One of the biggest challenges you may come across in your court records search is determining which court you will need to search. Different courts handle different types of cases, and there may be multiple court locations within one state or district. Understanding the basics of how the United States' court system is organized, knowing where to look, and what to expect to find at each level court, will help you drastically expedite court records search. That's why one of your first steps in finding court records will be to conduct a thorough court search.
First Understand the Basics
The US court system is organized to ensure appropriate consideration and attention to cases at all levels, from county (local) to federal (national). Because of this, United States' courts are organized, divided and analyzed based on a complex hierarchy of courts and judiciary branches. Court divisions in the United States range from the highly specific U.S. Court of International Trade, to the all-important Federal Supreme Court, responsible for the policy making that governs us all. They are also divided by location based on states and districts.
Information for Your District Court Search
The United States District Courts are likely where you will begin your court records search. Without going into lengthy detail, district courts are the courts of "general jurisdiction," or "trial courts" of the United States, and are divided into two categories: District Courts (USDC) and Bankruptcy Courts (USBC). Part of your court search will entail determining which district or bankruptcy court will hold the records you are interested in. There will always be at least one district court and one bankruptcy court in each state, however, many states have more than one court.
When a state has more than one court, the legal system is organized into judicial districts. This can complicate your court search, but understanding how the court system in the state of your particular case operates is often very helpful. For more information to assist you in your court search, please see our overview of the US Court System Organization.
Know Which Court to Search
Each court-division serves a very specific role in the judicial system of the United States. Having basic understanding of the jurisdictions of the various levels of courts will be of tremendous assistance in your public records search. You should know, for example, what type of case you are researching, and whether certain types are organized differently within the particular district within which you are searching. Beyond knowing which type of case a particular type of court will handle (civil, criminal, bankruptcy etc.) you will need to determine the court location within a particular district, state or municipality.
If you know how to read case numbers, determining a court location may be simplified because many case numbers will indicate the court location by way of a particular code number pertaining to a specific court. If you do not know how to read case numbers, or if the case number for your particular case does not designate the court location, you will need to know the municipality or district where the case was filed.
As with most other aspects of your records search, a court search requires research on your part.