Get to Know the Best Resources to Get Public Court Records
Court records are an incredibly valuable source of information for a large number of reasons, whether you are a private investigator, lawyer, journalist or just a curious mind, there is a plethora of information available by accessing court records online. Most state court records are relevant for people looking for specific records on people they know, while federal court records are useful for people who are interested in the law in general.
Court records are available to the public because they fall under the type of information that is generally available to the public under the Freedom of Information Act which states that all government offices must make their records available to the public to allow for transparency.
What Are Court Records?
Court records are kept from two different sources, federal courts, and state courts. State courts handle civil matters like contract disputes, family matters, divorces, and other state-level matters. Federal courts handle cases like immigration law, bankruptcy law, social security law, patent law, and other federal laws that are broken. In total there are about 150 million cases filed every year in the U.S. court system, albeit a large number of these are traffic violations, small claims disputes, and other minor cases that won’t interest most people.
Most of these cases are public except for cases that are ruled confidential for example juvenile court records, records involving financial account and social security numbers, mental health proceedings, adoption and paternity rulings and other cases that would violate the privacy of US citizens. Excluding these such confidential records, public court records are available to anyone if they know how to access them.
A Quick Guide to Court Records
You can identify which court database you need to search in based on what record you are looking for.
Civil Court- Civil courts handle cases in which one person sues another, often for money. Records of the following sort can be found in a Civil Court:
- Debt collection
- Small claims
- Personal injury
- Medical malpractice.
Family Court - Family court deals with all cases related to family life, these courts have records that relate to:
- Domestic violence
How To Find Federal Court Records Online
There are a number of websites that are helpful in search of federal court records. The various courts include the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Court of Appeals, Special Courts and the U.S. District Court.
Since the year 1999, many cases that are from the district, bankruptcy, and appellate courts are available online through the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) service. To use this tool you will need to create an account with them. If you do not know which federal court the case took place you, you can use the case locator tool. You can also conduct a nationwide search to find cases. There is a ten-cent fee for a page when accessing files, but if the cost comes to less than 15 dollars (or 1,500 pages), per every four months, the fee is waived, so this tool will likely be free if you are looking for one specific record.
The court records available in the National Archives cover court proceedings from federal courts spanning the course of 200 years. There are about 2.2 billion pages of court materials in their collection and the number grows annually. This website is convenient if you are looking for a historical federal court record. Generally, federal court records that are less than 15 years old are not held by the National Archives and are still in the possession of individual courts that conducted the cases. When trying to access older cases, you can find records in the National Archives by running a search through their online catalog.
How To Find State Court Records Online?
There are also various websites that are useful in search of state court records. The various courts include the State Supreme Court, Superior Courts, Special Courts, and Local Courts.
Search Systems is a family-owned business that has organized over 70,000 court databases by type and location to assist in finding a property, criminal, court, birth, death, marriage, divorce records, licenses, deeds, mortgages, corporate records, business registration, and many other public record resources. The service is free to search one city, county, or state at a time, but you will have to pay for premium service that allows you to search nationwide. This is a useful resource if you know the general area in which the court record you are looking for is located. The site works by asking you to select the method of your search, you can choose by record type, state, county, or city.
The National Center for State Courts is a non-profit organization that was founded at the behest a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in order to centralize court information to help with research and court improvement. The organization’s website has a number of web tools to help both courts and individuals access their case files, these tools include a database of links to state courts listed by the state in which they are located. You will need to locate the court in which the record is located and run on a search on that website. This resource is invaluable as a first step when searching for state court records.
The Justice Department website has a database of links that include both State and Federal court sources. You simply need to click on the state in which the record you are looking for is located and that will lead you to the various courts that exist in that area. There are two methods of locating the court, either through the interactive map on the website, or a text-based link resource. When you click on the state in which the record is located, you will be forwarded to a hyperlinked list of courts in that area.