Court Records Search Tips
As you have probably determined by now, conducting a court records search can be difficult. The variances in court record keeping systems, coupled with the already complicated nature of court records, can make finding a specific record frustrating. However, knowing how to efficiently search court records can drastically reduce the time you spend tracing and retracing leads.
Every search is different, and how you search depends on the information that you already have, the information that you are looking for, and the time frame that you are dealing with. That said, you can simplify your court records search by prioritizing certain information.
Steps for Your Court Records Search
Court: First, you'll want to know which court or courts you will be searching. The key to determining which court to search is determining the counties where the actions may have originated. Make note of the judicial district and division names and start with the largest court within the district.
Documents: Next, determine the documents you will need, based on the type of court search you are performing. Civil cases will call for different documentation than will criminal or bankruptcy cases, for example. If you're not sure what documents you're looking for, begin by reviewing the case's court docket sheet, which contains the entire case history (including any documentation submitted) from initial filing to current status. Reviewing the docket sheet should help you decide what other documents would be useful.
Information: See that you have as much information as possible. If you know the case number, use that as your primary to find court records. If you do not know the case number, you may search by the names of the plaintiff and defendants to find the case name. If you do not know the case number and are not able to narrow your search based on the case name (as is often the case with common names) try narrowing your search by the year the case started. This will also help you determine if you should be using a computer-based search system (highly recommended - for newer cases) or a manual search index (for cases filed before the computerization of files at that particular court.)
You should also know whether the case is open or closed. This is the first question you will be asked by court personnel when you attempt to access court records. Closed cases will be filed separation from cases still open. The same is often true for criminal and civil cases, so you'll want to know how your particular case is classified.
And perhaps the most important court records search tip we can give you is to be professional. If you are going to a court house, gather your facts first so that you will be able to present them to court personnel efficiently. This will save both of you time. Finally, remember to be polite and courteous. You are dealing with people, after all, and you'll be much more likely to get help if you are gracious.