What are court records and where to search?
Court records are a reliable source for doing criminal background search, locating people and looking up liens, judgements, bankruptcy and arrest records. Although court filings are considered to be public records, their availability varies widely by jurisdiction. The growth of electronic filing has improved online access to recent materials. However, historical records and briefs may be more difficult to obtain without contacting the office of the court clerk, which may require a substantial copying fee.
Before attempting to track down court records and filings, it is most helpful to first locate the following information about the case:
- The full names of the parties
- The docket numbers and/or citations of the original case, as well as any appeals
- The location of the court in which the case was filed, as well as the courts of any appeals
- The date (at least approximate) of the case and any appeals
- Names of judges and/or attorneys involved in the case
Keep in mind that many court materials may not be available electronically, especially for cases filed or decided prior to 1996. Also, depending upon the jurisdiction, statutes and court rules may permit the sealing of selected documents or even entire case records. In the most extreme circumstances, courts may issue orders to destroy an entire case file; this will generally be noted in the docket information. Historical records might also be destroyed by a court as part of a routine schedule, although these records may have previously been preserved on microform collections which could be available from libraries in the court’s geographic area.