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Court Records Defined

Simply put, a court record is a record of what happened during a court proceeding. Court records often include files, exhibits, and transcripts taken and compiled during the hearing or procedure.

Courts records might be the most varied type of records. The record itself depends on the case (for example, whether it’s civil or criminal), and can provide information as widespread as a person’s property ownership to his arrest record.

Using Court Records

There are as many uses for court records as any other type of public or vital records.

Examples include:

  • Conducting background checks. Potential employers, for example, often conduct background checks during the interview process.
  • Accessing criminal records. Some employers use criminal records, as do government organizations, the U.S. military, and law enforcement.
  • Personal research to learn more about a person’s life including age, date of birth, and maiden name and aliases.
  • Filing for a marriage license, when the two people need to prove they’ve never been married before or that they’re divorce decrees are legitimate.
  • Proving property ownership in cases when a court proceeding granted ownership.

Sometimes, court records are used for driving-related purposes, too. For example, someone might want to know about any DUI/DWI convictions you’ve had, or other driving-related crimes that could’ve landed you in court, such as personal injury cases or vehicular manslaughter.

Accessing Court Records

For the most part, a court record is a public record, which means it’s accessible to the general public.

Sealed Court Records

Sometimes courts seal records, which means the general public cannot access them.

Reasons and procedures for sealing a court record depend on everything from the jurisdiction to whether the court proceedings were criminal or civil.

Courts sometimes seal records for cases involving:

  • Juveniles or minors.
  • Birth records (for closed adoption cases).
  • Trade secrets.
  • State secrets.
  • People under witness protection.

Depending on the case and situation, a court order might provide access to a sealed record.

How to Request Court Records

Processes for requesting court records vary depending on the type of court and, sometimes, the specific case.

The United States Courts’ Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system can provide case and docket information for federal appellate, district, and bankruptcy courts, as well as help you locate courts throughout the area.

The National Archives also provides information on how to order court records including bankruptcy, civil, criminal, and court of appeals records.

Keep in mind that you can start a little closer to home, too. Some states allow people to access court records via an official government court website, and most courts can handle court record requests in person.

Regardless of method, be prepared to pay a fee.

Ordering Court Records Online

There’s another option to order court records online: You can order them from a non-government, third-party company, and this can make things much simpler for you.

Before ordering, though, understand why you need the court records. Do you want them for your own purposes, or do you need them for official reasons? Always go with an official government copy if you need the record for official reasons. Otherwise, third-party companies can provide the information you need.

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