Access Court Records
Knowing how to navigate the court system organization is a key aspect to making the most of your court records search, but knowing how to access court records can be just as important. There are several different methods you can choose to gain access to court records, and the one you choose is highly dependent on the type of court record you seek, and/or your physical vicinity to the court you wish to search. One thing, however, will remain consistent no matter which method you choose to access court records: research.
Before you undertake any of the following suggestions to access court records, you must be prepared with as much specific information as possible. That means conducting the appropriate research for each court you will be searching. Some courts will require more information than others, and some will organize their records differently. Being aware of the way your court of interest keeps its records is an integral step in your attempt to access court records. That being said, here is a list of the five most popular way to access court records from federal courts:
Most Common Methods Used to Access Court Records
Access Court Records in Person
If you have the opportunity to search court records in person, you really should try this method first. Searching court records in person means that there will be court personnel available to assist you, and that you will be given direct access to their case records. In fact, most courts now have public in-house terminals for court records searching.
Accessing court records in person also gives you a chance to see how a court is physically organized, and the opportunity to chat face-to-face with court personnel. Even if you don't find what you're looking for at that particular court, having visited in person will give you a better feel for what is involved in searching for court records elsewhere.
Access Court Records On-line
Accessing court records online is probably the most convenient way to search. Most courts have now keep computerized records of their operations. You can choose to use their on-site public access terminals, or if you need to search remotely (or like the idea of searching court records from your own home) you may choose to work with a third party or purchase PACER, an online court records keeping service.
Access Court Records by Telephone
Calling courts is an inexpensive way to begin a court records search. Because most information is now computerized, court personnel have quick and easy access to records and thus are more likely to provide you with information over the phone. If you are looking for bankruptcy court records, the automated Voice Case Information System (VCIS) is available for most bankruptcy courts. Please note that telephone access rules will vary from court to court.
Access Court Records by Mail
Most courts will conduct a court records search on your behalf based upon a written request. As discussed, each court is different and may require different information. Some may only operate within a limited time frame, or will charge a fee. If you can, research your court in detail before you make a mail request for court records.
Access Court Records with Third-Party Help
If you are attempting a remote court records search, many times you will have the most success when working with a Provider or Retriever Firm. Many of these companies are nationally recognized and some are locally recognized. These companies cultivate personal relationships with courts and are already familiar with a particular court's record keeping systems and searching qualifications. If you are having trouble accessing court records by telephone or by mail, and choose not to use an online service like PACER, working with a third party is often your best option.