Whether you are a law student or just interested in obtaining a court record to check some information, knowing how to access records is important. Access to these records are generally available to the public and are often considered as public records. That said, not all records may contain the information that one needs to see as the court may seal certain parts of the court proceedings especially if the case involves a juvenile.
Electronic Access – What is PACER?
As paper files becomes cumbersome, many government agencies are now switching to electronic database. The Public Access to Court Electronic Records or PACER is the US’ centralized electronic database that has court cases and docket information from different courts in the state such as the appellate, district and bankruptcy courts. Terminals are setup in the court clerk’s office and are available to the public. The information obtained inside the court office is free however; one would need to pay certain fee for printouts. If the records are from the Federal Records Center and one is interested to view the documents, a fee is also requested. Records from the Supreme Court are not available from PACER but are instead available directly from the Supreme Court’s website.
Paper Case Retrieval
Some cases might not be available online and have to be retrieved directly from the court clerk’s office manually. Most cases, especially before 1999, are available in paper format only and can be access from the court where the case was filed. To order or check the records, it is important to verify which courthouse the case is filed. Local courts have different sections, calling beforehand to verify would save you time as well as makes the request processing faster. Some court would require people requesting to write a written request to make the process speedy. It is best that one should specify the cases that they need and if there is a docket number available, to include this in the request form.
Are Sealed or Erased Records Accessible
Generally, sealed records are not available to the public especially those that have juveniles as parties to the case. That said certain exceptions apply. Some cases may be sealed and access is restricted however, some cases may partly be sealed and the ones not included are available to the public. Do note though that sealed cases maybe unsealed once the sealing order expires.
Court records or police records maybe erased in certain circumstances examples would be when an absolute pardon is given, another is when the act was decriminalized later on or if the defendant receives an acquittal or dismissal unless an appeal is taken.