You don’t have to be mentioned in any of the state of Florida public records in order to gain access to them. The “Sunshine State” has one of the most open policies when it comes to accessing any sort of official record generated there. This makes Florida a dream for private investigators, amateur investigators, genealogists, law enforcement personnel, and anyone else who needs access to the records others have generated.
In the state of Florida, public records are generally held by one of three agencies:
1. The county courts–County courts house vital records (birth, death, marriage, and divorce), wills, land transactions, civil and criminal case dockets, probate records, tax lien records, and similar documents.
2. The sheriff’s departments in each county–The sheriff’s departments keep arrest records in each county, along with mug shots.
3. The property appraisers in each county–The property appraisers keep records of who owns property, as well as when a property sells, and for how much. You’ll also find the taxable value of each property at these agencies.
The Florida Department of Vital Statistics in Jacksonville also houses some records. You’ll find state-wide birth, death, marriage, and divorce records there going back to about the 1920’s, depending on the record. For vital records earlier than that, you’ll need to go to the county court house in which the event occurred.
The only records that are sealed are birth records and juvenile records (both civil and criminal, including guardianship papers). To get either, you have to be either the person named in the record, or the parent of that person. Birth records are unsealed after 100 years, at which point anyone can request them.
The Government in the Sunshine law is responsible for the openness of Florida’s records. This law was put into practice under the presumption that official government records are part of the process of governing, and that in a democratically elected government system, the records of the government ought to be available to the public that elected it.
Many counties in Florida are now putting their public records online for anyone to access. Some of the larger counties in the state, such as Hillsborough, Polk, Orange, and Dade, have scanned images of documents on their websites, so you can view the entire record without leaving home (for privacy reasons, documents pertaining to family law cases are only viewable at the court house in these counties). Other counties only have the indexes to records available online, so you have to go to the court house in person to see the entire record.
The state of Florida public records are among the most accessible in the nation.