Common Misconceptions about Court Records

Myth: Court Records are Public, So They're Easy to Find

One of the major misconceptions about court records is that they will be easily accessible. A majority of people begin their court records search with the misconception that because court records are public, they are easy to find. In fact, often times, the opposite is true. The lack of standardization in court record keeping systems across the United States is a major barrier to finding court records quickly and easily.

In truth, knowing which courts to search, how they organize their records, and which types of cases certain courts hear is one of the most important steps in beginning your court records search. However, with this common misconception about court records, many people will often fail to perform the appropriate research and will often wind up searching in circles and getting the run-around from courts to round up the necessary information.

To combat this misconception, you will have to understand that different courts will require different information. They will be organized differently and the information you do find may not necessarily be presented the same way from court to court, docket to docket.

Myth: All US Courts and Court Records are Organized Similarly

It is especially important to note that you cannot expect that court databases will remain consistent in their organization from court to court, nor can you expect that the information necessary to find records in one court will be the information you need to find the same records in another court. This is important to note for your court records search because knowing how a particular court in a particular municipality organizes their records or database can drastically expedite the court records search process and eliminate the ever cyclical run-around.

Myth: All Court Records are Public

Many people are surprised to find that not all court records are available to the public. Court records dealing with juveniles, for example, will not necessarily be available to the public, or they may be indexed elsewhere in the database. When cases like this are available to the public, they may require more starting information than other types of cases.

Myth: All Court Records are Computerized

Wouldn't it be nice to imagine that every case ever heard in a particular court would be easily accessible by a simple court records search on a computerized database? You could easily sort cases by case number, party names and court dates and narrow your search quickly based on what you find. Unfortunately, this is often not the case. Most courts do not computerize older files, so often, any cases tried before a court's computerization system was adopted will need to be searched manually.

Manual searching can be difficult because there is no easy way to cross reference data. You may find yourself browsing hundreds of pages of microfilm, or even sorting through index cards to find the necessary information. The lack of computerization for older cases can be frustrating, but knowing when your particular case of interest was tried, and when the court's computerized database was established is a positive step in finding your court records quickly and easily.