Court records are some of the most “official” records out there. For many people, court records are a way to learn about someone’s past criminal and civil history, although they can also be helpful in building a family or genealogical history. No matter why you’re thinking about court records, here’s what you need to know about how to look up court records and what those court records might give you.
1. What Are Court Records?
First and foremost, what are court records in the first place? “Court records” is a general term that refers to all materials handled in a court proceeding. This can include case files, but it can also include dockets, indexes, minutes, and other materials. A court record is an all-encompassing record of a case, rather than just the outcome of it. That makes it an effective way to understand the entirety of a criminal or civil case.
2. What Information Is Available in Court Records?
Court records can give you information on if someone was accused of a civil or criminal problem, the debates and evidence centered around that accusation, and the outcome of the case. In criminal proceedings, you can learn if someone was pronounced guilty and why, whereas in civil proceedings, you can learn the judged outcome of the case.
3. Who Generally Retains Court Records?
When it comes to court records that are less than 15 years old, the individual courts will typically hold them. If you want a full court record that happened within the last 15 years, you may need to go to an individual or state court to get that information. However, court records older than this may go to the National Archives, which has court proceedings that go back to 1790. However, whether or not a court record goes to the National Archives is a decision that can vary tremendously depending on the record.
4. What’s the Best Way to Access Court Records?
Technically, most court records are public records, which means you can go to the court and get a copy. The problem is that retrieval, printing, and certification fees can get very expensive very quickly, and if you don’t live in the state the court records are from, it can be even more expensive. This is why many people are turning to public record search engines. These engines have done this work for you, making many court records accessible online. While these engines do typically require a membership fee, that fee may actually be less expensive than finding the record yourself.
Court records are a great way to look back at old court proceedings, whether they’re your proceedings, proceedings of someone in your neighborhood, or even a way to trace familial records. However, finding court records isn’t always easy. No matter what court records you’re looking for, it’s often a good idea to check and see whether a public record search engine has those records before you try to find them on your own.