What’s a Public Record?

You have a right to see public records. 

Start from the assumption that you are entitled to see any record dealing with government business. Then just ask. All state and local governments in New Mexico are subject to the state Inspection of Public Records Act, which is stronger and easier to use than the federal records law. If you ask for a state or local record and government officials want to withhold it, they must cite the specific law or regulation that permits secrecy.

Under state law, public records are defined as:

1. All documents, papers, letters, books, maps, tapes, photographs, recordings and other materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics, that are…

2. Used, created, received, maintained or held by or on behalf of any public body, AND

3. Relate to public business.
But Not All Government Records are Public … Right?

That’s right. New Mexico law has eight categories of non-public information, and the eighth one is a catch-all that incorporates dozens of other exceptions. Here are the eight exceptions:

  1. records pertaining to physical or mental examinations and medical treatment of persons confined to an institution. This has been interpreted broadly by the courts to exempt all medical records held by government agencies, and a separate state law imposes strict confidentiality on all health information that relates to and identifies specific individuals as patients. (See NMSA 14-6-1)
  2. letters of reference concerning employment, licensing or permits;
  3. letters or memoranda that are matters of opinion in personnel files or students’ cumulative files;  The courts have looked at this exception and said it generally protects subjective information, related to a person’s qualifications or performance as an employee, which may be unfounded in fact but would be damaging to the employee if released. However, at a minimum, basic employment records such as a public employee’s resume, application and salary history are public.
  4. law enforcement records that reveal confidential sources, methods, information or individuals accused but not charged with a crime. Law enforcement records include evidence in any form received or compiled in connection with a criminal investigation or prosecution by a law enforcement or prosecuting agency, including inactive matters or closed investigations to the extent that they contain the information listed in this paragraph; This exception is sometimes misunderstood as an exemption for all law-enforcement records related to “ongoing investigations.” For public-records purposes, it is irrelevant whether an investigation is open or closed. Police agencies must examine all requested records and redact only confidential sources, methods and information, along with the identities of potential accomplices.
  5. private donations to state cultural or educational institutions]A person donating private materials to a public museum or library can restrict access to those materials for a definite period of time. However, such conditions cannot be placed on materials that were public records at the time of the donation.
  6. trade secrets, attorney-client privileged information and long-range or strategic business plans of public hospitals discussed in a properly closed meeting; This section of law only applies to public hospitals. Trade secrets and attorney-client privileged information held by other public bodies are protected by other laws and judicial rules.
  7. tactical response plans or procedures prepared for or by the state or a political subdivision of the state, the publication of which could reveal specific vulnerabilities, risk assessments or tactical emergency security procedures that could be used to facilitate the planning or execution of a terrorist attack; and
  8. as otherwise provided by law. This is a catch-all for other federal laws, state laws, judicial rules or constitutional provisions that exempt particular records from public inspection.