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Are Maine Records Public?

In compliance with the Maine Freedom of Access Act (FOAA), record seekers have broad access to a wide variety of records maintained by state and local government agencies. Non-confidential Maine records are open to the public. The FOAA defines public records to include any printed, written, or graphic matter used or maintained by a public official or government agency in connection with governmental business. Examples of Maine public records may include:

  • Maine arrest records
  • Maine sex offender information
  • Maine inmate records
  • Public Maine birth records
  • Maine property records
  • Maine court records
  • Maine bankruptcy records
  • Maine marriage records

In addition, vital records (records of birth, death, marriage, and divorce) may be accessed by the persons named on those records or their immediate relatives.

Who Can Access Maine Public Records?

Anyone may request Maine public records. The state of Maine permits residents and non-residents to inspect or obtain copies of public records as long as access does not violate the privacy rights of citizens or governmental interests. Residents may be able to access copies of a record in person or remotely. However, government officials have the right to request clarification for vague or overly broad requests.

What is Exempted Under the Maine Public Record Law?

Although the Maine FOAA grants broad access to most public records, it also restricts access to records that contain sensitive or protected information. Record custodians have the right to turn down requests for documents that contain any of the following:

  • Records that contain security procedures or describe security plans designed for preventing acts of terrorism
  • Intra-office memoranda and drafts maintained by a government agency
  • Records that contain social security numbers
  • Information that reveals the identity of a minor
  • Records containing the personal contact information of public employees (such as phone numbers, home address, pager number, facsimile number, and personal social media identifier)
  • Records that reveal the design, architecture, or encryption of a security network or software
  • Records containing communication between an elected official and constituent
  • Records classified as confidential under state laws
  • Records that include information that falls under the scope of privilege discovery
  • Records that reveal private email addresses of public officials or residents

How Do I Find Public Records in Maine?

The process of finding a Maine public record largely depends on the type of record. As a rule, most records can be obtained by contacting the custodial agency. In some instances, a public body may advise the requester to pay a nominal fee. If the record being searched is for the benefit of the general public, the fee may be reduced or entirely waived. Generally, residents can find Maine Public records by following some quick steps:

Step 1. Determine the type of record required

The information needed by a requester typically determines the type of record to be requested from public bodies. Public records fall under different categories and some examples include but are not limited to:

  • Vital Records: These are records of birth, death, marriage, divorce, among others and they are made public to members of the state of Maine. Vital records are usually maintained by local public bodies and in most cases, this type of request is mainly restricted to the owner of the records or immediate relatives because they are considered private.
  • Criminal records: Criminal records are those that have information about offenses against the state. Offenses in this category are usually violent crimes and are prosecuted by the state because they are considered harmful to the state. Some of the information contained in a criminal record may include details provided by law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, courts, and correctional departments while passing through the Criminal justice system. Examples of criminal offenses are rape, child abuse, arson, assault, and murder, among others.

Step 2: Determine the government agency with the records

To obtain a public record in Maine, the State agency in possession of such a record should be identified to enable a requester to have a focussed search. For instance, if a requester intends to find records about marriages, divorces, births, and deaths in the state of Maine, the Public body with custody of Vital records is the Department of Health and Human services while the Department of Corrections keeps records of inmates and criminal offenses in the state. In a similar way, if a requester intends to find information about driver's License and Vehicle registration records, the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles is home to such records.

Step 3: Determine accessibility

Every legal citizen has the right to obtain public records in the State of Maine. However, some records may not be disclosed to all members of the public if categorized as exempted from Public disclosure. Therefore, persons interested in obtaining public records must determine if the particular record intended to be requested is accessible by the general public. For instance, vital records will be available to only individuals named on those records or their immediate relatives while records containing the security plans and architecture of the government will not be made available to the public to avoid compromising state security.

Step 4: Determine the Availability

Many Public records in the state of Maine may be obtained online. However, some records with sensitive data may not be found online and requesters may have to make such requests in person to be able to obtain the required records.

Step 5: Contact the Record holder

Although the state of Maine Freedom of Access Act (FOOA) does not specify that requests for public records be made in writing, most Public bodies prefer that requesters do so. This is to ensure that the bodies keep records of the time requests were received and what information was requested. The written request should contain sufficient information to enable Record holders at the Public body office to easily locate such records. Requests can be sent via email and may be made in person. Once received and required fees paid by a requester, the Public body is expected to provide copies of the records requested within a reasonable period of time but must acknowledge the receipt of the request within 5 business days.

Some public records may also be accessible from third-party websites. These non-government platforms come with intuitive tools that allow for expansive searches. Record seekers may either opt to use these tools to search for a specific record or multiple records. However, users must typically provide enough information to assist with the search such as:

  • The name of the subject involved in the record (subject must be older than 18 or not juvenile)
  • The address of the requestor
  • A case number or file number (if known)
  • The location of the document or person involved
  • The last known or current address of the registrant

Third-party sites are not sponsored by government agencies. Because of this, record availability and results may vary.

How Much Do Public Records Cost in Maine?

Record custodians generally do not charge a fee if a record is viewed or inspected during set office hours. However, requests for copies will typically incur a small charge, which covers the cost for printing or reproduction as well as the staff’s time. Prices vary with different agencies but Maine laws permit government agencies to charge a maximum of $15 per hour for record searches. Public agencies will generally inform seekers of the cost before going on to process a request.

How Do I Look Up Public Records in Maine for Free?

Access to free Maine public records varies with different agencies and government bodies. For instance, residents may be able to freely inspect public court records at the custodial courthouse where the case was filed. Some records may also be freely available online. The Maine Department of Corrections maintains an online adult search service that provides free information on persons incarcerated in correctional facilities across the state. Users can search through the records using a first name, middle name, last name, and inmate number. Similarly, the Maine State Police provides free information on registered sex offenders in the state via the Maine sex offender registry.

Note: Obtaining physical copies of any record from a government agency will almost certainly result in a fee for printing or duplication.

Do I Need to State My Purpose When Requesting Public Records in Maine?

A statement of purpose is not a requisite for obtaining a record. Maine statutes place no restrictions on the access or use of public records. That said, state laws also do not expressly prohibit government agencies from asking for a reason. Thus, government officials may ask and requesters may choose to freely provide a reason. Regardless of the requester’s response (or lack thereof), public agencies may not deny a public request.

Can Public Records Request Be Rejected in Maine?

Public bodies in the state of Maine may reject a public record request for numerous reasons. The Freedom of Access Act (FOAA) provides that certain records are not eligible for disclosure to the public. In this category of exempted records are documents that have been designated as confidential and private. They include:

  • Government security plans and procedures
  • Medical records
  • Personal contact information of public employees
  • Juvenile records
  • Financial records

Also, a request with inadequate information for tracking the record of interest will be denied. If a record contains a combination of information that is public and those exempted from disclosure by FOAA, a record holder may decide to redact the private and confidential information and make available the remaining part to the requester.

However, a public record request which would not be granted must be denied within 5 working days from the date of receipt and must be done in writing to the requester stating the specific reason such a request may not be granted. A person whose request to inspect or copy a public record is refused may appeal the denial at the appropriate court within 30 days of the receipt of written notice of denial. If after a review, the court determines that the reason for denial was unfounded, the public body may be ordered to immediately disclose the required public records to the requester.

What Happens if I Am Refused a Public Records Request?

Individuals who are denied access to a record can contest the decision by filing an appeal with a Maine Superior Court. However, this must be done within 30 days of the denial. During the appeal process, the affected public agency must provide a statement explaining the reason behind their decision to deny or limit access to a record. If a court finds that the decision was unmerited, unjust, or without cause, the court shall order the disclosure of the public record. Public officers that are found to have violated the Maine Freedom of Information Act may also become liable for a civil violation.

How to Remove Names From Public Search Records?

Removing names from the public search is an extremely complex process. More often than not, especially with criminal records, it’s impossible to achieve. That’s because the state of Maine does not permit the expungement of criminal records. Nevertheless, criminal records are grouped into two categories: confidential history information and public criminal history information. Access to confidential history information is restricted to a smaller group namely criminal justice agencies, govt-contracted researchers, and background checkers. Examples of records that may be considered confidential (and hence protected from public view) include:

  • Criminal cases where a defendant is awarded a full pardon
  • Records of postponed proceedings
  • Criminal charges that have been dismissed for lack of jurisdiction or as a result of a mistrial
  • Arrest information older than a year (in cases with no active prosecution or pending charges)

What is the Best Public Records Search Database?

Access to a public record largely depends on the type of record. Generally, record seekers can find the best public records search database by contacting the custodians in charge of the record. For instance, the best place to search for sex offender records would be the Maine Sex Offender Registry maintained by the Maine State Police. And for court records, the best database is anyone managed by the district or superior court where the case was filed.

How Long Does It Take to Obtain a Maine Public Record?

In compliance with Maine’s public record laws, public officers and agencies must provide a response to a public request within five business days. Government agencies must also acknowledge receipt and provide an estimate of the cost within this period. In the event that an applicant sends a request to the right agency but the wrong office, the receiving officer is required to forward the request to the appropriate office. In such instances, the office must acknowledge receipt and then inform the requester that the application has been forwarded to the appropriate office.