There are official government records for every type court case criminal and civil. All cases that run through US court systems are generally considered public domain, unless the records pertain to juveniles, have been sealed or have expunged by the courts. Many of these records are available online, if you know where to look.
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The federal, state and local courts maintain a variety of court records, including:
Unless the judge has sealed the court record, such as with juvenile cases, domestic violence cases, adoption and some civil cases, all the files pertaining to the case are available to the general public. Personal information, such as social security numbers, are typically omitted from all court records.
Attorneys and news reporters find court records on a regular basis. However, there are many different reasons why everyday people might need to search for a court record, such as:
Before you begin to find court records online, you should gather as much information, such as names of individuals involved in the case or case number, county and state where court was held, and the type of court case requesting.
How you make an online request depends on which court the case went through.
All federal court records, including district court and bankruptcy courts, are available through the PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) website. You must start by creating a user account. You will be asked to enter your credit card information. However, you are not required to do so in order to establish an account or use the PACER website. Once you set up an account, you can follow the easy prompt to request the specific court record you need. PACER charges a nominal fee. You will be billed on a quarterly basis. If your quarterly bill is less than a certain amount, then the fee might be waived. If you do not have enough information to find the right court record, you can request a search, but it will cost a few bucks per search.
Most states offer an online portal for obtaining state court records. Depending on your specific state, you also may be able to locate county records on the state site. The type of information available online varies from state to state. You can find the link to your state’s various courts at the NCSC (National Center for State Courts) website. Look for the Court Records link on your state’s portal and follow the directions for requesting a court record.
The availability of online county court records varies from location to location. In some cases, you may be able to view basic information, such as names of all parties involved and final judgment online, but you will have to make a written or in-person request for more court specific information. Check out your county’s Clerk of Courts Office website to see what records are available in your area. If records are not available online, see section below.
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Due to the ease of ordering court records online, the federal court system has halted in-person requests. However, most public libraries offer free internet services, and in many cases, the library staff can help you make an online request through the PACER system.
Most state and local courts, however, do allow you to make a request to see or obtain a copy of a court record in person. Depending on your specific state, you may be able to simply stop by your local Clerk of Courts office and find court records in person. You must provide the Clerk of Courts with enough information about the case to make it easy to find. You can view the record right at the court’s office, but you will not be able to take it with you. However, you can request a copy of the entire record for a nominal fee per page. Most local offices also allow you to make this request in writing, but you will need to pay for the copies up front and provide a return envelope.