Are court records considered public records? If so, is it possible for anyone to access any court record? Will there be a fee or is there any free way to go about it? Can I do it on my own? Can I have someone look for court records for me? Read on to find out the answers to these questions and more.

What Are Court Records?

Court records are official reports of everything that occurred during a court trial. Such records pertain to all contents of the court files. This may include the following information:

  • Progress docket (or similar records that document activity in a case)
  • Transcripts filed with the clerk
  • Documentary exhibits in the custody of the clerk
  • Electronic records, videotapes, stenographic tapes, or court proceedings

Court records are considered public records. This means that public access is possible; of course, there will be exemptions. Unexecuted summons and warrants, juvenile records, documents with information on jurors, records that might reveal defense strategies of court lawyers, and other documents and filings are not available to the public. For instance, child support case files are ordinarily not open to the public. Also, bankruptcy court records are public, but the court may choose to withhold commercial information or any information that may cause undue risk of injury or identity theft. Courts will also sometimes seal documents that contain sensitive material or classified information such as those pertaining to trade secrets or national security. Criminal court records may also be sealed to protect witnesses.

How To Find Court Records On A Person

There are a number of ways how to find court records. You can perform a case search or court records search just like how you’d do other public records searches. Here are some of the common ways to access court records:

  • PACER

    PACER or Public Access to Court Electronic Records is an internet-based service where you can avail federal case files that are maintained electronically. If you have registered for a PACER account, you can search and locate, district, and bankruptcy court case and docket information. Supreme court opinions may also be accessed via PACER.

    Case files may be accessed in real-time if you know the specific court where the case was filed. Otherwise, you can utilize the PACER case locator or do nationwide searches to find out if someone is involved in a federal case. To access a file, PACER requires a fee of ten cents per page, with a maximum of $3 per document. Users are billed every quarter but fees are waived for those who don’t go over $30 per quarter.

  • Courthouse

    Case files can also be accessed at the specific Clerk’s Office of the courthouse where the case was filed. You can either request the file or access it via the public access terminals in the Clerk’s office. The procedures, requirements, and restrictions, as well as fees, may vary depending on the state.

  • Phone

    Some court records may also be obtained via phone. Again, the procedure may vary depending on the state. Bankruptcy courts usually have a telephone information system that enables anyone to obtain basic case details through a touchtone phone.

  • Background Search Services

    If you don’t have the time or patience to deal with courts or government offices or browse through various files, you may also opt to use background check services. There are people search engines like ClickSearch that allow you to conveniently access criminal records including DUI records, jail records, and all sorts of relevant information. ClickSearch also enables you to perform a sex offender search, criminal record search, and other background checks.

Is It Possible To Find Old Court Records?

Is there any way how to find old records online or onsite? Yes, of course. As previously mentioned, you can find court records online via PACER or other online resources such as ClickSearch. Take note, however, that most documents and docket sheets for court cases before 1999 are in paper format and may not be available online. For court case lookups of older documents, you can check out the National Archives and Records Administration or NARA. IF you are looking for documents on closed cases, you can still try NARA but please note that some files may have been destroyed in accordance with the records retention schedule approved by NARA and the Judicial Conference of the United States.

7 Types of Court Records

The types of court records may be classified based on the types of legal cases or the type of court document contained within the said court record. With this in mind, here are the different types of court records.

  • Civil Court Records. These records cover cases where an individual (but not society) is harmed. This includes divorce records, consumer rights claims, bankruptcy records, property damage or trespassing, libel case records, and other such case records.
  • Criminal Court Records. Criminal court records are those that cover cases in which society is or may be harmed. This includes cases of drunk driving, theft, murder, and other misdemeanors and felonies. These are “the people of” vs defendant types of cases. Criminal court records are often sought out on background checks.
  • Equity Court Records. These court records include disputes between individuals that do not involve the violation of laws. The involved individuals will make a petition so that the court may declare a fair decision for both parties. These types of court records or cases are mostly handled by civil courts.
  • Dockets. Dockets or court calendars are the lists of cases heard by the court. It usually includes the names of the plaintiff and defendant, date of case hearing, case file number, and other documents related to the case. If you’re looking for court records then dockets will most likely be included.
  • Minutes. These pertain to all the daily accounts kept by the clerk of the court of all actions taken by the court and are in chronological order.
  • Orders. These are the specific judgments to be carried out. This may include orders granting citizenship, appointments of guardians, and re-ordering of deeds in replacement of destroyed land records.
  • Case Files. Case files usually contain all the loose documents relating to the case. This includes copies of evidence, testimonies, bonds, depositions, correspondences, and petitions.

Is It Possible To Obtain Court Records For Free?

Yes, there are some ways to access court records for free. For instance, you can use public access terminals in the Court Clerk’s office. Obtaining a printed copy of the document or an electronic file may however incur some fees.

Court records are a great way to help anyone have a better picture of someone’s identity and character. It is fairly easy to find court records if you have the time and patience to do it. If you don’t, well, you can always utilize background check services or people search engines.

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