Q&A: Do federal records laws trump state laws?


From a Ball State University student:

Q: I am producing a documentary on Indiana’s open records laws. What does FOIA say about criminal background checks on individuals, and does federal law trump state law?

A: The federal Freedom of Information Act does not apply because you are talking about state records, not federal. State Records fall under Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act found at IC 5-14-3.

The two citations you mention concern different records, so they are not contradictory.

IC 5-14-3-5, which is part of APRA, prescribes what a law enforcement agency or jail must make available on a day to day basis to the public concerning its activities. If a request for assistance comes in and the police investigate and maybe make an arrest, then they are required to create the daily log or record entry that must be available to someone within 24 hours of when the call was received by the police.

IC 10-13-3-27 concerns a database that police tap into frequently (for example, when pulling a car over they want to know whether the driver has a past conviction, arrest, warrant, etc., before they step outside the patrol car). The section you’ve cited sets out the basis for a citizen to request the criminal history of an individual from the police (for example, employer considering a job applicant, media investigating a candidate or seeking background on person arrested by the police).

The record sets are different, but you are correct that the criminal history check places a condition on the requester (meet one of the
criteria) to obtain the information sought, while anyone has the right to the information outlined in the Access to Public Records Act provision for the police.

Contact Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel, with media law questions at skey@hspa.com or (317) 624-4427.