What is a FOIA request? The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) allows citizens to obtain public records from public bodies, which includes the government. Our firm often submits FOIA requests in Michigan to police departments to gain access to police reports and video regarding our clients’ alleged crimes, such as DUI, drugs, and assault investigations.
What you may not know is that any citizen can submit a FOIA request to a public body. For example, if you saw police cars outside your neighbor’s house and were curious about what happened, you could submit a FOIA request to the responding police department asking for the police report.
How Do I Submit a FOIA Request in Michigan?
The first thing you need to do when submitting a FOIA request is find out which public body was involved in the matter. If you send a request to the wrong public body, there will be no results when they run a search for the records you request.
To submit a Michigan FOIA request, you can usually mail, e-mail or fax a written request. However, it’s a good idea to call and ask how they accept FOIA requests and who you should address them to. Some public bodies will provide a form you can submit on their website, so you that you do not need to draft your own request letter.
Make sure you provide as much information as possible in your request. You will want to make it as easy as possible for the records to be found. For example, when our firm submits a FOIA request for the police report, we provide the client’s name, date of birth, date of incident, and incident number if we have it.
You, on the other hand, may want to find out what happened at a certain location on a certain day. In that case, you would provide the address, date, and the timeframe of the incident. You would then state that you would like any and all reports regarding such.
Don’t forget to include your name and return address, or email for the information to be sent to. Additionally, you should mention that you are submitting your request under the FOIA.
What to Expect After Submitting a FOIA Request
It’s rare to have your request fulfilled immediately. The public body must notify you in writing whether your request is granted, denied, granted in part, or denied in part within five (5) business days of receiving your request. They also may ask for no more than ten (10) additional business days to fulfill your request.
If you do not get any response from the public body, that means your request was denied as long as their failure to respond was “willful and intentional” (MCL 15.235). For this reason, it’s important to make sure your request was received.
Public bodies have the right to censor certain information before complying with your request. The information below are a few examples of what you can expect to be redacted:
- Trade secrets or commercial or financial information voluntarily provided to an agency
- Investigating records compiled for law enforcement purposes that would interfere with law enforcement proceedings or deprive a person the right to a fair trial, etc.
- Information or records subject to the attorney-client privilege.
- Information or records subject to the physician-patient privilege
- Medical, counseling, or psychological facts or evaluations
Visit here for the full list of records exempt from disclosure.
Before the information is released to you, it will be reviewed by the public body. For example, police reports provided to our law office usually have social security numbers redacted.
Often, we will submit a FOIA request to a police department before our client is charged with a crime knowing that the request will be denied. However, we ask for the video to be preserved as some departments write over or delete video footage after a certain number of days.
You will be charged fees for things such as labor, record searching, and making copies. Before information is released to you, the public body will review it for anything that needs to be redacted. For example, you will be charged for the labor it takes to redact certain information from a video or a police report.
Additionally, making a copy of a video typically ends up costing around $25.00, whereas making a copy of a police report costs around $0.10 per page.
If your request is denied in full or in part, there are two options:
- You can appeal to the head of the public body in writing. Your appeal must state the word “appeal” and provide the reason(s) the request should not be denied.
- Your can appeal the denial and go to court. You can read more about how to appeal here.
Every citizen has the right to information in their community and beyond. That’s why submitting a FOIA request Michigan and following through is important. Even if your request is denied, it may be necessary to appeal if you feel that the denial was unfounded.
For more information on how to appeal, contact our law office by filling out our online form here.
**While we are now taking in-person consultations according to our COVID-19 policy, we will still conduct Skype, Zoom or phone consultations if that is what the client prefers.
Sarah Tarockoff is the Paralegal at The Law Offices of Barton Morris. She earned a Paralegal Certificate from Oakland Community College in 2015 and graduated from Oakland University in 2013 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and a concentration in criminal justice. She completed internships at the 52-3 District Court where she aided probation officers in the Probation Department and at Bernstein & Bernstein, where she worked closely with attorneys and paralegals on various litigation-related matters.