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The American legal system is an exceedingly complex one. There are multiple overlapping jurisdictions that can make understanding the whole structure difficult for anyone that isn’t a trained legal professional. The courts are the central part of the whole system, and even they can be a challenge to comprehend. If you’re trying to determine the outcome of a case, or find out what someone was sentenced to, you will need to know exactly which court system handled the matter or you can run a background check on the person by using public record databases.

There are court systems at the local, state, and federal level. They are split into civil and criminal divisions. The type of case that you are trying to find information about will determine your course of action. You can usually search records in each court system based upon the names of the parties involved, the docket number, or the court case number that was assigned when the case commenced. Once you have that information, as well as which court system handled the case, you can begin your search.

Local and State Courts

If the case that you’re seeking information about was adjudicated in a local or state court, you will need to begin your search by finding the physical address or website of the court in question. Local courts are usually administered directly by the state that they reside in, so the process of finding court case results will be determined by the state court system itself. A list of information about state court systems is available at the website of the National Center for State Courts. You can also find specific court system links at legaldockets.com

Most state court systems provide online tools for searching through court case records on their website. The more information you know about the case in question, the easier it should be for you to find results and the easier it is to lookup court records. If you are unable to find the records online, you can visit the courthouse in person, or call the court clerk’s office to request a records search. Depending on the court system, it can take some time before case results become available through the online system, so it may be preferable to contact the court directly.

Federal Courts

The U.S. Federal court system is much larger and more complex than that of the individual states. To streamline the process of record retrieval, they provide a website called Public Access to Court Electronic Records. Much like the electronic systems of the state courts, you can use the PACER system to find out the results of any case heard by the federal courts. After you register for an account to use the service, you will be able to search federal court records by entering the name of anyone who’s been a party to a case.

There is a ten-cent fee per page to use the system, but it is waved for anyone who remains below 15 dollars in usage per quarter. If you need access to larger volumes of data, you can avoid the cost by accessing the system from public access terminals located in the courthouses themselves. You can search for federal courthouses at the United States Courts website. As with the state courts, you may also visit a federal court in person to request the results of a case.