How to Obtain Court Records
Going to court is hardly ever a good thing. If you’ve been to court, there’s a good chance that you tried to keep track of any court records related to your case. However, over time, these records have a way of disappearing, swallowed up by even the best kept filing systems. Finding out how to obtain court records can save you a lot of frustration when you need those documents.
Of course, obtaining court records isn’t just something that you might need to do to refresh yourself on your own court case. You may need to obtain court records for a family member, friend or even an employee if the case was related to your business. Attorneys also routinely seek out court records for past court cases they feel are relevant to current work.
Getting court records can feel like a tricky process, but the system is set up so that it is possible. Use this guide to streamline the process so you can obtain the court records and information you need as quickly as possible.
What is a Court Record?
A court record is, for all practical purposes, a simple record of any court case. Below are a few things you’ll find in most court case records, though this can vary based on the jurisdiction where the case was heard.
What May Included in Court Records
- Plaintiff and defendant in the case.
- Dates related to the case, including motion filings and actual court dates.
- Copies of all papers filed by each party related to the case.
- A transcript of the trial, if applicable.
- Audio or video of hearings, appearances, arguments, witness testimony and more. This is not always available, but this information may be included in a transcript version in some cases.
- Outcome of the case. While you can often find the outcome of a case, some records may be sealed from view.
Most people don’t know where to start when they’re trying to obtain court records. This is totally understandable since the court system isn’t always easy to navigate if you don’t have a legal background. Below are some ways you can begin the process of tracking down court records.
Where to Obtain Court Records
- Use the PACER system online. PACER, which stands for public access to court electronic records, allows you to find a wide variety of cases after 1999. This is often an ideal way to start your search for court records.
- Get paper records of federal cases that were decided before 1999. Digital versions of these records are not available, so you’ll need to use the federal records locator to find an office where you can order paper records.
- Visit the clerk’s office where the case was filed to obtain records related to your case. All states like California and Florida make it possible to request court records in person for a nominal filing fee. You may also be able to obtain local court records through the National Center for State Courts.
- Use a third-party site. Third-party sites allow you to quickly perform a docket search for a wide variety of cases. It’s important to note that information obtained through a third-party site may not be complete and cannot be used in court. However, it is a very fast, efficient way to obtain a record and get some information on a case right away.
Certified copies of court records are often required when they come into play during related legal proceedings. Here’s are a few ways you can get a certified copy of a court record.
How to Get a Certified Copy of a Court Record
- Use your state’s public access site or the PACER site. You’ll be required to pay a fee, but you can find many court records online without visiting a physical location.
- Visit the clerk’s office in the county where the case was filed. You can apply for paper records in person.
- Contact a private agency to assist you in obtaining court records. While you can get these records on your own, a private agency can be particularly helpful when dealing with old cases or out of state records.
Obtaining the right court records requires going to the correct court. Check out some of the court records typically searched for.
Different Types of Court Records
- Criminal court records. Criminal courts handle a variety of cases including misdemeanor offices and more serious crimes like burglary, murder, manslaughter and more.
- Civil court records. Civil court cases are often related to financial settlements in personal and business matters. Offenses like violent crime or drug possession would not be held in a civil court.
- Traffic court records. Traffic court records may include a date of ticket payments or records related to more serious offenses like DUI.
- Family court records. Family court records often deal with custody cases and placement or removal of children from the family home.
- Divorce court records. These records typically indicate when a divorce took place and when the legal separation occurred.
These are just a few of the most commonly searched for records. Other types of court records may be available to you depending on the particular case.
Court Records are Public Record
Obtaining court records can seem difficult, but it’s important to remember that they are designed to be public records for the people via the Freedom of Information Act. Use these tips to help you answer the question ” how to obtain court records ” so you can handle legal matters in a timely manner.