In Michigan, the state Freedom of Information Act allows public access to any record kept by agencies, departments, bureaus, divisions, boards, councils and commissions that are part of the executive and legislative branches of state and local government. Records maintained by agencies that are either set up by the state government or have it as their primary sponsor are also public.
Of course, the right to access public records is not absolute or all-encompassing. It excludes some categories, such as documents that contain private information, as making them public would constitute a breach of privacy, or information regarding ongoing investigations, to mention but a couple of examples. Also, you should be prepared that your request for a public record might be denied, whether on the grounds of an exemption that you are not aware of, or based on personal judgment. If this happens, you can either try to get access to those parts of the document that could be considered public, and have the record custodian redact the sensitive parts, or you could address the head of the agency that is custodian of this record. If your request gets denied again, your next step is to ask a state court to review the denial, and you have 180 days to do that.
The list of exemptions to the Michigan Freedom of Information Act is available online, so if you have any doubts about whether the document you need is public or not, you can check with it. You’d be happy to know that a lot of the state’s public records are available in electronic form and some are free to view and download. Here are some of the most common public records and where you can find them.
Michigan Birth and Death Records
Birth and death records are in custody of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. You can request a copy by mail, email, phone, or in person. If you use the walk-in service of the Department, make sure you do it by 3pm if you want to get the record by the end of the same day. Also, there are limitations as to who may access Michigan birth records that are less than 100 years old. If you choose to order a copy online, you can only do so if it is your own birth certificate that you need, or that of your child. You can also order a non-certified heirloom birth certificate copy from the Department, but you need to do this by mail and not online.
Michigan Marriage and Divorce Records
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services handles marriage and divorce records. They are considered public 100 years after they are issued. Since most of us need contemporary vital records for personal reasons, you should be aware that, like in all other states, Michigan has restricted access to these due to the personal details they contain.
If you simply need verification that a particular record exists, you can submit the information that needs verification to the Vital Records office without having to comply with any eligibility criteria. If you need a certified copy of a certificate, however, you will need to prove that you have a direct and legitimate interest in the record by either bearing a direct relation to the person/s named on it, or being a legal representative for them.
Michigan Adoption Records
Adoption records in Michigan are considered closed records and are not available to the general public. Closed records can be opened to an adult age adoptee, adoptive parents of a minor, biological parents, and adult age biological siblings. The Department of Health and Human Services in Lansing, Michigan also maintains the central adoption registry for voluntary information exchange.
Michigan Court Records
Records held by the Michigan judiciary are not considered public hence access to them is restricted. If you need such a record, nevertheless, you can go straight to the court where the case has taken place and submit a written request to the clerk of the court. For contact details about the courts operating in Michigan, you can use the Michigan Courts – One Court of Justice site which provides a court search.
Michigan Criminal Records
The custodian of these records is the Michigan State Police. Its Criminal Justice Information Center is responsible for processing all requests under the Freedom of Information Act as well as for maintaining the record archives. These consist of fingerprint-based criminal histories that are available for employers wishing to perform a background check on a prospective employee, and to the general public. The Center provides an online resource for such references, the Internet Criminal History Assess Tool.
Michigan Driving Records
The Department of State is responsible for handling driving records and any vehicle-related documentation. You can request your own driving record or your vehicle record, and you can also request another person’s file. In the latter case, however, you would need to include a permissible purpose, as listed by the Department. These include use by a government agency, use in relation to auto theft or driver safety, use for statistical purposes, and use by a business entity to verify the personal details contained in the record.
Whatever public record you need, make sure you allow for request processing time, which can vary greatly. Requests made in person seem to be the quickest to be served, while if you submit an online or email request, you might have to wait for up to a couple of weeks for some records.
Michigan Business Records
You can find documents filed by Michigan-registered businesses under the respective law at the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. Alternatively, you can request the record you need directly from the Corporations Division by phone, fax or mail.