Where Can You Find North Carolina Criminal Records?

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What happened? In 2011, LexisNexis Risk Data Management, Inc. and LexisNexis Risk Solutions, Inc. (hereinafter, "LexisNexis") filed a public records request with the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts (“AOC”) and the Wake County Clerk of Superior Court requesting a copy of North Carolina’s Automated Criminal/Infraction System (“ACIS”). See LexisNexis Risk Data Mgmt. Inc. v. N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts, No. 101PA14, slip op. at 2 (N.C. Aug. 21, 2015), available here. ACIS is North Carolina’s electronic criminal records database, which is actively maintained by individual Clerks of Superior Court across the state. See id. at 3. ACIS contains criminal case data from the time a case is initiated until its final disposition. Id. According to the AOC, “most data reports requested by the news media, special interest groups, researchers, and citizens use ACIS data.” See Automated Criminal/Infractions Systems (ACIS), North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts (Aug. 2014) (PDF). Therefore, ACIS is a useful tool for researchers seeking access to state criminal records.

However, both the AOC and the Wake County Superior Clerk of Court denied the request, and LexisNexis subsequently filed suit seeking an order requiring production under the North Carolina Public Records Act. See LexisNexis Risk Data Mgmt., No. 101PA14, slip op. at 5; N.C.G.S. §132-9(a). The case was dismissed at the trial court level and that decision was later reversed by the North Carolina Court of Appeals in favor of LexisNexis, finding that the AOC was the custodian of ACIS and that ACIS was an “electronic data-processing record” and thus a public record under the Public Records Act. See id. at 6; N.C.G.S. §132-1(a). The decision was then appealed and taken up for discretionary review by the North Carolina Supreme Court. See LexisNexis Risk Data Mgmt., No. 101PA14, slip op. at 8.

In its decision, the North Carolina Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and held that criminal records stored in ACIS are not included within the purview of the North Carolina Public Records Act, but are instead covered under N.C.G.S. §7A-109(d). Id. at 13. That statute provides in relevant part: "In order to facilitate public access to court records, except where public access is prohibited by law, the Director may enter into one or more nonexclusive contracts under reasonable cost recovery terms with third parties to provide remote electronic access to the records by the public." N.C.G.S. §7A-109(d).

Essentially, under N.C.G.S. §7A-109(d), the AOC can require private parties to enter into a contract with the AOC to obtain remote electronic access to court records.

What does this mean for you? As a result of the North Carolina Supreme Court’s decision, LexisNexis' data broker databases will not have free access to ACIS and must pay the AOC for electronic usage. It is not apparent from the filing what the LexisNexis data broker databases intended to do with the ACIS records. However, if they had planned on making these records available online through LexisNexis' legal research database, UNC Law faculty and students would then have access to such materials.

At the very least, the Court's decision clearly applies to all third parties seeking ACIS records, including private legal research databases. As a result, it is unclear when (if ever) North Carolina criminal records will be made available online through a legal research database.

Instead, individuals wishing to examine a particular criminal record must visit the relevant Clerk of Court’s office and (1) view those documents through a public terminal with access to ACIS, (2) inspect the physical records themselves, or (3) request a copy of the records from the Clerk’s office.

Posted by Melissa M. Hyland on Fri. September 11, 2015 1:15 PM
Categories: Uncategorized

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