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Are Kentucky Records Public?

Almost all records created or maintained by government entities in the State of Kentucky are considered open to the public unless exempt by law. The Kentucky Public Records Act defines public records to include all books, papers, pictures, tapes, discs, and other documentation prepared, used, or in possession of public agencies. Public records also comprise information created or used in performing any form of government business, such as emails, databases, and other electronic records. Records considered public information in Kentucky include the following:

  • Divorce records
  • Inmate records
  • Land and Property records
  • Bankruptcy records
  • Sex offender information
  • Marriage records
  • Court records
  • Mugshots

The public records act gives an expansive description of what public records can be. They can be books, papers, maps, photographs, cards, discs, tapes, audio, video, software, and any other documentation regardless of physical form or characteristics. Under the public records act, these records can be obtained by contacting the correct government entity or their record custodian.

Who Can Access Kentucky Public Records?

The Kentucky Public Records Act states that any “Resident of the Commonwealth” may request

Access to public records in Kentucky. This includes any individuals residing or working in the commonwealth, domestic businesses in the commonwealth, or foreign ones registered with the Kentucky Secretary of State KRS 61.872(3). Newsgathering organizations as specifically noted in KRS 189.635(8)(b), are also allowed to request public records under the public records act. The residents have the right to access or request public records from any government entity except where the records are exempt by the statute. Confidential or exempt information may be redacted or removed from the records and the record custodian must provide any remaining records.

What is exempted under the Kentucky Public Records Act?

The Kentucky Open Records Act gives government entities the power to refuse access to public records if the record is exempt under the law (KRS 61.878(1)). Some examples of records exempt from public view include:

  • Records consisting of information of a personal nature, the release of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.
  • Records consisting of information or data gathered and compiled for scientific research that was disclosed to a government agency.
  • Any communications of a completely personal nature belonging to a government employee that is unrelated to any government function.
  • Records detailing the potential location of an industry or business. The records are exempt if no previous public report has been made of the business intent of relocating, locating, or expanding within the commonwealth of Kentucky.
  • Records containing test questions, scoring keys, and other examination data used to administer tests and examinations are exempt. This includes information for licensing, employment, and academic exams either before the exams are given or if the examination is to be repeated.
  • Records containing information on real estate appraisals, engineering or feasibility estimates, and evaluations made by or for a government agency while acquiring any property. The records remain exempt until all the property has been acquired.
  • Any records that are prohibited from disclosure by federal regulations or state laws.
  • Records the disclosure of which has a reasonable chance of threatening the public safety are exempt. These are records that would endanger the public by exposing any vulnerability in defending against, preventing, mitigating, or responding to terrorist attacks.

Where can I access Public Criminal Court Records in Kentucky?

Requests can obtain public criminal court records in Kentucky from the circuit court clerk of the court where the case was heard. The court records can be requested in person or by mail from the circuit court clerk as most other public records. A lot of the courthouses in Kentucky also have public access to computer terminals where records may be accessed. If the record can be located using the terminal then copies can be requested from the clerk at the courthouse. Criminal court records for Kentucky can also be searched and accessed online using the CourtNet case database available on the Kentucky Courts Of Justice website.

How Do I Find Public Records in Kentucky?

According to the Kentucky Public Records Act, each government agency must appoint an official custodian of the agency’s records. This is the employee who is responsible for the keeping and maintenance of the records whether they are in his custody and control or not (KRS 61.870(5)). Requesters may access records with the custodian using some very easy steps.

  • Know the type of record to be requested and its agency or custodian

Requesters must be able to accurately describe the record they require and know the correct custodian in charge of it. Inaccurate requests or requests sent to the wrong location will most likely be delayed. Court records requests are directed to the correct circuit court clerk and an arrest record would be obtained from the custodian at the local sheriff’s office. Working out this part is important and will help prevent delays and rejections.

  • Contact the custodian

As the law states that all government agencies must appoint a records officer, a requester must identify this person. Customarily, this officer’s identity and contact details can be found on the government agency’s website. The Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives also provides a list of state government agency records officers and their contact details on their website. This will help identify who to contact when in search of a certain record from a government agency. Some government agencies allow requests to call before requesting to inquire if a certain record exists and is a public record.

  • Make the Request

The record request itself must be made to the custodian. Most government agencies will have a request form that can be used to make public record requests from them. The Attorney General of Kentucky has also produced a standard record request form that all government agencies must accept. A request can not be denied because the standard form was not used and a precisely written request will also be accepted. The government agency may require that a written request with the following:

  1. The requester’s name printed legibly
  2. A clear description of the records required to be inspected or copied
  3. The requestor's signature
  4. In addition, some agencies may require a written statement explaining how the requester is a resident of the commonwealth.

The request can be submitted by hand-delivery, mail, email to the custodian at any of the valid addresses published by the agency. If requested the custodian must mail the required records to the requester after receiving the costs of copying and mailing the records. If the records are required for commercial use the requester will be required to state this for billing purposes. Filing of a records request will be free but requesters will be charged for copies and postage of the copies to the requester. It is also a good idea to keep copies of your requests as they might be useful during an appeal if the request is denied.

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 Kentucky?

The Kentucky Public Records Act allows requesters who have inspected a record to obtain copies of it for a reasonable cost. The fees for making records must not exceed the agency’s own cost in producing the copies of the records. The general price charged for photocopies of a paper record is $0.10 per page. The agency is not allowed to charge extra fees for the copies or for staff manpower and time used while locating and making the copies. If the requester has stated that the record is to be used for a commercial purpose the requester may need to enter a contract with the agency. The contract will permit the use of the agency’s public records for the stated commercial purpose for a specified fee(KRS 61.874(4)). This fee can be based on one or both of the following:

  • The cost to the public agency of record’s medium, any mechanical processing, and staff required to produce a copy of the public record or records;
  • The cost to the public agency for the creation, purchase, or external acquisition of the public records.

How Do I Lookup Public Records for Free in Kentucky?

Being able to look up free records in Kentucky will generally depend on the type of record and which agency is in charge of it. However, looking up records for free can usually be done in a few ways. The easiest way is to request to inspect the records in person at the custodian’s office during regular office hours (KRS 61.872(3a)). Many Kentucky government agencies have public terminals where records can be looked up and accessed for free. The state of Kentucky also operates an online sex offender database and the Department of Corrections operates an offender locator where information and records can be obtained. The search tools on these websites and databases allow users to locate information and records online for free using names and criteria like offender numbers. Court case information and other records can also be looked up online using the CourtNet database found on the Kentucky Courts of Justice website. The best ways to locate and lookup records for free remain searching online and requesting to physically view an agency’s records in person.

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

As the government entity can not consider a requester’s motive, purpose, or identity when they request a record, the requester does not have to give any. In some cases, however, the public agency may require the requester to state if the records being requested will be used for a commercial purpose. If so the entity can shift any copying and production costs incurred while producing the record onto the requester.

What Happens if I am Refused a Public Records Request?

If a public records request is denied whole or in part, the record custodian must issue a response explaining the denial. The response which must be a written statement must explain the specific exemption authorizing the denial and how it applies to the records in question. This written response must be forwarded to the requester within 5 working days of receiving the original records request(KRS 61.880(1)).

When a request is denied, the requester may ask the Attorney General to review the government agency’s decision to deny the public records request. The requester is required to forward the Attorney General a copy of the records request and a copy of the denial. If the government agency refused to send a written statement of denial then the requester may send just a copy of their request. The Attorney General will review the decision and issue a decision as to whether there was a violation of the public records act. The Attorney General's review written decision will be issued 20 working days after receiving the request from the requester. The Attorney General may extend this time by another 30 working days by sending a written explanation to both the requester and the government agency(KRS 61.880(2b)).

On the day that the Attorney General issues his decision copies must be mailed to the requester and government agency in question. Any party who wishes to appeal the decision must do so within 30 days of receiving the Attorney General's decision. If the decision is not appealed in the 30 days it becomes legally binding and enforceable at the local circuit court.

The requester can use this Attorney General review to pursue a civil court action over the violation of the public records act because of the denial. If the requester prevails in civil court they can be awarded costs including attorney fees and up to $25 for each day they were denied access to the record(KRS 61.882(5)).

How to Remove Names from Public Search?

While it is not normally possible to completely remove a name from a public record some records can be expunged or sealed by a court order. This process is usually reserved for criminal records and usually involves a court order. The State of Kentucky allows judges to decide if a criminal record may be expunged. There are different types of expungement depending on the offense committed and the outcome of the case. They include the following:

  • Acquittal or Dismissal with Prejudice: all cases where the defendant was acquitted or the case was dismissed with prejudice on or after July 2020 are to be expunged automatically. Except for traffic cases, all of these are usually expunged automatically within 30 days. The defendant may file for expungement at no fee if no action has been taken after 60 days.
  • Dismissal without Prejudice: when the case was dismissed without prejudice, misdemeanor cases can be expunged a year after the dismissal. The expungement can be filled from the court of dismissal and there is no fee. Felony cases dismissed without prejudice can be expunged after 3 years by filling from the court of dismissal at no cost.
  • Felony Expungement: a conviction for a felony can not be expunged until 5 years after the sentence has been served or 5 years after probation/parole has been completed. Whichever of these times comes later. If there was a conviction a certificate of expungement and filing fees will be required.

The Kentucky Court of Justice provides a guidebook to expungement and the expungement certification process to help citizens with the procedure.

What is the Best Public Records Search Database?

Choosing the best public records search database will depend on the type of records being searched. Generally, the government-appointed custodians of a record operate the best public records search databases. For example, the Kentucky State sex offender database operated by the state police is the best place to locate sex offender information in the state. On the county level, the Fayette County Clerk operates the best database for accessing and copying land records for the county. Kenton County operates an inmate roster that allows users to obtain inmate information and records online. Arrest records and incident reports for Jefferson County can be obtained directly from the records department of the Louisville Metro Police Department.

How Long Does it Take to Obtain a Kentucky Public Record?

A request to inspect or copy a Kentucky public record must be answered in at most 5 working days from the day the request was received. The agency in the custody of the record must either reply with the record or with a written statement explaining under what exemptions the request has been denied. If there is no response within the 5 working days the request can be assumed to have been denied. If there are any delays such as the record is not available, is in off-site storage, or is in use the custodian must notify the requester in writing. The custodian must notify the requester within 5 working days, provide a clear explanation and give a time, place, and earliest possible date when the record will be available.