Massachusetts Court Records
Are Massachusetts Records Public?
Under Massachusetts General Law, all records maintained or received by any agency are presumed to be public, except where exempted by law. Residents can access, inspect, or copy any information maintained by a public officer, employee, or any Massachusetts governmental entity. This also includes records created or received by public departments, boards, commissions, divisions, bureaus, or any authority in the Commonwealth.
Public records may be stored as paper records or electronic material. Per the Massachusetts Public Records Act, records can exist in different forms, including the following:
- Written or printed documents
- Financial statements
- Statistical tabulations
- Documentary materials
Such records are generally maintained by a designated custodian, whose duties include processing record requests, preparing guidelines to assist with requests, and coordinating responses.
Note: The Massachusetts Public Records Act also applies to any individual, corporation, association, or partnership that receives public funds.
Who Can Access Massachusetts Public Records?
Anyone can obtain public records in Massachusetts, as Commonwealth laws do not restrict record access. Instead, the law directs that requesters may obtain records after paying the fee (if any). Residents and residents can obtain records. Entities like LLCs, partnerships, and organizations can also access records.
While records can be made orally, in person, or writing, most departments encourage requesters to submit written applications as these are easier to document and save, especially when processing extensive requests. A written request can also be examined if the requester files an appeal. Most agencies provide guidelines to assist requesters in making requests. Some departments may also offer forms to assist with the process.
Note: Per section 10 of Massachusetts public records law, record custodians must furnish a copy of any requested record no later than ten days after receiving a request.
Do I Need to State My Purpose and Use When Requesting Public Records in Massachusetts?
You don't need to submit a statement of purpose when obtaining records in Massachusetts. You also do not need to identify yourself as a precondition to obtaining records. According to the Public Records Law guidelines published by the Secretary of the Commonwealth, all record seekers must be treated the same. Although some custodians may ask for identity documents or questions about how the records will be used, this needs to be done to determine your eligibility. Instead, it's done to determine if you're eligible for a fee waiver. In Massachusetts, public agencies have the discretionary right to waive the fees for obtaining records if certain conditions are met.
What Records are Public in Massachusetts?
Most government-maintained documents are considered public by law, including court records, inmate records, bankruptcy records, marriage records, sex offender information, and certain property records. These records may exist as papers, maps, images, or electronic files.
Massachusetts Public Criminal Records
Criminal records provide documentation of a person's criminal conviction history. Such records are open to the public, except where restricted by law. Record seekers can obtain criminal records in different ways. One option is to request a criminal record check at the Department of Criminal Justice Information Service. The DCJIS offers name-based and fingerprint-supported criminal checks. Alternatively, requesters can search through criminal court record files by submitting a request to the clerk in charge of the Massachuset court records.
To obtain criminal records in Massachusetts, you must provide some information about the registrant, such as the person's full name, date of birth, case file number, or arresting office (if known).
Department of Criminal Justice Information Service,
200 Arlington St.,
Chelsea, MA 02150
Massachusetts Public Arrest Records
Massachusett arrest records contain information related to arrests. Arrest records are generally considered public unless they are exempted under state laws. Public agencies, such as the state police and local sheriff’s offices, are responsible for maintaining arrest records in their jurisdiction. To obtain copies of arrest records, residents must provide the custodians with enough information to search the records accurately. This includes the individual’s name, booking date, arresting agency, and location.
Note: Arrest records are not proof of a criminal conviction. These records do not usually cover the disposition of the case and should not be used as a substitute for criminal records.
Massachusetts Public Sex Offender Information
Massachusetts provides public access to updated information on sex offenders working, living, or attending any school within the Commonwealth through an online sex offender registry. Access to this online registry is free. Members of the public can conduct searches using different search options:
- Search using offender details (offender name, registration status, level)
- Search by city, county, or zip code
- Search by Geography/Neighborhood
Residents can also get more information on sex offenders by contacting local law enforcement or the Sex Offender Registry Board at:
Sex Offender Registry Board,
P.O. Box 392,
North Billerica, MA 01862
Note: Information on level 1 sex offenders is closed to the public. Although the registry provides access to a vast database of offenders, the information is restricted to only level 2 and level 3 offenders. Only specific agencies, such as state and municipal police departments, can access such records. Other agencies include the Department of Probation, the Department of Mental Health, and the Department of Youth Services.
Massachusetts Public Court Records
Massachusetts public court records consist of files, documents, and information compiled during courtroom proceedings across the Commonwealth's court system. Such records are generally maintained and controlled by designed court clerks. Some types of public court records include:
- Court judgments and decrees
- Court index
- Court orders
- Pleading and filings
Anyone can obtain public records by contacting the clerk at the location where the case was filed. While some records can be viewed in public terminals during business hours, other documents may be accessible online. For instance, requesters can search for online information on civil, criminal, and small claims cases filed at the district courts. In contrast, information on other cases, such as Pedestrian civil infractions, Rubbish disposal civil infractions, small claims cases, or state building code or fire code civil infractions, can only be accessed at the courthouse public terminal.
Massachusetts Public Bankruptcy Records
Bankruptcy records contain details of persons, companies, or other entities that have filed for bankruptcy in the commonwealth. It includes information such as:
- The chapter under which the action was filed
- Status of case
- Amount of debt
- Debtor's income
- Details of existing assets
- List of creditors and amount owed
Such information is considered public, so almost anyone can obtain it. The United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Massachusetts maintains bankruptcy records filed within the Commonwealth.
Record seekers can access bankruptcy case information filed in any of these districts using multiple methods. Requests may be able to access records using PACER, a public access court electronic records tool that grants access to federal court records. With it, users can search for specific cases in specific courts. Alternatively, you can search for documents using public terminals available at the courthouse between 8:30 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday.
United States Bankruptcy Court
John W. McCormack Post Office and Courthouse
5 Post Office Square, Suite 1150
Boston, MA 02109-3945
Massachusetts Public Birth Records
Massachusetts public records contain details of births that occured in the Commonwealth. Such records are generally issued by the Registry of Vital Records and Statistics, which maintains records from 1926 till date. To obtain a public birth record, you'll need to provide some related information during our search, such as:
- The date of the event
- The place of the event (city/county)
- The registrant's name
You'll also need to provide a valid government-issued ID to provide your identity. Acceptable options include a US passport, Military ID, or driver's license. Requests can be submitted in person by visiting the Registry of Vital Records and Statistics between 8:45 a.m. and 4:45 p.m. from Monday through Friday. Eligible parties can also obtain records by mail by submitting a completed application to the following:
Registry of Vital Records and Statistics
150 Mt. Vernon St.
Dorchester, MA 02125
Note: The Massachusetts State Archives maintains records created before 1926.
Massachusetts Public Death Records
In Massachusetts, death certificates are generally public, except where sealed or restricted by law. Residents can obtain copies of a death certificate by submitting an application to the clerk of the city where the death occured.
To obtain a public death record, you'll need to provide some related information about the event in your application, such as:
- The decedent's name
- Date of death
- Place of the event (city/town and country)
- Spouse's full name
- Parent's full name
- Relationship to the decedent
A $32.00 fee is charged for each copy of a record. Acceptable payment options include checks or money orders (for requests sent via mail). You'll also need to provide a valid government-issued ID, such as a US passport, Military ID, or driver's license.
Mailed requests can be sent to the following:
Executive Office of Health and Human Services
Department of Public Health
150 Mount Vernon Street,
1st Floor Dorchester,
Massachusetts Public Marriage Records
Public marriage records provide details about legal unions in the Commonwealth. Such records contain general information about the event, such as:
- The name of the wedding officiant
- Names of parties who were wed
- The place of the marriage, the date of the marriage
- Names of parents and witnesses
Marriage records are generally public, so almost anyone can access them. The Registry of Vital Records and Statistics (RVRS) maintains marriage records from 1931. To obtain a public marriage record from the RVRS, you'll need to provide the following information:
- The full name of both parties (first, middle, and last)
- Surnames at birth
- The date of marriage
- The name of the city or town where the intention of Marriage was filed
Massachusetts Public Divorce Records
Under Massachusetts law, divorce records are generally public. Such documents contain a wide range of documentation connected to marriage dissolutions, such as the grounds presented for divorce, the names of the divorcing spouses, the court where the divorce was filed, and details of the divorce terms. You'll need to contact the Registrar of Probate Court in the county where the divorce was granted to obtain a certified copy of a divorce record.
Massachusetts Public Inmate Records
Inmate records are considered public in Massachusetts and can be accessed by almost anyone. Public inmate records contain general details of incarcerated offenders, such as the inmate's full name, inmate ID, age, date of birth, and location.
The oversight of inmates housed in state-run correctional facilities falls under the Massachusetts Department of Correction (MADOC). In addition to overseeing the state's prison system, the department provides public access to non-confidential inmate records. However, details of offenders incarcerated or booked in county or city jails are maintained by the county sheriff or city police. To look up inmate records, you'll need to provide the inmate's commitment number as well as the first and last name.
Massachusetts Department of Correction (MADOC),
50 Maple Street,
Milford, MA 01757
Massachusetts Public Property Records
Massachusetts property records contain ownership details of land or real property in the Commonwealth. Under Massachusetts law, such records are open. Residents can obtain information on land records by contacting the Secretary of the Commonwealth. Alternatively, members of the public can find property records by searching through the county's Registries of Deeds. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has 21 registry districts, each with an elected register of deeds.
Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,
One Ashburton Place
Boston, MA 02108
What is Exempted Under the Massachusetts Public Records Act?
Although broad and wide-reaching, the Massachusett Public Record Laws create narrow provisions where record custodians may deny public records requests. Information that falls within this category is exempt from disclosure and must be redacted or deleted before the record's release. Some examples of records exempted from public access include:
- Records with information or work product protected by the attorney-client privilege
- Investigatory material prepared by law enforcement or any other investigatory body, the disclosure of which could compromise investigative efforts.
- Document containing protected medical, health, and hospital records or any information that would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy
- Trade secrets or financial information that's been voluntarily submitted to a public agency upon a promise of confidentiality
- Names and addresses of individuals who apply for a firearm license
- Records containing personal identifying information
- Personal documents prepared by a government employee which are not maintained as part of the government unit.
- Records such as blueprints, plans, policies, procedures, and schematic drawings could compromise the security and safety of persons and public spaces.
- Proposals, bids, and other documents submitted as part of a government bidding process
- Records containing the questions, answers, or scoring methods used to develop or administer a licensing test or examination.
Note: Commonwealth statutes explicitly define some exemptions, while others may be exempt by necessary implication.
How Do I Find Public Records in Massachusetts?
To find public records in Massachusetts, you'll need first to identify the public agency in charge of the records. Agencies generally maintain public records in connection with their official business. That means inmate records can be found with agencies that oversee inmates, and records involving legal proceedings will likely be available at the court.
To access a record, you must submit a request to the designated custodian. Most agencies provide multiple options for submitting requests. You can request by phone, in person, or by writing. While oral requests are quicker, written requests are more manageable to document. Having a written record also comes in handy if your request is denied and you wish to appeal.
Some of the details that should be contained in a public records request include:
- A clear description of the information that you want
- Your full name and contact details (if you want copies mailed to you)
- A case number or file name
- Names of registrants or officials on the record.
If you're submitting a letter, it should clearly state that the records are being sought under the provisions of the Massachusetts Public Record Law. Finally, you may need to pay fees to obtain the records.
Can I Find Free Public Records in Massachusetts Using Third-Party Sites?
Members of the public may be able to find free Massachusetts public records using some third-party sites. Such platforms provide access to public data compiled from agencies across multiple jurisdictions, within and beyond the Commonwealth. Some examples of free records that may be found using third-party sites include court records, criminal information, and inmate information. That said, you'll need to provide some information to process a search, such as the name of the registrant, the date the record was filed, and the location. In addition, most third-party sites will not require your ID card before processing the request.
Note: When using third-party platforms, always verify the information provided by cross-checking it with official government sources for accuracy. The accuracy of records offered on such sites generally varies on a case-by-case basis.
How Much Do Public Records Cost in Massachusetts?
Public records cost $0.05 for each regular-sized single-sided paper copy and up to $25 an hour if staff labor is involved. However, the actual cost of obtaining a Massachusetts public record varies, depending on various factors such as the record volume, type of request, the length of time it takes to find the records, and the requestor's identity.
In most cases, requesters who wish to inspect a record in person can do this freely, as public agencies typically do not charge for inspections. You can also obtain records for free if the document is found quickly. In addition, record custodians have the discretionary right to waive a fee if the requester cannot pay the fees or if a determination is made that the release of the records will be in the public interest. Conversely, record seekers who wish to obtain records for commercial purposes will likely pay a fee.
Note: If obtaining a request will require extensive use of the agency's resources, the public agency typically provides an estimated invoice before proceeding.
What Happens if I Am Refused a Public Records Request?
If a request is denied, your first step should be identifying why. Under the Commonwealth's public record laws, record custodians must respond to requests within ten business days (G. L. c. 66, § 10(b)). If this does not occur, you can file an appeal with the designated records supervisor.
If you receive a response within ten days and it contains a refusal, the response must also include a citation of the specific statute that is being invoked to make the decision. In such instances, you could choose to do any of the following:
- Accept the decision and make a new application that addresses the deficits contained in your original.
- Petition the Supervisor of Records for an appeal. Appeals must be done within 90 days of receiving the refusal.
- File a civil action with the courts to force the record custodian to release the records in compliance with the Public Records Law.