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Are New Hampshire Records Public?

Most of the records created and stored by government agencies are classified as public records. The New Hampshire Right to Know Law (RTKL) defines public records as information created or obtained on behalf of public bodies or agencies while performing official functions. Public records or government records include written communications and other information in paper, electronics, and any other physical form. Records considered public records in New Hampshire include the following:

  • Inmate records
  • Property records
  • Court records
  • Arrest records
  • Bankruptcy records
  • Sex offender information

The New Hampshire Right to Know Laws grants access to all non-exempt public records maintained or controlled by public agencies. This means anyone who contacts the custodian of these public records during appropriate office hours may inspect or copy public records. The law defines copying as reproducing original records by whatever method, including but not limited to photography, photostatic copy, printing, electronic or tape recording. Public records come in many forms, including written, audio, visual, and electronic. Records created and maintained in digital or electronic form must be kept for the same retention or archival periods as their paper counterparts. Public agencies and bodies shall keep and maintain all government records in their custody at their regular office or place of business.

Who Can Access New Hampshire Public Records?

The New Hampshire Right to know law states that every citizen may request government records. Section 91-A:4(I) states “every citizen” has the right to inspect or copy government records on the premises of public bodies or agencies. This includes minutes of meetings and any records in possession, control, or custody of public bodies and agencies. The law does not specify if it refers to just citizens of New Hampshire or citizens of the entire United States. However, some records may be classified or sealed by statute and thereby exempt from public view.

Do I Need to State My Purpose and Use When Requesting Public Records in New Hampshire?

New Hampshire public records do not require a statement of purpose for obtaining records, except for select instances, such as when the record contains personal information or statistics. This is because records released as statistical data sets can only be used for research and will not be released to unspecified non-research individuals.

What is Exempted Under the New Hampshire Public Records Act?

The New Hampshire Right to Know Law allows the custodians of public records to deny requests for some public records. These are records that are exceptions to the law or otherwise exempt from public view or access. Whenever a custodian denies a public record request, they must state and explain the exemption to the law under which the request was denied. Section 91A:5 of the right to know laws list the records that are exempt from public view. These records include:

  • Records from grand and petit juries
  • The master jury list, which is a list of potential jurors compiled from the voter list and provided by the secretary of state. It is compiled from official records of persons 18 years and older who hold current New Hampshire driver’s licenses or department of safety identification.
  • Records from the board of paroles and board of pardons.
  • Personal school records of pupils, including the name of the parent or legal guardian. This includes any specific reasons disclosed to school officials for the objection to the assessments under RSA 193-C:6.
  • Records about internal personnel practices, confidential, commercial, and financial information, test questions, scoring keys, and other data. This includes any examination data used to administer licensing, employment, or academic examinations.
  • Personnel, medical, welfare, videotape sale or rental, and other files or information whose disclosure would constitute an invasion of privacy. Without compromising the confidentiality of the files, a public body or agency may release information relative to health and safety from investigative files. On a limited basis, these files can be released to persons whose health and safety may be affected.
  • Teacher certification records from the department of education are exempt however a teacher’s certification status is not.
  • Records of matters relating to the preparation of and the accomplishing of all emergency functions. This includes emergency training developed by local and state safety officials intending to stop deliberate acts intending to cause widespread loss of life and property damage.
  • Any preliminary drafts, notes, and documents not in their final form and not disclosed or available to the majority of a public body’s members.

Where Can I Access Public Criminal Court Records in New Hampshire?

Criminal court records for New Hampshire can be obtained from the clerk’s office of the court where the case was heard. These records or copies of them can usually be requested in person at the clerk's office or by a mailed written request. Paper case records are usually kept for two years after the criminal case is closed and transferred to the National Archives and Records Administration Federal Records Center (NARA-FRC). Records are stored in NARA-FRC for a 15 year period after which some are destroyed and others are designated as permanent records. Records stored by NARA are public records and hence are available for public view. NARA provides a guide to accessing court records for requesters trying to view or obtain paper and electronic copies of records available in NARA-FRC.

Criminal cases filed after January 1st, 2005, case files are permanently maintained in electronic format on the court's electronic case management system (CM/ECF). To review these records, the requester will need to obtain Public Access to Court Electronic Records(PACER) login information online or by calling (800) 676-6856. Electronic court case files and records can also be viewed for free using public terminals located at the court clerk's office premises around the state.

How Do I Find Public Records in New Hampshire?

The RTKL states that each public body or agency shall, upon request for any governmental record reasonably described, make it available for inspection and copying. The records must be made available as soon as they can be for this process. Requesters may inspect or acquire copies of the record using a few easy steps.

  • Determine the record you require and the agency in custody

First of all, a requester must determine the scope of the request by deciding the exact records or documents required and who has them. For instance, court records would be in the custody of the clerk of the court where the case was heard. Records like property records would be in the custody of a county’s recorder or register of deeds. Locating the right agency and its records custodian helps prevent a waste of time and effort as a result of erroneous and misdirected requests.

  • Contact the records custodian.

All public bodies and agencies are expected to appoint a custodian to handle the public record requests. Normally, contact information for this records custodian can be found on the agency’s website. Where this is not the case, a requester may call the agency and inquire about who to contact about public records requests. When you get these details, a good idea would be to call the custodian prior to making the request. The requester may ask questions regarding the availability of copies, record formats, and any fees for accessing or copying the records.

  • Making the request

There is not a specified method for making the records request, but where available, it is better to use the request form provided by the agency. A written request is also recommended for clarity and accuracy. The request should specifically describe the records required, including the type of record, its format, the required time range if necessary. The requester should make the record as clear as possible to make it easier for the custodian to locate and retrieve the record. The requestor should also add their contact details in case they need to be reached. Interested parties can submit the request in person or by mail.

It is vital to ensure the request is delivered or addressed to the custodian no matter what method is used to submit it. Inspecting records at the custodian’s office is usually free, but requesters should be aware that copies will almost always cost a fee.

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 New Hampshire?

The New Hampshire Right to Know Laws allow records to be inspected at the custodian’s office in person for free. However, if any copying equipment maintained for use by public bodies or agencies is used to make copies, a fee may be charged. This fee must be the actual cost of providing the copy and is what the public body may charge the requester. No fees may be charged for inspections or delivery of any public records, whether in paper, electronic, or any other form which are not copies. Nothing in the RTKL exempts anyone from paying fees established by law for obtaining copies of a public record. However, if such fees are established for obtaining copies, no additional fees may be charged (Section 91-A:4(IV)(d)).

How Do I Lookup Public Records for Free in New Hampshire?

The probability of looking up a New Hampshire Public Record for free will usually hinge on the particular record and record custodian. The two most realistic ways to look up public records for free are to inspect the records in person at the custodian’s office or check online. For instance, a lot of the district courthouses in New Hampshire possess public terminals where citizens can look up public court records for free. The New Hampshire Department of Correction and Department of Safety operate an inmate locator and offender registry that are good places to view free public records. Requesters should also bear in mind that viewing records are free, but copies of the records will usually cost a fee.

What Happens if I Am Refused a Public Records Request?

When a custodian receives a public record request, and after review intends to deny it, they must notify the requester in writing within 5 business days. The written response must explain the specific exemption authorizing the withholding of the record and how the exemption applies to the record in question. According to Section 91-A:7, a requester who feels aggrieved and that a violation of the RTKL has occurred may petition the superior court for injunctive relief. To satisfy the purpose of the law, the courts will usually give proceedings under public records law high priority on their calendar. The petitioner may appear with or without counsel and the petition is filed by either of them and a clerk of court or any other justice thereof. The petition is deemed sufficient if it can state the facts showing that a violation of public record law has occurred. The clerk of court will then order the public body charged with the violation to be served a copy of the petition. Subject to objections by both parties, documents filed by the petitioner to prove the violation and any response by the public body shall be considered as evidence. All documents shall be provided to each of the opposing parties before a hearing on the merits of the case. When the judge finds that time is of the essence, they may order notice to be given by any reasonable means. The justice also has the authority to issue an order “ex parte” if they deem it necessary to ensure compliance with the RTKL.

If the judge finds that the custodian or public body violated the public record law, there are several remedies for the successful petitioner(Section 91-A:8):

  • The public body or agency will be liable for reasonable attorney fees and any costs incurred in a lawsuit under the RTKL. This is provided the court finds the lawsuit was necessary to enforce compliance or address a purposeful violation of the law.
  • Fees are only awarded unless the court found that the public agency/body or the custodian knew or should have known their conduct was violating the RTKL. Fees will also not be awarded if both parties agree that no such fees shall be paid.
  • The court shall impose civil penalties if it finds out the official or custodian of the public agency/body violated the law willfully or in bad faith. This penalty would be the sum of no less than $250 and no more than $2000. Upon such a finding, the individual may also be ordered to reimburse the public agency any attorney fees or costs it paid during the case.
  • The official or custodian responsible for the violation may also be ordered by the court to undergo appropriate remedial training at their own expense.

How to Remove Names From Public Search Records

It is generally not possible to remove a name from a public record. However, when it comes to criminal records, New Hampshire has a process called criminal record annulment. Criminal record annulment or expungement is a legal process to remove a criminal record. An annulment can remove all criminal convictions from a record except:

  • Convictions for violent crime including but are not limited to capital murder, 1st-degree assault, sexual assault, manslaughter, kidnapping, robbery, felony arson, and kidnapping.
  • Convictions for felony obstruction of justice. This includes charges of tampering with witnesses or informants, obstructing government or law enforcement operations, and falsifying evidence.
  • Convictions for any charges that included an extended term of incarceration.

The process is started by the petitioner filing a written request which is known as a petition for annulment.

  • To remove an arrest or charge that was dismissed or not prosecuted, affected persons must petition the court which dismissed the charge.
  • To remove an arrest or charge with a not guilty verdict, affected parties must ask the court that issued the not guilty verdict.
  • To remove the record of a conviction and a sentence you must petition the court that issued the conviction and the sentence.

It is advisable to consult an attorney who will review your case and see if your case qualifies for annulment. An attorney is also useful for filing the petition and completing all the necessary paperwork. The petitioner will next have to fill and submit the Petition to annul a record form. There are other annulment forms for marijuana offenses, non-convictions after January 2019, and convictions after January 2019. Petitioners are also advised to go through the annulment of a criminal record checklist to ensure the petition is in order.

New Hampshire courts can only remove convictions that took place in the state. Federal and military convictions cannot be annulled through them. Convictions in New Hampshire have a waiting period to be eligible for annulment. To annul a conviction, the waiting period must have been over before a request or petition can be made. The different waiting times are usually related to the severity of the convictions.

  • For an arrest that was dismissed or not prosecuted, residents can petition for annulment immediately after the case is closed.
  • For an arrest with a not guilty verdict, a petition can be made as soon as the case is closed.
  • For a conviction, all the requirements of the original sentence must have been completed and the waiting times satisfied.

The waiting times differ depending on the severity of the convictions and are as follows:

  • Violation level offenses can be petitioned after one year from the date of sentence completion (other than certain motor vehicle offenses which are covered by a separate law)
  • Class B misdemeanors can be petitioned after two years from the date of sentence completion
  • Class A misdemeanors can be petitioned after three years from the date of sentence completion
  • For misdemeanors where victims are family, household members, or intimate partners when the offense occurred, petitions can be filed three years from the date of sentence completion.
  • Class B felonies can be petitioned after five years from the date of sentence completion.
  • Class A felonies can be petitioned after ten years from the date of sentence completion.

A judge has the discretion to annul a record based on the information presented to the court. Judges will usually base their decision on if the annulment of a record will help in rehabilitation and be in the interest of public welfare. The petitioner might be required to show this either in person at court or with documentation. The court will usually send the petitioner written notification in the mail after considering the petition and deciding.

What is the Best Public Records Search Database?

Choosing the best public records search database will depend on the form of record in question. Most of the time, the best public search database would be one operated by the government agency’s appointed custodians. Public bodies and agencies in New Hampshire may have online databases where users may search for public records online. The corresponding state agencies operate the inmate and sex offender online databases, which provide easy access to public records. The New Hampshire Registers of Deeds website operates the database where public county records for Hillsborough, Rockingham, and Merrimack, and other counties can be searched online.

How Long Does It Take to Obtain a New Hampshire Public Record?

New Hampshire's public record laws mandate that public agencies must respond to a public records request within five business days. The time is counted from the day after the records request was received. The records office or custodian are required to respond with any of these following actions within the specified time:

  • Make the records available for inspection or if copies are requested, and copying equipment is available, make the appropriate copies available.
  • Deny the request. The custodian would do this by sending a response stating the denial and explaining under what statute or exemption the request is being denied. The custodian must also explain how that exemption or statute affects the particular record in question.
  • Respond explaining that more time is needed to reasonably determine whether the record request will be granted or denied and why.
  • If the request cannot in good faith be completed within five business days, the custodian must respond explaining the reason for the delay.