Are Nebraska Records Public?
Almost all Nebraska public records created or belonging to government entities in Nebraska are classified as public records. Nebraska Public Records Law defines public records as all records and documents, regardless of form, belonging to the state or its municipalities and agencies. This includes records from towns, cities, villages, counties, or districts and any government agencies, branches, departments, bureaus, commissions, councils, or committees of any foregoing. Records classified as public records in Nebraska include:
- Court records
- Arrest records
- Bankruptcy records
- Sex offender information
- Inmate records
- Property records
- Criminal records
- Hunting and fishing permits or licenses
The law holds for all public records and information except when a statute or law specifically states that a record cannot be made public. Nebraska Public Records Law permits members of the public, whether resident in the state or not, to inspect or obtain copies of a public record. Requesters simply have to contact the relevant custodian of the record. The law also states that data that was public in its original form will remain public even when converted to other forms such as computer files.
Who Can Access Nebraska Public Records?
The Nebraska Public Record Act states that all citizens of the state and all other persons interested in public records are authorized to do so(Nebraska Revised Statute 84-712(1)).
Unless a record is specifically sealed or exempt by a law or statute, any citizen can request a record. The citizen may inspect a record or acquire copies of any nonexempt record either from the government entity or copying with their own equipment.
However, some records may be withheld from public view unless they have previously been disclosed in open court, meetings, or other administrative proceedings. For example, the legal custodian may withhold personal information in records regarding personnel of government entities other than salaries and routine contact information.
Do I Need to State My Purpose and Use When Requesting Public Records in Nebraska?
The Nebraska Public Records Act does not require the requester to state the reason or purpose for inspecting a public record. To obtain a public record, applicants must simply submit a request to their lawful custodian and pay any legal fees for copies. The law also allows a requester to make memoranda and copies of a record using their copying equipment.
What is Exempted Under the Nebraska Public Records Act?
The Nebraska Public Records Act allows the lawful custodian of a public record to withhold some records from public access. These records may be classified as confidential and kept from public view unless they have been in some way previously disclosed publicly (NRS 84-712.05). The public records law creates exceptions rather than exemptions, which means the release of any record is at the discretion of their lawful custodian. Section 4-712.05 of the Nebraska Revised Statute permits a custodian to keep the following types of records and information confidential and withhold them from public view:
- Any trade secrets, scientific and academic work which is work in progress or unpublished. This includes proprietary and commercial information, which serves no public purpose and would give business competitors an advantage.
- Records or information created by an attorney and the public entity involved that are prepared for litigation, labor negotiations, or claims made by or against the body. This also includes all confidential communications and materials covered under attorney-client privilege.
- Social security numbers; credit card, charge card, or debit card numbers and expiration dates; and financial account numbers supplied to state and local governments by citizens.
- Any information obtained by government entities at any level regarding the sale, possession, use, or registration of firearms obtained during an application or licensing process. This information however shall be made available upon request to federal, state, county, or local law enforcement agencies.
- Any records or parts of records kept by a publicly funded library which when examined reveal the identity of any patron using the library’s services. These records are confidential even if they have to be examined alongside other records to reveal an identity.
- Information solely about the security and protection of public property and people on it, the disclosure of which would endanger public safety and property. This includes vulnerability assessments or specific response plans, communication and computer schema, passwords, user names, guard schedules, design drawings, lock combinations, and public utility infrastructure specifications.
- Any appraisals or appraisal information and negotiation records concerning the purchase or sale of any interest in real estate or personal property by public bodies. These records remain confidential before the completion of the purchase or sale of the property.
Nebraska public record laws require custodians to separate public from confidential records and make the public sections available for access.
Where Can I Access Public Criminal Court Records in Nebraska?
Residents can usually obtain Nebraska criminal court records from the clerk of the court where the trial was held. The requester may contact the clerk of court in person or by mail and request the record by providing details like case numbers. District courthouses in Nebraska also have public terminals where the public may search for and print out court records.
The Nebraska Judicial Branch also provides online systems for searching for trial case records and information across the state. Individuals who want to perform a one-time name-based search can use the JUSTICE One-Time Court Case Search. This service carries a $15 charge and can be used to search for 30 records. The searches will give information like the parties of the case, the outcome, the judge, and general details of the case. However, actual court documents will be unavailable.
Individuals and organizations who plan to do regular case record searches may create a subscription account at Nebraska.gov. This account carries a $100 annual subscription fee and up to 10 usernames and passwords can be assigned to the account. General case searches on this form of account are free, and other charges for accessing information and records will be billed monthly. General search criteria include party name, court type, case type/subtype, county, year, judge, attorney. Viewing details returned for each search will cost $1, but there is no additional charge for accessing images of documents and records.
How Do I Find Public Records in Nebraska?
According to the Nebraska Public Records Act, when they receive a public record request, the custodian must answer as soon as practicable and without delay. A citizen may request public records from a government or public body using some easy steps. These are:
- Determine the public record and find its custodian.
The first thing to do is figure out the exact record that is required and locate the public body responsible for it and its custodian. For example, court records will be located with the clerk of court at the courthouse where the case was heard. Inmate records for Nebraska will be found by contacting the Nebraska Department of Corrections or the local law enforcement officials. Being able to describe the public record in question accurately and knowing the correct public body or custodian to contact is very important. Knowing this prevents errors and delays from unclear requests and contacting the wrong custodians.
- Contact the custodian and make the request
Public bodies and government entities are mandated to assign a custodian to handle public record requests for them. All public records requests must be addressed to them. Contact details for this office may be found online on the public body’s website, or a request may call the office and request their contact information. When the custodian’s contact details are found the request can be made. The public record request can be written or made using any agency-specific request forms. The form should be submitted to the custodian’s office either in person or by mail.
The custodian will respond in 4 business days with a denial or how to access the records and estimates for copy fees or service charges. If the requester requires copies, they may make copies for free using their equipment at the custodian’s office or a mutually agreed upon location.
Some public records may also be accessible from third-party websites. These websites are not limited by geographic location and come with expansive search tools. Record seekers can use these sites to start a search for a specific record or multiple records. To use a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:
- The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
- The location or assumed location of the document or person involved
Third-party sites are independent of government sources and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party websites may vary.
How Much Do Public Records Cost in Nebraska?
The Nebraska Public Record Act allows requesters to inspect some records for free but also allows government entities to charge the requester for copies. The price of providing copies to the requester cannot exceed the actual added cost of making the records available (NRS 84-712(3)(b)). Record custodians may further define added costs, depending on the type of record in question:
- For photocopies, added costs may include a reasonable apportioned cost of supplies, including paper, ink toner, and the printing equipment. It may also include any additional payment obligation for the time of contractors used to comply with the request for copies.
- For printouts of computerized data on paper, the actual added cost includes the reasonably calculated actual added cost of computer run time. It shall also take into account the cost of materials for making the copy.
- For electronic data, the actual cost will include a reasonably calculated cost of computer run time. This also includes charges of any analysis or programming performed by the government agency or any third-person company hired by them.
Requesters are also permitted to make copies using their photocopying equipment for free at the custodian’s office or an agreed location.
If the copies of records requested from a government entity exceed $50 the entity may request prepayment or a deposit before providing the copies.
Under the attorney general’s current policy the government entities may charge up to $0.25 per page for paper photocopies of records. If they intend to charge more they must be able to demonstrate that the actual cost of producing the records exceeds the recommended fee.
How Do I Lookup Public Records for Free in Nebraska?
The chances of looking up a public record for free in Nebraska depend on the type of record in question and the agency in the custody of it. For instance, most district courthouses in Nebraska have public terminals on the premises where users may lookup public records for free. However, obtaining copies of records will usually cost the requester some form of fee. Another way to view a public record for free would be to request to view the record physically at the custodian’s office. Some government agencies have online databases where records may be viewed online for free. Nebraska’s department of correction and state patrol have an inmate search and sex offender registry. These two databases allow users to look up inmate and sex offender records online for free. In conclusion, the most reliable ways to lookup a public record for free are:
- To inspect them in person at their custodian’s office
- View them online on a free website
What Happens if I Am Refused a Public Records Request?
When a requester is denied access to a public record, the public entity who rejected the request must provide the requester with the following information (NRS 84-712.04):
- The name of the custodian who denied the request
- The description of the records withheld and the reason why citing the exceptions under the law that justify withholding the record
- Notification of any administrative or judicial right of review under the law to challenge the decision.
All custodians are required to keep a file containing all letters of denial of requests which must be made available to anybody on request.
According to the public record law in NRS 84-712.03, whenever a requester is denied access to a public record that have two remedies, they may choose to pursue:
- They may choose to file for speedy relief by a writ of mandamus in the district court in whose jurisdiction the custodian of the record can be served.
- They may petition the Attorney General to review the matter and determine if the records are not public or if the custodian has failed to comply with public record laws.
To obtain the writ of mandamus against the custodian who denied the public records request, the requester seeking the writ must show the following:
- That they qualify to obtain the public record being a citizen of Nebraska or any other person interested in examining the public record
- That the record is public as defined by public record law
- That they have been denied access to the public records, which are guaranteed under public records law.
If the requester can file for the writ of mandamus, then the public entity must respond. The public entity in the custody of the record must show using clear and convincing evidence that the records in question are exceptions to public record law. If the requester obtains the writ, the court will compel the public body to provide the records.
A petition to the Attorney General for review can be used to determine several issues. It could be used to determine whether a record could be withheld from public view or whether the custodian has failed to comply with other sections of the law. This includes whether the fees charged for copies were more than actual costs. The attorney general generally makes a determination within 15 calendar days of receiving the petition. If the Attorney General determines the record may not be withheld, the public entity will be ordered to disclose the record immediately or otherwise comply. If the public body continues to withhold the record the petitioner may file a suit in a court of general jurisdiction to enforce disclosure. The petitioner may also write to the attorney general demanding they bring a suit in the name of the state for the same process. The attorney general shall bring the suit within 15 days of receipt of the letter, and the requester has the right to join as a party to the suit.
In a suit filed under public record law, the court has jurisdiction to enjoin the public body from withholding the records. They can order the public body to disclose the records and grant the requester other equitable relief. In cases where the requester substantially prevails, the court may assess reasonable attorney and litigation costs incurred by the requester against the public body. Any official who willfully violates the public records law shall be liable to dismissal or impeachment and will be guilty of a class 3 misdemeanor.
How to Remove Names From Public Search Records?
It is not normally possible to remove a name from a public record. In Nebraska, records cannot be expunged. Instead, a conviction may be set aside or pardoned. A set-aside order is an order given by a judge who sentenced the petitioner in a criminal case that avoids a conviction. An adult with a felony conviction may petition the judge for the conviction to be set aside. While a set-aside order does not erase a criminal conviction, anyone who looks up the conviction will also see the set-aside order. For a judge to set aside a conviction, they must believe it is in the petitioner’s best interest. The judge must also believe setting aside the conviction is consistent with the public welfare. The Nebraska Judicial Branch provides a guide to making a petition to set aside a criminal conviction on their website.
Pardons are more formal forgiveness granted by the Nebraska Board of Pardons. Pardons also do not erase records but instead restore certain civil rights that may have been lost as a result of a criminal conviction.
What is the Best Public Records Search Database?
Selecting the best public records search database is based on the form of public records being considered. Generally, the best public search databases will be the ones operated by the government agencies and public bodies in the custody of the records in question. A lot of the public bodies in Nebraska operate databases where public records can be searched for easily.
Douglas County, for example, operates an online inmate locator where a person can access inmate information for those inmates detained in the county. Lancaster County Register of Deed has a property search tool on their website where records of all registered properties in the county can be found. Sarpy County also has a marriage license search tool with which citizens may search for marriage records.
How Long Does It Take to Obtain a Nebraska Public Record?
When a public record custodian receives a valid public record request, they must respond to the request without delay as soon as practicable. The response must be in no more than 4 business days after the receipt of the request. The response must also contain the estimate of the cost of any fees or copies of the record plus any of the following:
- Instructions for access to the record or copies of the record if copying equipment is reasonably available.
- Written denial of the request together with the information from NRS 84-712.04 if there is any legal basis for denial of access to the records or copies.
- If the request can not, with reasonable good faith, be fulfilled within 4 business days, due to its complexity or extensiveness, the response will contain a written explanation. This will give reasons for the delay, the earliest practical date for fulfilling it, estimated fees, and a chance to modify or prioritize items in the request.
The requester will have ten business days to review the estimated fees, including any service charges and cost of copies, and ask the custodian to fulfill the request. The requester can negotiate with the custodian to narrow or simplify the request or withdraw the request completely. If the requester does not respond to the custodian within ten business days, the custodian shall not fulfill the request. The initial 4 business days shall be counted from the day after the request is received. Business days do not include Saturday, Sunday, or any other day the custodian’s office is closed(NRS 84-712(4)).
Is Public Data Search Safe?
The Nebraska public records act allows inquirers to conduct public data searches safely and securely through authorized public databases and government repositories. While a public data search through an official custodian might be conducted with no risk of identity theft, selected third party aggregate sites do not guarantee similar safety. In some cases, these are run by criminal syndicates offering free public data search to unknowing victims. Hence, inquirers are advised to conduct adequate research on their database of choice before venturing into a public data search. In addition, requestors may involve their local law enforcement agency if their information is likely to be compromised.