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ALERT

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Are Hawaii Records Public?

Records generated or maintained by government agencies in Hawaii are mostly open to the public. The Hawaii Uniform Information Practices Act defines government records to mean information maintained by an agency in written, auditory, visual, electronic, or other physical form. These records are available to the general public except where exempted by law. Public agencies in Hawaii often create procedures to assist the general public with their search to obtain public records.

Who Can Access Hawaii Public Records?

Hawaii public records law allows any person to access public records through a request. This right extends to residents, non-residents, individuals, partnerships, and corporations. The law requires public agencies to make public records available once they receive a request for the record from any person. Record custodians can make records available either through provision for inspecting or providing copies, depending on the request. However, this should be done during business hours at the place the custodian conducts business. Record custodians do not need to create summaries or compilations of public records to honor requests. The law only requires them to provide records they already have in their custody.

Note: Other public agencies cannot access Hawaii public records through the process laid down by the Uniform Information Practices Act. Hawaii Revised Statutes create conditions to be fulfilled before a government agency may disclose public records to another government agency.

What is Exempted Under the Hawaii Public Record Law?

Records that are private with little public interest in their disclosure are exempted under the Hawaii public record law. A record custodian will deny any request for exempted records. The denial should be clearly communicated in writing, with the legal basis for denying the record. If only part of a record is confidential, the custodian may redact the confidential part and disclose what is left to the requester. Some records that are exempted under Hawaii state law include:

  • Government records that may constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy if disclosed. In such instances, the private interest of the record subject in protecting the record confidentiality outweighs the public interest in disclosure. Such a record can only be accessed in accordance with the law, pursuant to a court order, or with the written permission of the record subject.
  • Government records that concern the prosecution or defense of judicial or quasi-judicial proceedings to which the state or any county was a party to. This exemption applies to records that would ordinarily not be discoverable if the record is not provided. Therefore, the exemption does not apply if the record is ordinarily discoverable.
  • Government records that should be kept confidential in order to prevent the frustration of legitimate government functions. This exemption applies to records that may cause such frustration due to their nature. The exemption is for the benefit of the public, to prevent the adverse effects the release of such records may have on the government—section 92F-13(3) of the Hawaii Revised Statutes.
  • Government records that are lawfully protected from disclosure. The law may be a state or federal law, including orders from state and federal courts—section 92F-13(4) of the Hawaii Revised Statutes.
  • Inchoate and draft working papers of legislative committees. Budget worksheets and unfiled committee reports are confidential under this exemption. An investigating committee’s records or transcripts that are closed by rules adopted under Section 21-4 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes are also closed to the public. Section 92F-13(5) of the Hawaii Revised Statutes.
  • Records of information concerning an individual’s health, such as medical, psychiatric or psychological history.
  • Records of information that can be identified as part of an ongoing investigation. The investigation should concern a potential violation of criminal law. A record related to an ongoing investigation should only be disclosed if the disclosure is necessary to prosecute the violation or to continue the investigation—section 92F-14(b2) of the Hawaii Revised Statutes.
  • Records of information concerning an agency’s personnel or persons considered to become personnel. This includes personnel files, applications, nominations, recommendations, or proposals for employment as a public officer or appointment to a position in government. The exemption does not extend to information the Act specifically states should be disclosed. It also does not extend to some information concerning an employee’s misconduct that leads to expulsion or discharge, such as their name, the nature of the misconduct, the allegations against the employee, fact-finding and legal conclusions, and the final decision—section 92F-14(b3) of the Hawaii Revised Statutes.

Where Can I Access Public Criminal Court Records in Hawaii?

Any person can access public criminal court records in Hawaii through the Hawaii State Judiciary. Interested persons can obtain the records through either a request to the courthouse that heard the case or online. Any person can make a request to a courthouse in person, by mail, by email, or through any other supported electronic means.

The State Judiciary provides request forms, addresses, and contact information for all courts in the state. Requesters should use the appropriate request form, depending on the court they wish to submit the request to. All information the form requests should be provided to avoid any delay of the request. The requester would need to state their name, contact details, and provide a valid ID. Requesters can choose to either inspect or copy records. The State Judiciary also provides a list of fees for requests. Name searches by clerks, copying, and certification all attract fees. There is no public access to free Hawaii court records, as requesters will almost always have to pay, except their purpose is in the public interest.

Hawaii public criminal court records are available online through the eCourt Kokua and the Public Access Court Electronic Records (PACER) system. The eCourt Kokua provides access to traffic cases, District Court and Circuit Court criminal, Family (Adult) Court criminal, and appellate cases. Users will need to register, log in, and purchase records they wish to obtain. Searches can be conducted with the name of the parties, license plates, or case ID. Uncertified copies of the records cost $3, while certified copies cost $5. However, not all case information may be available. Online documents generally do not contain all information which the custodian can disclose to the public. Also, not all cases have been updated in the database, and the requester may need to use other forms of requests to access some cases.

Requesters can also use the PACER system to find criminal court records. PACER contains nationwide court records, including those of Hawaii. Users will need to register and log in. They can find cases through name, case ID, or license plate searches. Up to 150 pages of public records are free to view on PACER each year. However, each page after 150 costs 10 cents. Some criminal court records may not be accessible, such as sealed records and records of juveniles.

How Do I Find Public Records in Hawaii?

Any person can find public records in Hawaii by making a request to the record custodian. A requester can choose to either inspect public records or obtain copies. Hawaii state law obliges public agencies to make records available once they receive a request unless the record is exempt. Even where the record is exempt, the record custodian should communicate a denial in writing to the requester stating the law that allows the denial. Any person can find public records in Hawaii through the following steps.

  1. Decide on the public record.
    A requester needs to decide the record they wish to access. This decision affects the subsequent steps they should take and may even determine if they have the right to access the records. The requester also needs to decide how they want the custodian to fulfill their request. The custodian has to allow inspection and provide copies, depending on what the requester wants. However, the custodian does not need to make the record available in a form it is not originally maintained in. Therefore, custodians do not need to make compilations or summaries of existing records to fulfill a record request. Neither does the law require custodians to carry out research just to fulfill requests. The requester’s decision will also determine the fees. Any person can usually inspect records for free. However, obtaining copies is not free.
  2. Locate the record custodian.
    After the requester decides the record they wish to obtain, they should proceed to locate the record custodian. The public agency maintaining the record is the only person bound by law to provide public records. Any other person that receives a request does not have to honor it. Public agencies usually have officials to fulfill public records requests. Additionally, public agencies are to notify the public of the steps to take to obtain the records they maintain. If there is no other way to find the custodian, a requester may contact a public agency to inquire into who their records custodian is, how to contact the custodian, the procedure for obtaining public records, and the applicable fees. Section 92F-18 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes mandates public agencies to publicize the records they maintain and also submit the information to the Office of Information Practices. Requesters can also contact the Office of Information Practices to know the custodian of the record they want to access.
  3. Submit a request for the record
    A person interested in obtaining public records should submit a request to the custodian once they know who it is. Requests can be made in writing or orally. However, it is generally advisable to make a request in writing. A written request is easier to keep track of. It is also easier to show if there is a need to seek judicial remedies. The requester should include their name, contact information, and address in the request. A request should contain all the information the custodian needs to find the record. The custodian may deny the request if they cannot reasonably find the record. Requests may be made in person, by mail, by email, or through any other electronic means, the custodian allows.

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 Hawaii?

The cost of public records in Hawaii usually depends on the request and what the custodian would need to do to satisfy the request. Pursuant to Section 92F-42 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes, the Office of Information Practices may set out fees that custodians may charge for making records available. Fees may extend to staff time, copies of records, and delivery of records. The fee should not exceed $10 per hour for searching for records and $20 per hour for the review or segregation of records. Review or segregation of records may be necessary in cases where some parts of the records are confidential. A record custodian may also charge reasonable fees for other services, such as the delivery of records or the making of copies. In some cases, if the request is made in the public interest, a custodian may opt to waive the fee.

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

Any person can look up some records in Hawaii for free. However, this is not available for all records. The amount the requester would need to pay to access public records depends on how the request is made, how the record is maintained, and the custodian of the record. Only records that the custodian maintains online are available for free. Even among these, only some online databases are free. One example of records that can be accessed for free is the sex offender registry, maintained by the Department of the Attorney General. Requesters can try to reduce the cost for records that they cannot obtain for free. Inspecting a record, rather than also obtaining copies, may reduce the record. The requester would only need to pay the fee for the custodian’s search for the record and would not pay for the making of copies. Also, a requester may take pictures or make videos of a public record while inspecting it. A requester may also be able to obtain records for free if they can convince the custodian that it is in the public interest.

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

Record seekers do not need to state their purpose when requesting Hawaii public records. However, requesters may choose to share the purpose for obtaining a record if they believe knowing the purpose would help the custodian. The custodian may also waive the applicable fees if they deem that the purpose of the request is in the interest of the public. Requesters that wish to have their fees waived will need to disclose their purpose. However, there is no requirement for disclosure of purpose. A custodian cannot deny a record request simply because the purpose of the request was not stated.

What Happens if I Am Refused a Public Records Request?

Requesters have the right to appeal any denied public records request. Record seekers can either file an appeal with the Office of Information Practices or submit an appeal at a circuit court. The Office of Information Practices processes complaints for denials. If the Office decides that the public agency should disclose, then the public agency should disclose the record. If the decision is for the public agency to not disclose, the person may further appeal to a circuit court.

Section 92F-15 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes allows an action for denial of records request in court. An appeal to court should be made in a circuit court where the public agency is located, within two years of the date the request was denied. The public agency has the burden of proof to justify the nondisclosure. Courts usually give precedence to public records cases over other cases, except the court deems the other case to be of greater importance. This helps in the speedy adjudication of public records request denial cases. If the requester is successful in court, the court will order the public agency to disclose the record. If the court believes the public agency knowingly violated the law, the court may also order the payment of attorney and court fees and damages. Damages should not be below $1,000.

How to Remove Names From Public Search Records?

Hawaii allows individuals to remove their names from public search records through expungement of their records. However, the removal is limited to certain circumstances. Juvenile criminal records are automatically sealed and may be expunged once the subject becomes up to 21 years old. Expungement usually occurs if the juvenile was not convicted for the charge. Juvenile expungement requests should be made in writing to the family court where the case was determined. Adults in Hawaii can expunge most misdemeanor and felony arrest records that did not result in a conviction. Driving under the influence while under 21 and first-time drug-related offenses can also be expunged. Some criminal records such as pending charges, most convictions, pardoned convictions, and acquittals due to insanity cannot be expunged.

Individuals may need to wait for some time before they can expunge some criminal records. A person who makes a deferred acceptance of guilt or no contest plea may request expungement after a year of dismissal. Any person who wishes to expunge their conviction records may contact the court, while any person who wishes to expunge their arrest records may contact the Hawaii Criminal Justice Data Center at:

Hawaii Criminal Justice Data Center
Kekuanaoa Building
465 S. King Street, Rm. 102
Honolulu, HI 96813
Phone: (808) 587-3348

Section 831-3.2 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes authorizes the expungement of non-conviction arrest information. Different laws contain the rules regarding the expungement of conviction records by the court in the limited circumstances that it is permitted. Section 291E-0064(e) allows the expungement of DUI offenses for individuals under 21, Section 706-622.5 allows the expungement of first-time drug offender conviction records, and Section 706-622.9 allows the expungement of first-time property offender conviction records. The effect of expungement is that the individual can truthfully respond to questions regarding their criminal history as though it never occurred.

What is the Best Public Records Search Database?

The best public search database depends on the public record concerned. A custodian usually has the most updated database. Also, the custodian’s database often contains the most information. Examples of this are the Hawaii eCourt Kukua and sex offender registry. The eCourt Kukua costs fees to use, while state residents can use the sex offender registry for free. Interested persons can also make requests at the county level.

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

A requester should ordinarily receive a record within ten working days of submitting the request pursuant to Section 92F-23 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes. If the request is not submitted directly, the time period is calculated from when the custodian receives the record. Any custodian that needs more than ten working days should notify the requester in writing of the reason for the delay and when the request would be available. The additional period should not be more than twenty working days. A requester that does not receive a response within a reasonable time can appeal to the Office of Information Practices and a circuit court.