Are Delaware Records Public?
Yes. In most cases, records generated by the state of Delaware are accessible by the public. The Delaware Freedom of Information Act defines public records as any piece of information produced, owned, used, or retained by any public body while performing its duties. For example, Delaware public records may include some of the following:
- Public Delaware birth records
- Public death records
- Public Delaware criminal records
- Delaware public arrest records
- Public marriage records
- Delaware public court records
- Public Delaware bankruptcy records
- Public inmate records
- Public divorce records
- Public Delaware sex offender records (The Delaware Sex Offender Registry)
- Public property records
- Records of civil and criminal cases
Delaware public records may exist in various forms or shapes such as documents, recordings, books, photographs, maps, cards, microfilms, papers, electronic data processing, writings, letters, reports, graphs, and more. As established under the Delaware Freedom of Information Act, interested persons may obtain desired public records by contacting the public body responsible for keeping such records. Anyone in need of these data can conduct public data searches as allowed by Delaware's open records law. Individuals seeking a public records act request can fill out the request form on the state website. While one can carry out a degree of free public data search, copies of records may require extra cost.
Note: Public records do not include recordings or any piece of information about a government official’s personal life.
Delaware Public Records Act
The Delaware freedom of information act was established in 1977. It is a series of laws that guarantees that members of the public can access public records of governmental bodies. Any citizen of Delaware can request public documents and the purpose of the records request is not required.
Who Can Access Delaware Public Records?
According to the Delaware Freedom of Information Act, citizens of the state can access public records. Interested residents are permitted by law to request, inspect, or obtain copies of public records without restrictions. The Act mandates public bodies to grant access to their records to promote a free and democratic society.
The Act does not specify whether or not non-citizens of the state of Delaware can access or obtain its public records. However, certain records are considered exemptions and may not be available for public view. Most times, such records are restricted due to the sensitive information they contain. Examples of such records may include information that may invade a person’s privacy, reveal a trade secret, and more.
Do I Need to State My Purpose and Use When Requesting Public Records in Delaware?
In most cases, interested persons who wish to obtain Delaware public records do not need to submit a statement of purpose. As established under the Delaware Freedom of Information Act, any citizen of Delaware may request or obtain public records by contacting the public body in charge. Interested persons must provide relevant information about the required records, names, contact details when submitting their requests. However, a public body may deny a record request from a non-citizen of Delaware. Delaware is one of few in the United States where requestors are required to be residents.
What is Exempted Under the Delaware Freedom of Information Act?
The Delaware Freedom of Information Act permits public bodies to restrict certain records from public view. The public body in charge may choose to either withhold part or the whole of such records. Such restricted records are called exemptions. In most cases, a record becomes exempted due to the sensitive information it contains. Below are some of the reasons a record may be exempted as stated in Section 10002(o) of the Delaware Freedom of Information Act:
- Personal Information: Delaware Freedom of Information Act permits public bodies in charge of records to restrict the availability of records that reveal a person’s personal information. Here, personal information is regarded as any piece of information that may constitute an invasion of privacy. A person’s medical history is an example of personal information.
- Confidential or Privileged Information: The Act permits record custodians to exempt records that contain privilege or confidential information. Examples of such information include trade secrets, financial information, and more. Also exempted are court records of private judicial proceedings or those pertaining to a juvenile.
- Law Enforcement Investigative Files: The Freedom of Information Act permits record custodians to exempt certain records gathered by law enforcement agencies. Examples of law enforcement records that may be exempted include intelligence files, criminal records or criminal files that may constitute an invasion of privacy when disclosed, information about ongoing cases, and more.
- Security Information: Record custodians may exempt records that if inspected or copied may jeopardize the security of state-owned or any of its subdivisions. Other information that can jeopardize individual safety may also be exempted - this may include some sections of criminal records or criminal history information if they have been expunged or restricted from public disclosure by court order
- Vital records: include records that are considered confidential.
- Personnel data: personnel information that would constitute privacy invasion.
How Do I Find Public Records in Delaware?
Interested persons can find public records in Delaware by contacting the public body in charge of such records. In compliance with the Delaware Freedom of Information Act, public bodies are mandated to respond timely to all record requests upon receipt. Although the requirements to obtain public records may differ from one agency to another, below are some of the steps interested persons can follow:
Decide on the Type of Record
An important step to obtaining Delaware public records is by deciding and identifying details of the record. To facilitate record search, interested persons are to provide details on the records they seek. Examples of such information required may include the type of record, case number, date, names of parties involved, and more. Lack of adequate information provided by requestors is a major cause of record requests being denied.
Contact the Agency in Charge
The next step is for interested persons to contact the agency or body in charge of the record. For instance, the Delaware State Police maintains and provides access to Delaware criminal records and sex offender information in the state. On the other hand, the Department of Correction provides access to inmate records. Requests for Delaware court records may be addressed to the Superior court clerk or the county court clerk in the court house where the hearing took place, and the Delaware Department of Health provides access to vital records.
Therefore, it is crucial to know the agency responsible for a specific record.
Prepare a Written Request
Although some departments or agencies now provide access to online request forms, requestors may still need to prepare written requests to obtain copies of a record. Some departments may request written requests to facilitate tracking. A written request may contain some of the following information:
- The requestor's full name
- The requestor's contact details ( address, phone number, and more.)
- Detailed information about the record
- The type of record
- The date range for the record
- The preferred mode to deliver the record
- Additional information that may aid the record requests
Review and Submit the Request
Interested persons can review the information provided before submitting their requests to the record custodian. Also, depending on the agency, requesters can submit their requests in person, by fax, by mail, or online. More often than not, the contact details of any agency or department are provided on the “Contact Us” page of their website.
It should be noted that the information required to process record requests will vary depending on the kind of record. For instance, persons seeking certified criminal records will may be required to provide the written and notarized consent of the record holder. Similar to requests for certified criminal records, queries regarding certified vital records, adoption records or records pertaining to a juvenile (including court records) require the consent of the record holder of their representative.
Using Third-Party Sites
Public city records may also be accessible from third-party websites. These non-government platforms come with intuitive tools that allow for expansive searches. Record seekers may either opt to use these tools to search for a specific record or multiple records. However, users will need to provide enough information to assist with the search such as:
- The name of the subject involved in the record (subject must be older than 18 or not juvenile)
- The address of the requestor
- A case number or file number (if known)
- The location of the document or person involved
- The last known or current address of the registrant
Third-party sites are not sponsored by government agencies. Because of this, record availability and results may vary.
Public records can also be accessed from third-party websites. These third-party public records aggregate websites offer search services that are non-geographically limited, making the search result expansive and typically straightforward. However, users will need to provide enough information to assist with the search, such as:
- The name of the subject involved in the record as long as the subject is not a juvenile
- The last known or location of the record subject
Third-party public records search websites are not government-sponsored services. Therefore, the availability and accuracy of results can vary.
How Much Do Public Records Cost in Delaware?
Most times, the cost of public records in Delaware depends on the service provided by the public body in charge. According to Section 10003(m) of the Delaware Freedom of Information Act, a public body may charge interested persons for the following:
- Photocopying fees
- Administrative fees
- Microfilm or Microfiche printouts
- Electronically generated records
For instance, a public body is permitted by law to provide the first 20 pages of a record free of charge to the requestor. Although, the request must be of standard paper size (black and white copies). Afterward, a $0.10 charge per sheet applies for a single side sheet and $0.20 for a double-sized sheet. Examples of standard paper sizes include 8.5" x 11", 8.5" x 14", and 11" x 17". Interested persons who wish to obtain oversized copies of the records may be charged $2 per sheet for 18" x 22", $3 per sheet for 24" x 36", and $1 per square foot for any document larger than 24" x 36".
Additional costs may also be incurred if the record of interest is required to be certified. For instances, persons requesting certified Delaware criminal records for background checks, certified vital records (like marriage records, birth records and death records), and other forms of restricted information will be required to pay a nominal fee to cover the cost of notorizing or certifying the requested record.
How Do I Lookup Public Records for Free in Delaware?
Requesting a physical inspection is one way to look up public records for free in Delaware. This option provides a cost-free alternative for requestors who ask, “where can I search public records for free?”. Most times, and as permitted by law, public bodies do not charge record inspection fees, so, one can carry out a free data search. Therefore, interested persons may contact the appropriate public body during business hours to inspect desired records against making copies. In the case of inspection of records Individuals seeking data accessible to the public can also contact the county clerk's office, county recorder’s office or the office of the Superior court clerk.
Also, requesters can look up public records for free in Delaware using available online resources. Most times, the department or agency in charge of the record they seek may maintain an online database for its public records. For instance, Delaware State Police maintains an online sex offender central registry. The online database allows the public to access information about sex offenders in the state including their criminal records or criminal history information, current location, physical description and other details of note. Interested persons can search using the offender's last name, first name, workplace, house number, county, city, zip code, and other combinations available.
What Happens if I Am Refused a Public Records Request?
When one carries out a public data search on a database maintained by government agencies, they may be refused access to data sorted. Interested persons who have been refused a public record request may seek to reverse the decision by contacting the public body in charge. The process involves writing to the body to determine the reason behind the refusal. Depending on the response, requestors may also seek partial release of the records.
Alternatively, interested persons may also appeal the decision by filing a petition with the Delaware Department of Justice. The Delaware Freedom of Information Act permits requesters to enforce their civic rights of inspecting or obtaining any public record. The Department of Justice, in turn, may investigate the public body's decision to deny the request, write a FOIA opinion, or even file a lawsuit on behalf of the requestor to ensure the requested records are released.
How to Remove Names From Public Search Records?
Interested persons who seek to remove their names from a public records search can either petition for a court order or enforce a state statute. Although, such persons must ensure the records are part of the exemptions allowed under Delaware Laws. For instance, records that provide information about security procedures or an ongoing investigation are prohibited from being made available to the public. Interested parties may choose to petition for mandatory or discretionary expungement.
Expungement for Non-convicted Crimes
As established in the Delaware Code Title 11, Section 4373, individuals who have been arrested and charged with a misdemeanor or violation but with no conviction are eligible for a mandatory expungement if:
- All charges filed against them were dropped
- The case was dismissed
- They were acquitted of the crime
In addition, certain misdemeanor charges do not qualify for mandatory expungement. Examples of such offenses include sexual harassment, indecent exposure, organized retail crime, resisting arrests, and more.
However, interested persons with no conviction may still qualify for a discretionary expungement if their misdemeanor includes any of the following:
- Reckless driving
- Operating a motor vehicle that caused the death
- Driving under the influence
Expungement for Convicted Crimes
Individuals who have been convicted of a misdemeanor or violation can only expunge their criminal records by applying for a pardon. This pardon is to be filed to the Delaware supreme/superior court where the case was handled. If the application for a pardon is granted by the Governor, they are then eligible to petition for a discretionary expungement. As established under Delaware Code Title 11, Section 4375(b), an individual may not be eligible for expungement if the committed offense includes sexual crimes, manslaughter, and more.
Note: Individuals with felony convictions are not eligible for expungement.
What is the Best Public Records Search Database?
In accordance with the Delaware Public Records Act, persons who are in need of public records may access them by querying the concerned record custodian. These records can either be provided by state government agencies or by third-party sites. However, the best public records search database depends on the type of record in question. More often than not, the government agencies or bodies in charge of these records provide the best public records search database. Interested persons who wish to obtain public records may check the online database maintained by these agencies. For instance, the Delaware State Police maintains a sex offender central registry for the state. Similarly, the Department of Corrections maintains an inmate locator database that provides information about offenders in its jurisdiction to the public.
How Long Does It Take to Obtain a Delaware Public Record?
Persons seeking to obtain data can fill out a public records act request form to access public information maintained by the state or local agencies responsible for the sought-after record. Obtaining a Delaware public record may take up to 15 business days or more. Under Section 10003(h) of the Freedom of Information Act, the public body in charge of a record is mandated to respond to all record requests within 15 business days of receipts. The public body may either grant or deny access to the requested records. In other cases, the public body may seek additional time to provide records that require further legal consultation, stored in a different location in parts or whole, voluminous in nature, and more.
Is Public Data Search Safe?
Yes. Delaware public record act allows members of the public access to data considered public. Public data is provided by state-maintained databases or third-party sites. State or local government agencies' sites and some private sites allow some level of free public data search. Although public data search is safe in Deleware it is best to get some information directly from the state database. For example, when seeking criminal records it is best to get information directly from the law enforcement agency responsible for collating and managing the data.