracy of the registry’s information but makes every effort to ensure the information contained therein is up to date and accurate.

The National Sex Offender website can be consulted to corroborate your search further.

Using the Rhode Island Sex Offender Registry webpage, you can search by the individual (first/last name), by location (city/town), or by area (ZIP code/radius).

Rhode Island Court Cases

Rhode Island’s Judiciary offers an electronic public portal allowing access to the Judiciary’s database. This can be done both remotely or at the courthouse. The database consists of electronic records of the court like registers of action or court docket sheets. These documents contain information on parties, documents, and case events.

This public portal is only available in the following cases:

  • Appellate cases in the Rhode Island Supreme Court
  • Criminal and civil cases in the District and Superior Courts
  • Domestic relations in the Family Court, Workers’ Comp. Court, and Traffic Tribunals

How to Access Case Information

Supreme, Family, Superior, District, Worker’s Comp., and Traffic Court have computers available in the clerk’s offices of each courthouse. Any citizen can use these computers to review the case management system of the Judiciary and access the publicly available documents located there.

Sealed cases and confidential cases are exempt for one reason or another from public access rules and cannot be viewed by members of the public. Both attorneys and self-representing litigants will have the same access to information as the public does about cases they are not directly involved in.

Smart Search

Using the Rhode Island Judiciary Public Portal, you can use the Smart Search to type the record number in the search field. Enter the last four characters to perform a wildcard search.

Also, you can type the name in the last, first, middle suffix format. A wildcard search can be performed by typing three characters, followed by an asterisk for last names, and one character followed by an asterisk for first names.

An Advanced Filtering Option is available and expands the search field.

If you are searching for a business case, click on the Advanced Filtering Option and select Business Name from the drop-down menu for the search type. Then, type the business name in the search space and click Submit.

You can select by hearing type and location:

  • All Rhode Island Courts
  • Disciplinary Council
  • District Court Search
  • Family Court Juvenile Search
  • Family Court Search
  • Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal Search
  • Superior Court Search
  • Supreme Court Search
  • Supreme ALC-Search
  • Workers’ Compensation Court Search

Rhode Island Inmate Records

Any person who has entered the Rhode Island corrections system has an inmate record. Both municipal and county jails, as well as state prisons, keep inmate records. The records are made in the jurisdiction in which the prisoner is held. That facility most often manages the records.

Like in other states, Rhode Island maintains a database of inmates to allow interested parties to find them.

The following details are often contained in these records:

  • Name and aliases (if any)
  • Offense details
  • Individual personal data
  • Prison entry dates
  • Prospective release date
  • Facility information (address, security level)
  • Any past convictions/sentences of the criminal
  • Bail/bond conditions

You can search for inmates incarcerated in the State of Rhode Island at the Department of Corrections Inmate Search Page.

Victim Identification and Notification

The Victim Identification and Notification system (VINE) allows victims to be kept up to date on offender status. Data in the VINE system is backed from county jails, state-run prisons, and juvenile detention centers. Alerts are sent to subscribers whenever an incarcerated individual’s location changes, when they are released, or if they are being considered for parole.

VINE is free to join, and there is no way for offenders to know an individual has been registered. Offenders will not know if or when you have been notified about changes in their circumstances.
VINE notifications are sent in accordance with state public records laws.

Conviction Records

Conviction records come from the final judgment of the courts or pronouncements about criminal cases before them. It means the prosecution was successful in proving their case against an offender. The offender has responded by either pleading guilty or entering no contest.

Convictions are frequently followed by sentencing, which includes fines, incarceration, community service, probation, or other forms of punishment permitted by the law.

Conviction records can be accessed by contacting whichever Rhode Island Courthouse the trial took place in.

Parole Records

In Rhode Island, parole records can be obtained about individuals granted a conditional release from a corrections facility in Rhode Island. The Rhode Island Parole Board keeps these records. They are typically included in an individual’s background check.

Probation Records

Probation records include official documents detailing the conditions by which a convicted criminal can serve their sentence outside of a detention facility. These records include the requirements of the probation imposed by a judge and who the probation officer is. The conditions of the probation depend on the crime committed and therefore differ from individual to individual.

These records are also contained in a person’s criminal history. They can be requested from the facility in which the sentence was served.

Rhode Island Driving Records

You can purchase a copy of your Rhode Island driving history (certified) by visiting the State of Rhode Island Division of Motor Vehicles page.

This is a sample of how the information in a Rhode Island Driving Record is presented.

If you have purchased a record previously, the DMV allows you to validate or reprint it. Commercial driving records are available as well and may contain additional data.

Use the Rhode Island government Subscriber Service if you wish to buy multiple driving history records.

To purchase your record online, you will need to begin here and provide the following information:

  • Credit card. Payment of the $20.50 record fee is required.
  • Personal information (last name, DOB, zip code)
  • Your driver’s license number (7-digits)

Rhode Island Business Records, Filings, and Licensing

By law, many business records are available for the public to search and view. The Rhode Island Department of State maintains these records. There are two ways to access these records.

Search for a business name in the online business registry database and view the digital files available in the registry.

If the file you are looking for is not available in the above database, you can submit a copy request form to have a copy mailed to you for a fee. You can also search a historic corporate catalog for businesses existing in the past.

Use the following steps to search the business registry database:

  • Select the type of search you want to complete by clicking on the four available options: entity name, business ID number, business filing number, or individual’s name.
  • When searching by an entity or individual name, you will also be able to select one of the following search methods: ‘exact match,’ ‘begins with,’ ‘full text’ (available only for entity name search), or’ index search.’
  • If an entity or individual name is selected, the results will list all registered businesses that resemble the search criteria.
  • Choose any of the results by clicking the hyperlink. This will display a summary of all the publicly available information on the business entity.
  • You can also reach the summary by selecting and entering the business’s ID number directly on the search page.
  • You can select ‘filing’ or ‘activity’ to display specific filing from the summary screen, and a list of filings will be returned. You can also search by filing number on the original search page.
  • If there is no hyperlink available, that means there is no electronic record available for that filing. However, if there is, you can download a pdf document of the file by clicking on the hyperlink.

In addition to the business registry database, the Office of the Secretary of State of Rhode Island offers many publically available business statistics on business, notary, and UCC filings. You can view digital reports up to the present day on the Rhode Island Data and Statistics page.

Search Rhode Island Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) Records

The Secretary of State for Rhode Island offers a UCC record search portal where you can mind most digital images of publically available files. If a digital file is not available, you can use an information request form to have a copy mailed to you. Lapsed filings can also be viewed.

Property Records

Rhode Island divides into 39 municipalities, each with its own town or city clerk. This clerk is responsible for managing public records requests.

To view publically available land records for Rhode Island, visit the State of Rhode Island Land Records Page.

This page will provide you with easy access to the land records of several municipalities in the state. If records are unavailable online, check the tax assessor’s agency and see if they have property-related information.

Speak directly to your municipality’s office about seeing their land records if records do not appear online. Additionally, documents about real estate ownership are recorded in each municipality. Each document is scanned into the system, but each municipality will have its own rules about online viewing.

Rhode Island Vital Statistics

Vital records are death, birth, marriage, and divorce records, as well as other supporting documents. These documents are kept by the Town Clerk’s office wherever the vital event took place. Copies and extracts can also be purchased for a fee from the Rhode Island Vital Records State Department of Health.

Birth Records

To find copies of your own birth record, fill out the Application for a Certified Copy of a Birth Record form. Use this form for Pre-Adoption Birth Certificates.

You will need to give them the following information:

  • Full name at birth
  • New name (if changed in court and excluding marriage)
  • Date of Birth
  • Full name of the birth mother
  • Full name of the birth father
  • City or town you were born in
  • Current age
  • Birth hospital

You can apply for the birth record if you are the person named on the birth record, your child, spouse, parents, or grandchild. If you are an attorney representing a client, you may access your client’s birth record by providing your law firm’s name. Other persons can request a copy of your birth record if their relationship to you warrants their inclusion on this list.

In other words, in Rhode Island, birth records are legally restricted to persons who show a substantial interest in the records.

You will also need to specify what your need for this record is. Check one of the following boxes to explain what you intend to use it for.

This way, they can correctly certify your copy for

  • School
  • Licensing
  • Veterans benefits
  • Social security benefits
  • Passport or travel-related needs
  • Use by a foreign government
  • Work
  • WIC
  • Welfare
  • Or other (please specify)

Fees: Walk-ins: $22. Mail-ins: $25. Additional copies: $18.

You will also need to provide a photocopy of a valid photo, government-issued ID, or present it during your walk-in.

If mailing, mail everything listed above to:

Rhode Island Department of Health Office of Vital Records, 3 Capitol Hill, Room 101, Providence, RI 02908

Death Records

To find copies of a death record, fill out the Application for a Certified Copy of a Death Record form. Use this form if you are requesting a Death Certificate for Funeral Directors.

You will need to give them the following information:

  • Full name
  • Date of Death
  • Place of Death (including hospital name)
  • Name of spouse or domestic partner
  • Full name of the mother
  • Full name of the father

You can apply for the death record if it pertains to your child, spouse, parents, or grandchild. If you are an attorney representing a client, you may access death records by providing your law firm’s name. Other persons can request a copy of your death record if their relationship to you warrants their inclusion on this list.

In Rhode Island, death records are legally restricted to persons who show real and tangible interest in the records.

You will also need to specify what your need for this record is. Check one of the following boxes to explain what you intend to use this for.

This way, they can accurately certify your copy for:

  • Probate
  • Property title
  • Veterans benefits
  • Social security benefits
  • Use by a foreign government
  • Or other (please specify)

Fees: Walk-ins: $22. Mail-ins: $25. Additional copies: $18.

You will also need to provide a photocopy of a valid photo, government-issued ID, or present it during your walk-in.

If mailing, mail everything listed above to:

Rhode Island Department of Health Office of Vital Records, 3 Capitol Hill, Room 101, Providence, RI 02908

Divorce Records

The process for applying for divorce records from the State of Rhode Island is a bit different. Divorce records in Rhode Island are available to any interested member of the public. This means anyone can apply to obtain a copy. Certain information relating to the parties will be withheld, including financial details and settlements.

To find copies of a divorce record, write a letter to the Office of the Clerk of Family Court. This court must be located in the judicial district where the divorce occurred. This letter must detail the following information:

  • Full name of all parties involved
  • File number of the case, or docket number of the record
  • Date of finalized divorce
  • Location of divorce
  • Name of litigants

Since anyone can request a copy of a divorce record, a government-issued ID is not required when making your request.

Marriage Records

To find copies of your own marriage record, fill out the Application for a Certified Copy of a Marriage or Civil Union Record form.

You will need to give them the following information:

  • Full name of Party A (Groom)
  • Full name of Party B (Bride)
  • If different, full birth name of Party A (Groom)
  • If different, full birth name of Party B (Bride)
  • Date of marriage/civil union
  • City/Town of marriage

You can apply for the marriage record if it pertains to your child, spouse, parents, or grandchild. If you are an attorney representing a client, you may access your client’s marriage record by providing your law firm’s name. Other persons can request a copy of your marriage record if their relationship to you warrants their inclusion on this list.

In other words, in Rhode Island, marriage records are legally restricted to persons who show tangible interest in the records.

You will also need to specify what your need for this record is. Check one of the following boxes to explain what you intend to use it for. This way, they can certify your copy that suits your need, for example:

  • Update your records
  • Veterans benefits
  • Health insurance
  • Legal purposes
  • Use by a foreign government (specify country)
  • Other uses

Fees: Walk-ins: $22. Mail-in $25. Additional copies $18.

You will also need to provide a photocopy of a valid photo, government-issued ID, or present it during your walk-in.

If mailing, mail everything listed above to:

Rhode Island Department of Health Office of Vital Records, 3 Capitol Hill, Room 101, Providence, RI 02908

Third-Party Vital Statistics

VitalChek is a third-party vital statistics purveyor often recommended by state governments. This website makes it easy to order vital records like birth, death, marriage, and divorce certificates online.

VitalChek processes all orders through a direct connection with the government agencies responsible for issuing these certificates. It can be a faster alternative to getting your certificates than going through the usual channels.

VitalChek’s Rhode Island portal provides access to certified copies of birth, death, and marriage certificates. Divorce records are confidential in the State of Rhode Island. For the first copy of either a birth, death, or marriage, the fee is $25.00. Additional copies cost $18.00.

Rhode Island Historical Records and State Archives

The Rhode Island State Archives makes preserving the state’s historical records and making them available to the public its number one priority. They have holdings that date back to 1638, including copies of Rhode Island’s Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence.

The holdings of the State archives include digital access to most of the records in the archives.
To get started, you can browse the records by topic, or your can search in the search bar at the top of each page.

The Archives Catalogue will take you to a catalog where you can view the complete Rhode Island State Archives record holdings.

The archives catalog contains the following records:

  • Administration and Planning
  • African American collection
  • American Patent Models
  • Attorney General
  • Blackstone River Valley collection
  • Business and Labor
  • Census
  • Cities and Towns
  • Civilian Conservation Corps
  • Colony Records
  • Constitution
  • Corrections
  • COVID-19 Pandemic Response
  • Declaration of Independence
  • Dorr Rebellion, 1842
  • Economic Development
  • Education, Environment, and Agriculture
  • The Office of the Governor
  • Department of Health
  • HMS Gaspee and Gaspee Commission Documents
  • Hurricane of 1938
  • Judiciary and Legislative Index
  • Maps and Plans
  • Military
  • Narragansett Indian Records Collection
  • Notable Rhode Islanders
  • Postcards, Recreation, Reports
  • Rhode Island History
  • Secretary of State and the State House
  • State Institutions (State Asylum, State Prison, State Home, State Sanitorium)
  • Town and City Incorporations and Borders
  • Trademarks
  • Transportation
  • Treasury
  • Voting
  • Women in Rhode Island