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Are Iowa Records Public?

Except where limited by law, all records in Iowa belonging to government bodies or government officials are public regardless of their form. Iowa's state code provides for the rights of persons to access Iowa public records. All persons have the right to access these records and such persons may either inspect or copy the records.

Iowa's public record laws help ensure transparency and accountability to the public at all levels of government. Consequently, all agencies, boards, departments, commissions, and divisions of the state are bound by the law and are required to make public records in their custody available. Public records may be stored electronically, as video recordings, as audio recordings, in writing, or as photographs. Regardless of how it is stored, the record should still be made available to requesters. Any person that desires a public record may inspect or obtain a copy of the record by making a request to the custodian of the record. Records that may generally be accessed include:

  • Iowa court records
  • Iowa criminal records
  • Iowa arrest records
  • Iowa incidence reports
  • Iowa inmate records
  • Iowa sex offender information
  • Iowa bankruptcy records

Who Can Access Iowa Public Records?

Section 22.2 of the Iowa Code provides that every person shall have the right to examine and copy public records and to publish or otherwise disseminate the information contained in a public record. The Section also provides for the right of every person to inspect the record without any charge and to take pictures of the records. A custodian cannot deny access to public records based on the identity of the person who wishes to inspect or obtain a copy of the record. Juridical persons also have the right to access records. Therefore, partnerships, corporations, and organizations may also request Iowa public records. The right extends to both inspecting and making copies. There is usually no charge for merely inspecting the record. The requester may also take pictures of the record at no cost. However, the custodian may charge a fee for making a copy of the record available.

What is Exempted Under the Iowa Public Record Law?

Section 22.7 of the Iowa Code provides for records that are considered confidential. Only qualified persons can access these records and members of the public cannot successfully access the records. If any request is made for a record that is confidential pursuant to law, the custodian of the record is permitted to deny the request. The denial may be either partial or complete. A partial denial occurs if the record only contains some confidential information. In such a case, the custodian may redact the confidential parts of the record and make the non-confidential part available. However, if the record is confidential in its entirety, then the custodian would deny the request completely. Confidential records can only be accessed pursuant to a court order, by a lawful custodian of the record, or by any person duly authorized to access the records. Records that are confidential by law in Iowa include:

  1. Personal information of students, including prospective students and former students, maintained by an educational institution or school corporation. However, this exception does not prevent schools from informing guardians of violations of school policies or crimes. It also does not prevent the transfer of student records to a school district, an accredited nonpublic school, or the department of education. Section 22.7(1) of the Iowa Code.
  2. Medical records, professional counselor records, and hospital records regarding patients or former patients. This confidentiality provision does not prevent the sharing of information among agencies and providers of maternal and child health such as immunization. However, it ensures that records of confidential conversations with counselors are private. Also, medical records of patients are also private and cannot be disclosed except the patient permits the disclosure. Section 22.7(2) of the Iowa Code.
  3. Trade secrets. All trade secrets of individuals, partnerships, and corporations are confidential and cannot be obtained through a public request. These trade secrets include procedures, patterns, mechanisms, tools, formulae, and other such information. They are business records and information. Section 22.7(3) of the Iowa Code.
  4. Investigative reports and records that constitute part of an ongoing investigation. However, the date, time, specific location, and immediate facts and circumstances surrounding a crime or incident except the disclosure shall affect the ability to investigate the crime or incident. The purpose of this exception is to allow law enforcement officers to investigate crimes successfully. Section 22.7(5) of the Iowa Code.
  5. Personal information of government officials contained in confidential personnel records of government bodies. This exemption also extends to student employees. However, the exemption shall not prevent the release of the names and compensation of government officials. The date the individual was employed, the individual’s position, and the individual’s educational and work history are also not part of exempted information. Section 22.7(11) of the Iowa Code.
  6. The records of a library if the release of such records shall disclose the activities of patrons of that library when examined alone or with other public records. However, the records may be examined by law enforcement officers if it is instrumental to investigating a crime. A court may also order the disclosure of the record if there is a legitimate aim to be fulfilled by such disclosure. Section 22.7(13) of the Iowa Code.
  7. Information contained in a report to an Iowa public health facility that reports a disease that is reportable. The health entities to which this exemption applies to include the Iowa Department of Public Health, local boards of health, and local health departments. The scope of the information that should not be disclosed is information that may be used to identify any person infected with that reportable disease. Section 22.7(16) of the Iowa Code.
  8. Communications received by government bodies from entities outside the government which the government body reasonably believes may dissuade such entities from subsequently making those communications if the records are made public. For the purpose of this exemption, entities outside the government do not refer to entities being compensated by the government and entities in a consulting or contractual relationship with the government. Information from the record which shall not disclose the identity of the person outside the government shall be treated as a public record. Section 22.7(18) of the Iowa Code.

Note: There are other records that are exempted pursuant to Section 22.7 of the Iowa State Code. Also, other laws may exempt records from public access.

Where Can I Access Public Criminal Court Records in Iowa?

Any person can access public criminal court records in Iowa by making a request for the record. The Iowa Judicial Branch provides public access to free Iowa court records pursuant to any public records request. Requests can be made in person, by mail, by telephone, or electronically. The request should be made to the courthouse that determined the criminal case. The request may be made either orally or in writing during court hours. However, the custodian of the record sought may require written requests especially in the case of a complex request. The request should also sufficiently identify the record the requester seeks. The custodian to be contacted also depends on the record sought.

Requests by the media should be made to the Judicial Branch Communications Director. Requests for district court criminal case records should be made to the clerk of the district court. Requests for appellate case records should be made to the Clerk of the Iowa Supreme Court. The custodian of the record should respond to the request promptly, with the time determined by the nature and size of the request. If the request is denied, the custodian will inform the requester of the reason for the denial. The court may also charge fees for copies, postage, and staff time.

Requests can also be made online and the requester may be directed by the custodian to the online request channels. Iowa criminal court records can be obtained either through the Iowa Courts Online Search portal or the Public Access Court Electronic Records (PACER) system. The Iowa Courts Online Search portal is free to use and it allows users to search for cases either statewide or by county. Users can search for the parties either by the names of the parties, the case ID, or the citation number. Searches with the PACER system require registration and logging in. Searches after the first 150 pages in a year also require payment of 10 cents for each page.

How Do I Find Public Records in Iowa?

Any person can find public records in Iowa by contacting the records custodian and making a request for a copy of the record. The custodian of the records is required by law to make any public record promptly available once a request is made for the record. If the request is denied, the custodian should state the reason for the denial. The request for Iowa public records may be made either orally or in writing. The custodian may require the requester to make the request in writing, especially if the request is complex. The request should also clearly describe the record that is sought. The requester should provide unique information regarding the record, such as the name of the subject of the record and any identification number. A request may be denied if it does not clearly describe the record that is being sought with adequate precision to allow the custodian of the record to find it. The Iowa Public Information Board provides sample records request letters.

The requester would need to submit the request to the custodian of the records. Section 22.4 of the Iowa Code provides that requests may be made in person, in writing, by telephone, or through electronic means. In-person requests should be made within business hours. If the custodian of the record does not have customary business hours up to 30 hours a week, a request can be made on any weekday between 9 am and 12 pm or 1 pm and 4 pm. The request should generally contain the requester’s name, the requester’s contact information, the record the requester wishes to inspect or obtain, and a description of the record that allows the custodian to find it. The custodian of a public record is the government entity that maintains the record.

Some public 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 must typically 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.

How Much Do Public Records Cost in Iowa?

The cost of public records in Iowa depends on the record being requested, how the request is made, and whether the requester wishes to inspect or make copies of the record. Section 22.3 of the Iowa Code allows government entities to charge fees for making public records available. However, the fee should be reasonable and should not exceed the actual cost of making the record available. The fee includes any cost incurred in making copies, making deliveries of the record, or making staff available to provide access to the record. No fee should be charged if the public records are being requested to complete and file claims for benefits with the Iowa department of veterans affairs or the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.

How Do I Look Up Public Records in Iowa for Free?

Looking up free public records in Iowa depends on the record, how the request for the record is made, the custodian of the record, and how the request is to be fulfilled. There is usually no fee to merely inspect a public record. Any person may inspect these records at the location where the record is kept within the business hours of that location. If the location does not have customary business hours up to 30 hours a week, a request to inspect the record can be made on weekdays between 9 am and 12 pm and between 1 pm and 4 pm. Government entities that allow the inspection of records usually have terminals or lobbies to allow the requester to inspect the record. The requester may take photographs of the record. Electronic copies of records may also be obtained for free if the custodian has electronic copies of the record. This is the case with records that are provided online, such as sex offender information.

Do I Need to State My Purpose When Requesting Public Records in Iowa?

Persons interested in obtaining Iowa public records do not need to state the purpose of their request. The purpose may be requested by the custodian if knowing it shall help in finding the record. The purpose should also be stated if the requester wishes to avoid payment of fees if the purpose is to complete and file claims for benefits with the Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs or the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.

What Happens if I Am Refused a Public Records Request?

Section 22.10 of the Iowa Code allows any person whose request to access public records is refused to bring an action in a district court. The action should be brought in a district court where the custodian has its principal place of business. The action may be brought by any aggrieved person, any taxpayer, any citizen of Iowa, the attorney general, or any county attorney. If the person who brings the action succeeds, the court may order an injunction compelling the custodian to make the record available. The court may also order the payment of damages not less than $100 and not more than $500. If the violation was intentional, the damages should not be less than $1,000 and should not be more than $2,500. The attorney and court costs shall also be paid by the custodian if the person who brings the action is successful. This is in addition to the remedies provided by Section 17A.19 of the Iowa Code.

How to Remove Names From Public Search Records?

Individuals may be able to remove their names from criminal public records search through expungement of the records or a governor’s pardon. However, there are strict conditions that should be fulfilled to have a record expunged. The conditions differ depending on the record and whether the subject was a juvenile or an adult when the crime was committed. Section 901C.2 of the Iowa Code provides for the expungement of criminal records of any person found not guilty of a crime. The lack of guilt should not have been a result of insanity. Records of convictions may also be sealed. Section 901C.3 of the Iowa Code allows all persons to expunge criminal records once in their lifetime. Multiple offenses cannot be expunged pursuant to this section unless they all arose from the same circumstances. Also, the offenses that can be expunged pursuant to this section are limited to some misdemeanors. The following conditions should be fulfilled before the expungement is ordered by the court.

  • More than eight years should have passed since the date of conviction.
  • The defendant should have no pending criminal charges.
  • The defendant should not have previously been granted two deferred judgments.
  • The defendant should have paid all financial obligations ordered by the court or assessed by the clerk of the district court.

Juvenile criminal records may also be sealed pursuant to Section 232.150 of the Iowa Code. After an adjudication of delinquency, the court should schedule a hearing regarding the sealing of juvenile criminal records two years after the final action regarding the offense or when the child turns 18 years old, whichever is later. The following conditions should also be fulfilled.

  • The individual should be up to 18 years old and at least two years should have elapsed regarding the last official action concerning the case.
  • The individual should not have been subsequently convicted for an aggravated assault offense or a felony.
  • The individual should not have been placed on youthful offender status.

The effect of having a criminal record sealed or expunged is that the subject of the record can answer any question regarding their criminal history as though the offense never occurred. However, the record may still be available to courts and law enforcement agencies for the investigation of crime.

What is the Best Public Records Search Database?

The best public records search database depends on the record being sought. Various government entities maintain databases to provide access to public records to any person interested in obtaining the record. There is the Iowa sex offender registry for Iowa public records search on sex offenders within the state. Users can search for sex offenders by name or location. Users can also search for offenders who have failed to comply with their registration requirements. There is also a notification feature to notify interested persons when certain sex offenders relocate to a selected location within Iowa. The information provided on sex offenders includes their names, offenses, photographs, and physical description.

Counties also maintain public records search databases. Polk County public records search may be used to obtain public records within the County. The County provides access to a sex offender registry. Linn County also provides Linn County public records search through the Linn County Recorder. Interested persons can make requests for Iowa birth records, Iowa death records, Iowa divorce records, and Iowa marriage records within the County if the records are maintained in the County.

How Long Does It Take to Obtain an Iowa Public Record?

Requests for Iowa public records should be responded to as soon as practicable. The custodian of the record should not take more time than is actually required to make the record available. Section 22.8 of the Iowa Code recognizes reasonable and good faith delays in responding to requests for public records. However, these delays should not exceed 20 calendar days and should ordinarily not exceed 10 working days. A failure by the custodian of the record to make the record available may be treated as a violation of the requester’s right to access the record.