Public records are available to the public in various ways and through many different agencies.
Public records are defined as any government document that doesn’t fall under privacy exemptions created by local, state, or federal governments. Records that fall under public accessibility include records of arrests, crimes, a person’s criminal background report, vital records, records from the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV), court documents, and business information.
Public records extend beyond those types of documents. The public is entitled to most records from government agencies too. This includes salaries of government employees, meeting minutes, health department inspection reports, and communications between government employees and officials as well as memos.
Some exemptions exist but most actions fall under public disclosure.
Vermont Records Mission
The State of Vermont distributed a pamphlet through the Secretary of State’s office that explains the goals of the state’s open records laws. The mission is to promote the public interest by helping people obtain information regarding the actions of government servants and trustees to examine and possibly criticize them.
The state also wants to balance public accountability with privacy that deserves protection.
Which Federal Laws Apply to Public Records in the United States?
Public access to government records is governed federally by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). States, like Vermont, pass their FOIA laws that identify how the federal law is implemented on a state level.
Every state has differences in forms, fees, time frames for a governmental response, and different agencies that are repositories for public information. Local municipalities also have their standards for disbursing public information.
Vermont’s History of Public Records
The first records of Vermont came from the Vermont Constitutional Convention’s elected secretary Lewis Morris. He took the minutes of the convention when it assembled in 1793. State officials and the public believe all governmental records are of both historical and evaluation value.
How Does Vermont Define Public Records?
In Vermont, public records are documents from public agencies. Public agencies are defined as any department, board, committee, commission, agency, and branch along with any state authority or state political subdivision.
Public documents include all documents, machine-readable materials, papers, or other written items of recorded matters. They can be in physical or electronic form as long as they are produced or acquired in the matter of public business.
This includes emails and other electronic versions such as social media posts. Records that are considered public records include:
- Vital Records
Every state has exemptions to the public access law and that includes Vermont. Some of the most common cases where records would be exempt from disclosure in Vermont include:
- Local, state officials, and employees personnel records.
- While the public can gain access to individual salaries and benefits for public officials and employees, other personal records are not disclosed. This can include reviews, disciplinary actions, and health information.
- All information on public school students is exempted. Investigation files created by law enforcement. Information involving current investigations.
- Governor memos to or from secretaries of state agencies when they related to establishing a policy. Additionally, communication from the governor with officials with the executive branch relations to create policies is expected to remain confidential.
- Official communications from the governor are not protected.
- Individuals and corporations’ income tax returns
These are not the only exemptions. More than 40 disclosure exemptions are listed in the Vermont Statutes Annotated (V.S.A.) Section 317, Title 1. The Legislative Council also has 243 exemptions listed throughout the state law.
A complete list of exemptions is published in a Right to Know database on the Vermont State Archives and Records Administration website.
Where Do I Get Vermont Public Records?
Vermont’s public records can be obtained from a variety of government entities and some public records available online. Vermont doesn’t have a requirement that you must be a state resident to gain access to public records. Vermont also doesn’t require requesters to state a reason to obtain records.
The state’s public information law applies to all three branches of government in Vermont. The state goes far in its Freedom of Information Act law to include all agencies and even sub-political agencies as “public bodies.”
Custodians of Vermont’s public records must respond to open records requests within one week of when the request is made. The response must include a date and time the records will be made available.
The period is shorter if the custodian believes the document is exempt. A custodian must put their reasons for denial in writing and submit this certification to the requester within three business days unless the law allows for an extension.
Extensions can be up to 10 business days as long as the requester is given written notice. However, these extensions are permitted only in what is determined to be “unusual circumstances.”
These can include:
- To gather records from other facilities beyond the office receiving the request
- To examine and collect an extreme amount of separate and distinct records that are submitted as one request.
- To have another agency consult on the dissemination of information.
Steps to Take to Access Public Records in Vermont:
All requests for public information should be submitted in writing to the agency handling the documents. Those requesting information will need to either fill out forms as dictated by the agency or submit a letter.
Requests need to be specific.
- Send the form to the correct agency handling the document. This can be done by mail, email, fax, or in person. However, some agencies may be closed or have restricted access to in-person visitors due to the pandemic, so it’s best to call.
- If mailing the request, it’s best to send it by certified mail so the period for a response can be validated.
- Follow up with the agency handling the documents if you don’t receive a response.
What are the Fees for Obtaining Public Records?
Vermont has itemized, standardized costs for obtaining public records. Those includes are identified as:
- The first 30 minutes of staff duplicating a record is free but it costs $.33 per minute afterward.
- The cost of staff time from senior-level officials to extract and other tasks to create a new public record is $.57 per minute.
- Other staff time is $.45 per minute
- Photocopies are $.05 for single-sided pages and $.09 for double-sided pages in standard size paper.
- One-sided color photocopies are $1 a page.
- Standard-size computer copies are $.02 a page.
- Compact discs are $.86 per write-once disc with a case and $2.31 for a rewritable disc with a case.
- Audiotapes are $.81 each.
- Videotapes are $1.69 per tape.
- DVDs are $2 for a write-once DVD with a case and $4 for a rewritable DVD with a case.
What Happens After I Submit a Public Records Request?
The agency contacted for public records will send you a response within five days or less listing the date and time the requested records will be available, listing the reasons for an extension, or denying the request.
There must be a reason listed for denial. The written response will also contain the price for obtaining the requested records. The fee must typically be paid upfront before research can be done or when you pick up the requested records.
Reasons for Denying a Request for Public Records
Vermont has guidelines for denying a request for public information. The custodian in charge of the documents must notify the requester of the denial in writing and also outline the appeal process for that agency and certify that the record requested is exempt from public disclosure.
The certification must also include the statute referred to for the denial and a statement of supporting facts and reasons to explain the denial. All of this must be decided within three days of the requester’s petition for public records.
Appealing the Decision
Most appeals first must go to the head of the agency involved in the request. Requesters must file a written appeal to the agency head. The agency head has five days to make a decision.
The agency head also must notify the requester of the decision in writing and also notify them of their rights to appeal the issue in court. If the agency head upholds the decision to deny the request, the requester can then file a petition in Superior Court to overturn the denial.
They should appeal to the Superior Court in their county but can also appeal to the Superior Court of Washington County.
Court records can be some of the most cumbersome to obtain because they typically are large files with a lot of different information. Data can be kept in paper files, on computer files, or in older versions of microfilm.
Court records can include trial information, lawsuit documents, indictments, grand jury recommendations, and documents related to civil disputes. The court administrator is the electronic case record custodian.
The local clerk’s office has the physical court records. To gain access to a court file, the requester must contact the court where the case was heard or filed. Requesters will need to fill out a written request. A request for public record access can be found here.
The request for an appeal in a denial of a court record can be found here.
There is a list of fees for court records that is separate from the state fee list set by the legislature. The State Supreme Court Justices create rules regarding fees not directed in the state law. There is only one assessed fee for one party’s filed motions and petitions.
Other court records fees are as follows:
- Photocopy of records or court materials $.25 a page with a $1.00 minimum
- Exemplified copies are $10
- Certified Copy is $5
- Document with a conformed copy to non-party are $.25 a page
- Document Authentication is $5
- Name-based, birthdate criminal history is $30
Additionally, there are charges for record retrieval at the Records Center. They are as follows:
- Shipping and handling of public records are $7.50 per file
- Microfilm search is $3 for each search
- Copies of records from microfilm search on standard paper are $.50 each
- Copies of records from microfilm search on legal size papers $.75 each
- Copies of microfilm search on paper that is 11 inches by 17 inches are $1 each.
- Copies of records from microfilm search on paper that is 18 inches by 24 inches are $1.25 per page
Identifying the Courts
Vermont, like most states, has a multi-layered court system with each division handling particular cases. Unlike other states, Vermont also has two courts that have statewide jurisdiction. Those are the Judicial Bureau and Environmental Court.
Vermont has 14 counties and each has four types of courts called divisions as a part of the Superior Court. The Environmental Court and Judicial Bureau also fall under the Superior Court even though they have statewide jurisdiction.
Vermont also has the appellant court which is the Supreme Court. This is the court that handles appeals from all the lower courts.
This trial court hears cases such as contract breaches, evictions, foreclosures, medical malpractice, personal injury, and wrongful death It also hears appeals from the Probate Division. This division includes Small Claims Court where cases that involve claims up to $5,000 are heard there.
These cases are handled in a county’s Superior Court where the case was filed. Superior Courts handle both misdemeanor and felony cases. The judge is also in charge of declining or approving arrests or search warrants.
Within the criminal court system, there are specialty courts that handle specific cases such as juvenile cases, drug cases, mental health cases, and driving under the influence cases.
No jury trials are held in family court, but cases are determined by a presiding judge. Family court hears cases involving separation, divorce, civil union dissolution, parentage, child support, and custody cases.
This division handles adoptions, correction of vital records, emancipation, approvals for non-resident clergy to perform marriages, guardianships, and probating trusts, wills, and estates.
This division handles a wide array of civil violations sent by law enforcement. Civil violations include traffic tickets, fishing, hunting, and trapping charges, alcohol and tobacco violations, municipal ordinance violations, burning and waste disposal charges, cruelty to animals, and non-criminal marijuana violations as well as lead hazard abatement violations.
This division handles cases involving the environment.
Are court records public information?
Most court records are considered in Vermont to be public information. The exceptions are those that fall under the state’s exemptions which can include juvenile records, sealed records, and records that would violate privacy.
Where can I get copies of court records?
Vermont court records can be obtained through the court that heard the case or where the case was filed. Many courts can send records electronically but some also have hard copies of paper records or records on microfilm. Forms can be downloaded here.
Those who are requesting statewide court data or administrative records can submit a written request to:
Court Administrator’s Office
111 State Street
Montpelier, VT 05602
Vermont has an online system for obtaining criminal records that is a service of the Department of Public Safety – Vermont Crime Information Center. It is called the Vermont Criminal Conviction Record Internet Service (VCCRIS).
Anyone can buy criminal conviction records through this service. However, background checks purchased through the service are not certified copies. To get a certified copy, you would need to go here.
The records through the VCCRIS site are name and birthdate-based and cost $30 per request. The fee is non-refundable if the result is a “record not found” notification.
There are instant results and requesters can download and print results. To use the system, requesters need:
- The legal name and date of birth of the person targeted for a background check.
- A valid payment such as a credit card or Vermont.gov subscriber account.
Be aware that those working in a Vulnerable Populations Agency or educational institute are not charged for this service. Any criminal record purchased can also be verified through the VCIC for no additional cost by entering a validation code through Vermont’s online validation service.
Criminal History Search
A criminal history is any record of interaction a person has with the justice system. That includes the courts, law enforcement, or the correctional system. It includes charges and arrests, even if they were dismissed or are pending.
A criminal history also includes convictions, photos, and some personal information such as the last known address. Two methods can identify a person’s criminal history.
One is name-based, such as what Vermont offers online, and one is a verified criminal history. Those typically include fingerprints. Fingerprinted background checks are certified checks and are typically the type required by employers, professional licensing, and other legal entities.
Those requesting a fingerprint check can only request on behalf of themselves while those seeking name-based, birthdate searches can search for anyone’s criminal records.
Searching by Name and Birthdate
Anyone can look up Vermont criminal backgrounds online using a name and birthdate.
Searching with Fingerprints
This is the complete criminal history check completed using new fingerprints at an identification center. Only those seeking their criminal history can use this service.
Vermont encourages those seeking background checks to use an identification center for fingerprints. The other option is to get fingerprints done at a local law enforcement agency. Fingerprints are submitted directly to the FBI for a national criminal history check.
Those who plan to use an identification center to get their fingerprints should call for an appointment and about regulations regarding pandemic social distancing and other requirements.
You must show two pieces identifying yourself. One must be a current government-issued identification with a photo. The other can be a Social Security card, passport, or anything on a list of secondary items. Some of those items include a signed credit or check cashing card.
Fingerprints cost $25 and must be paid when you get them done. The identification centers can tell you what forms of payment are accepted.
Those seeking a certified copy of a criminal background check do not need to have their fingerprints done. A requester can submit a written request for a full Personal Vermont Criminal Record using the proper form and including a notary form.
The notary form must be signed by the person requesting the check and notarized with a raised seal attached for the request to be processed. Once the forms are filled out, mail them with a cashier’s check or money order for $30 made out to the Department of Public Safety. Also include a self-addressed, stamped envelope.
The mailing address is:
Criminal Records Division
Vermont Crime Information Center
45 State Drive
Waterbury, VT 05671-1300
Record Check Section
45 State Drive
Waterbury, VT 05671-1300
Office hours are 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. Monday through Friday
How Long Does it Take to Get the Results of a Criminal History Check Back?
Immediate results are available using the online site. Expect five to seven business days to receive results from a notarized letter request.
How Long Does Arrest Information Stay on Record?
Records in court diversion programs are sealed two years after someone completes the program and other programs destroy the records of those in it after three years of successful completion.
In most states, including Vermont, the majority of convictions come off a person’s records after 10 years of being crime-free for adults and three years for children. Many juvenile records are also sealed, preventing public access.
Can a Person Challenge their Criminal History Record Information?
There are ways to challenge criminal history information in Vermont. The place to start is to contact the VCIC. Your request specifying the error must be made in writing and the VCIC will attempt to resolve record appeals within three business days.
If you are unsatisfied with the result, you have the right to petition the change in Superior Court.
Warrant Records Search
Getting access to warrant records in Vermont is relatively easy from the Vermont State Police.
Requesters can do this online or by mail to their office. The mailing address is:
103 South Main Street
Waterbury, VT 05671-2101
The Difference in Warrants and Arrests
A warrant isn’t the same as an arrest. A warrant is a document issued by a judge based on probable cause, meaning there is enough evidence to charge a person with a crime.
Arrest records are the booking reports created after a person has been brought to the jail or local police department for booking.
Getting Information on Incidents
Vermont State Police operations 24/7 to respond to requests for information. Much information about incidents is given in press releases sent by barrack commanders who oversaw the incident.
The public needs to contact a barracks commander about specific incidents and should have the incident or case number. A list of barracks information is here.
The on-duty watch commander is the one who handles calls for information on nights and weekends. The watch commander list is updated weekly here.
Those seeking interviews or information on topics such as crime statistics should contact the public information officer at 802-241-5277.
Searching Arrest Records in Vermont
Anyone can search for individual arrest records using the suspect’s legal name and birthdate with the online VCIC service. There isn’t a way for the public to search general arrest records without names and birthdates. Requesters can access the page here.
What’s the Difference Between an Arrest Record and a Criminal Record?
An arrest record has the times and places where a person is charged with a crime. A criminal record is a complete history of the person’s interaction with the entire justice system, including court rules, convictions, arrests, probations, and incarcerations.
What An Arrest Record Includes
All arrest records include basic information such as:
- A person’s legal name and aliases
- Last known Address
- Identifying tattoos, marks, or other physical distinctions
- A list of charges
Are all arrest records public?
There are some exemptions to arrest records being made public but almost all are public. Some exemptions include:
- Juvenile court and conviction records
- Any sealed records
- Records that law enforcement has under investigation
- Any record falling under Vermont’s exemptions by law.
Vermont Inmate Records
Those that see inmate records are usually employers, attorneys, and crime victims. Inmate records often show the release date of the inmate or when they might come up for parole.
What Does an Inmate Record Include?
Inmate records generally include:
- Person’s legal name
- Inmate’s birthdate
- Inmate’s charges
- Anticipated release date
- Inmate incarceration number
Where can I find Vermont Inmate Records?
Anyone can find inmate information through the Vermont Department of Corrections inmate search. There is a current list of state inmates, detainees, and all those in the court system on the first page of the Vermont offender search.
Enter the full first and last name of the inmate and search. The next page will show all of the state’s offenders matching the information. Details include the full name, booking date, and jacket number along with the facility they are in or reporting to in parole or probation.
The requester can click on a row to see the mugshot, age, race, and other case information. There is a section with the case numbers and charging details.
Sex Offender Information
The Vermont Sex Offender Registry was created in 1996 with the passage of state law. The registry is part of data collected at the Vermont Crime Information Center (VCIC).To look at registry offenders the requestor must state a specific concern relating to either safety for themselves or another and must have the name of the person targeted for a registry check.
The VCIC or law enforcement doesn’t provide general offender information based on geographic areas like streets, towns, or counties. The registry website is located here. The department labels some offenders as high-risk but doesn’t assess the risk of other offenders.
What if your name is wrongly added to the registry?
There is a process for those who think their information was wrongfully posted on the offender registry website. People have the right to challenge their status by sending a written letter to the VCIC director identifying themselves along with the questionable information and the reason why it is in error.
The director investigates these letters and will respond to the discrepancy within three business days after receiving the written request.
Vital records are some of the most commonly requested documents in Vermont. These documents are considered important because they document major life changes like birth, marriage, and death.
Vital records also include divorce, adoption records, and other records that prove identity. This is why most people need them for things like school enrolling, sports teams sign-ups, getting a driver’s license, employment, passports, and settling estates.
Vermont is unique in that there are several ways requesters can obtain vital records. There are primarily four ways to get vital records in Vermont.
Requesters can go to any town or city clerk’s office, although many may not allow walk-in visitors under pandemic regulations.
Requesters can get them through the Vermont State Archives and Records Administration (VSARA). Vermont has vital records available online from 1760 to 2008. The Department of Health is the custodian of this information. There are no restrictions to vital records, but records are largely made available through third-party sites like Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.com, as provided by law.
A searchable index from 1909 and later is provided by the Department of Health. None of these records are certified vital records.
Requesters can also get vital records at the Health Department’s Vital Records Office. This is where requesters need to go to get certified copies of records. Certified records are required for many legal applications.
Although the state has earlier records, Vermont started requiring towns to report all marriages, births, and deaths in 1957. The state’s vital records have eight categories of life events where a record would be created:
- Fetal deaths
- Civil Unions
Requestors can order these certified vital records through the health department online. New parents must order a copy of a birth certificate because they don’t automatically receive one.
The website has links to ordering forms for all eight types of vital records in Vermont. Those with questions may contact:
P.O. Box 70
Burlington, Vt. 05402
Toll-free within the State of Vermont: 800-439-5008
Business records that are open to the public are kept at the Secretary of State’s office. Businesses register with the state to do business so information about the date it was created, its compliance with the state, address on primary contact is public record.
Most all other information is exempt unless it deals with public compliance issues such as health department food scores, alcohol licenses, and code enforcement. Compliance records are kept at agencies regulating the regulation such as local health departments, town halls, and state regulatory offices.
In Vermont, people can go to the Secretary of State website to search business registrations, trademarks, amusement rides, and telemarketers.
Vermont has a long history, so there are many historical records available. One of the easiest ways to begin a search is to go to FamilySearch.org. This is a free site promoted by the Vermont Historical Society. It has all known records from 1760 through 1908 and is adding more records up through 1954.
Another site that can be helpful is Rutland Historical Society where those interested can search the land, naturalization, town, probate, and immigration records. This site also has Quebec vital records and the Social Security Death Index.
Property and Tax Records
Vermont is ahead of other states in providing online information. There are several places to search for Vermont’s property and tax records easily online. The Vermont Department of Taxes has property tax information including comparisons of Vermont property taxes compared to other states. It also has links to property tax credits.
The Vermont Municipal Clerks’ and Treasurers’ Association (VMCTA) has a list of Vermont towns that have online records available to the public with links to each town’s website.
From there, those interested can browse property indexes and pictures. The VMCTA site also lists when indexing and images started and the computer systems used for the convenience of those searching.
The local tax assessor’s office and the clerk’s office also have this type of information if it isn’t available online. However, many offices still aren’t allowing walk-in visitors so you should call for an appointment.
Those wishing to have a copy of their driving record can request it by submitting form #VG-116 to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). A certified copy of a three-year record is $14 while a certified copy of a complete operating record is $20.
There are other types of driving records available through the DMV including a list of title records, certified copy of police crash reports, and periodic inspection sticker records. The fees for other services range from $8 to $119, depending on the type of document you are seeking.
How Do I Fix Public Record Errors in Vermont?
Most errors, especially relating to the criminal information, can be corrected through the VCIC and require the person to submit the request in writing. The request must detail the reason why the information is in error and needs to provide other evidence of the error.
Other errors, such as in vital records, should be reported to the agency handling that information.
Requests must be made in writing and directed to the head of the agency managing public information.
Requests must also include any evidence of false or inaccurate information. Beyond submitting correction requests to agency heads, those seeking to correct public record errors in Vermont would need to petition a Superior Court judge to approve the change.