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Are Colorado Records Public?

The Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) ensures public access to most records generated by public agencies. The act states that any interested person can inspect or duplicate public records by submitting a request to the record custodian. Colorado provides an expansive definition of public records that includes information created or maintained by the state, an institution, political subdivision, or agency of the state. Public records also include information used by an appointed or elected public official to conduct public business or other lawful functions. Some examples of public records include:

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

Under the CORA, public agencies must provide access to all non-exempt records regardless of their physical form or characteristics. This means that agencies keeping records in the form of writings, recordings, documents, photographs, or other materials, must allow the inspection or copying of these records if requested at reasonable times.

Unless exempt from public disclosure, agencies must furnish requesters with desired records or properly notify the requester if the record is unavailable. If a requested record is not in a custodian’s possession, the person must notify the requester of the reason for the record’s absence, the correct location of the record, and the custodian in charge (C.R.S. 24-72-203(2)(a)).

Who Can Access Colorado Public Records?

According to C.R.S. 24-72-203(1)(a), “any person” can access public records except the law states otherwise. However, the law gives official custodians some authority to make rules regarding access to public records. Under the CORA, official custodians may make such rules if considered reasonably necessary to protect records or hinder unnecessary interference with the agency or custodian’s duties.

What is Exempted Under the Colorado Open Records Act?

Although CORA ensures general access to public records, the act also provides some exemptions to this rule. To protect sensitive or confidential information, CORA prohibits public agencies from permitting the inspection or copying of certain records, including the following:

  • Confidential Records:

Colorado record custodians must deny requests to records where such access would be contrary to any law. According to C.R.S. 24-702-204(1), this exemption covers all records where disclosure would contravene:

  • A state statute
  • A federal statute or other regulation with the same force and effect of law
  • A rule promulgated by the Supreme Court or any other court
  • Requirements of a Senate and House of Representatives joint rule regarding lobbying practices
  • Law Enforcement Records: Custodians must deny access to any records of an investigation conducted by a sheriff, police department, or prosecuting attorney. Custodians should also withhold access to security procedures or intelligence information created or maintained by any of the aforementioned authorities (C.R.S. 24-72-204(2)(a)(I)).
  • Medical Records: According to C.R.S. 24-72-204(2)(a)(I), medical records are considered confidential and may only be available to persons in interest. Examples include medical, sociological, mental health, electronic health records, and scholastic achievement data on individuals. However, coroners’ autopsy reports do not qualify as exempted medical records.
  • Personnel Files: Employee personnel records are not public. All records that include an employee’s telephone number, home address, financial information, and other private details are exempt from public disclosure. This exemption does not cover current or past employee applications, employee agreements, paid benefits, performance ratings, and sabbatical reports.
  • Trade Secrets: Members of the general public cannot inspect or obtain copies of privileged and confidential information, including financial, commercial, geophysical, and geological trade secrets.
  • Sexual Harassment Investigations: All investigations and complaints of sexual harassment allegations are closed to the public. However, the CORA states that the record custodian may allow access to an administrative agency investigating such complaints if access is required for the investigation. Parties should note that this exemption may not apply to sexual harassment information included in court records (C.R.S. 24-72-204(3)(X)(A))
  • Real Estate Appraisals: Such appraisals created for the state or a political subdivision, and related to the acquisition of any property proposed for public use, are confidential. Agencies must prevent public access to these records until the title to the property passes to the state or political division. However, the contents of such appraisals may be open to the property owner in some cases (C.R.S. 24-72-204(2)(a)(IV)).
  • Examination Data: Test questions, scoring keys, and other examination data used for academic, licensing, or employment examination are not subject to public disclosure. However, written promotional examinations and resulting scores are available for inspection, not copying (C.R.S. 24-72-204(2)(a)(II)).

The CORA also requires Colorado public agencies to protect the public interest. According to C.R.S. 24-72-204(2)(6), a public agency may request the District Court with jurisdiction to restrict access to a record if the record custodian reasonably believes that disclosure would cause substantial injury to the public interest. The law also allows the custodian to apply to the District Court if the CORA’s position on that record is unclear.

Where Can I Access Public Criminal Court Records in Colorado?

Interested persons may obtain criminal court records from the overseeing court. District Courts have general jurisdiction over all criminal cases in Colorado, while County and Municipal Courts have limited jurisdiction. Persons looking for public criminal court records can contact the court clerk at the relevant court with information about the desired record. Requests should include dates, names of involved persons, charge details, and the court’s final judgment. Interested persons may submit in-person or mail applications.

Public criminal records in Colorado are also available online. However, the Colorado Judicial Branch does not provide public access to free Colorado court records. Instead, interested persons can use the Judicial Branch’s court records search to find desired criminal court records via third-party vendors. Record seekers may search the vendors’ platforms for varying fees, using names and case numbers.

However, a court docket search is available for free. Users can specify a county, court, case number, party names, attorney bar number, and a date range.

How Do I Find Public Records in Colorado?

Colorado agencies allow all requesters to find public records. However, record custodians at these agencies only provide records to persons who submit official requests. The process required to obtain a record may vary slightly between agencies. Regardless, requesters unsure about how to check for public records in Colorado may follow these steps:

  • Decide on the record

Requesters must first decide on the type of information required. Colorado has several types of public records, including court records, inmate records, and property records. Knowing the information required helps the requester to figure out what public record to request for, and whether or not the record is considered public under the CORA.

  • Identify the custodian agency

The requester must identify the custodian agency after deciding on the type of record. For instance, persons seeking information on divorces must request Colorado divorce records from the relevant courts. Similarly, information on arrests is obtainable from law enforcement agencies, such as sheriff’s offices and police departments.

  • Create a request

A request containing exhaustive information helps the record custodian to locate the record. Although the CORA does not prohibit oral requests, record seekers are advised to create written requests. In some cases, Colorado agencies may specify their preferred option. Generally, most agencies require record seekers to request in writing.

Although required information for public requests may differ between agencies and record types, all requests should contain the following:

  • The type of record

  • A detailed description of the record, including names, dates, case numbers, or citation numbers

  • The requester’s details, including a full name, phone number, and other contact information

  • Submit the request

After a proper review, record seekers may submit requests via different methods. Colorado agencies usually offer multiple options, such as mail, fax, email, online, and in-person requests. Requests for copies of public records also cost varying fees depending on the record type and volume. Agencies may specify that record seekers pay with cash, check, money order, or online.

Requesters should note that there are certain differences among request methods. For instance, in-person and online requests are usually faster than mail requests and may cost less. On the other hand, most agencies do not provide certified copies of desired records online. Record seekers may consider these factors before deciding on a request method.

Using Third-Party Sites

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 Colorado?

The CORA permits Colorado public agencies to charge copy fees. According to C.R.S. 24-702-205(5)(a), no agency may charge more than 25 cents for a standard-sized page. If the copy is a photograph, printout, or another format not in the standard size, the agency can not charge a fee higher than the actual cost of providing the copy. Regardless, an agency in charge of scholastic achievement data records may charge a reasonable fee to provide a certified transcript of such information.

Under C.R.S. 24-702-205(6)(a), an agency may charge a different fee for researching and retrieving public records in its custody. However, this only applies if the custodian has previously published a written policy that details the research and retrieval conditions, including applicable amounts. In such cases, custodians must not charge any fee for the first hour used for research or retrieval.

According to C.R.S. 24-702-205(6)(b), the Colorado Legislative Council’s Director of Research must adjust the maximum hourly fee applicable for subsequent hours on July 1 every five years. As of July 1, 2019, the maximum hourly fee was $33.58.

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

Persons interested in looking up Colorado public records for free may consider applying for a free inspection of its records. Record seekers may also gain access to free public records Colorado agencies create by searching online. Some government agencies maintain searchable online databases containing certain non-confidential public records. For instance, the Colorado Department of Corrections keeps a public registry of incarcerated persons. Users may search by DOC number, last name, first name, and gender.

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

The CORA does not require statements of purpose from requesters. Provided that the requester does not have an illegal motive, public agencies may not ask for the purpose of a request or deny access to persons who do not provide statements of purpose.

What Happens if I Am Refused a Public Records Request?

Anyone denied access to a public record may request that the record custodian provide a written statement that explains the grounds for the denial, citing the relevant law that permits such denial (C.R.S. 24-72-204(4)).

The requester may also apply to the District Court with jurisdiction over the record’s location. If the court finds that the denial was not proper, it may order the record custodian to provide access to the requested record. The court would also award reasonable attorney fees and other court costs to the requester. However, the court may order the requester to pay attorney fees and court costs to the custodian if it considers the requester’s action frivolous.

How to Remove Names From Public Search Records?

Individuals looking to remove their names from public search records may apply to the court for a seal or expungement order. However, Colorado law has strict rules that govern the expungement process, making this option inaccessible in some cases (C.R.S. 24-72-702).

When a court gives an order to seal, the record is not available to the public even though it is still visible to law enforcement agencies. On the other hand, expungement destroys the record. Unfortunately, Colorado law only supports the expungement of records if the person was arrested as a juvenile.

Generally, removing names from public search records is only possible via sealing or expungement. However, not all convictions are eligible. The following are examples of convictions that do not qualify for:

  • Class 1 to Class 3 felonies
  • Class 1 and Class 2 misdemeanors
  • Sex crimes
  • Domestic violence crimes
  • Offenses involving driving under the influence (DUI)

Colorado law also specifies waiting periods. Persons convicted of Class 3 or Class 2 misdemeanors, or Level 2 drug misdemeanors, must wait at least three years after all criminal proceedings are over or release from supervision, whichever is later. Repeat drug-related offenders may have to wait ten years. Persons who successfully seal or expunge their records must note that related information may be available on private search databases.

What is the Best Public Records Search Database?

There is no individual option considered as the best public records search database. Since Colorado public agencies maintain different types of public records, the best public records search database is the option that contains the requester’s desired records. For instance, the best place to conduct a Denver County public records search for incarcerated persons is the county’s offender search. In the same way, an El Paso County public records search for sex offenders is possible via the Sheriff’s Office’s sex offender search page.

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

The CORA states that record custodians must provide requested records within a reasonable time. If the record is not immediately available, C.R.S. 24-72-703(3)(a) allows custodians to notify the requester and set a date and hour for access to the record. In this instance, the date and hour should be a maximum of three working days, according to C.R.S. 24-72-703(3)(b). However, the agency may extend this period to seven working days if there are extenuating circumstances. Extenuating circumstances only apply when the request is so broad that it encompasses all or most of the agency’s records, preventing the custodian from reasonably providing access within three days.