What to Know Before Searching Court Records Online

What can you expect to find when using the Search Court Case Records links on CourtReference? That varies greatly from state to state, and even county to county. Some states have statewide court record search systems for state courts. In other states, it is up to individual counties to provide online access to their court records. Of these, some counties provide free online access, while other counties contract with a private company that charges a fee to the user for some records searches.

Most court record searches can be done by party name, case number, date of birth and/or date of case filing. Some systems have a feature called “Soundex,” which will show results for similar names to the name you input into the search system.

Often court records search systems include both open and closed cases. Depending on the court, you may be able to search civil, criminal, probate, and family cases online. For the most part, you will not be able to see individual pleadings in a particular case, such as the actual complaint or petition, but you will be able to find judgments, dates, and whether a particular person has any open cases. Some types of records, such as juvenile and dependency actions, are generally not provided online. Online case records in minor courts, such as municipal, town, and justice courts, are often limited to traffic cases.

While most courts only have online records from the last 10-20 years, some courts have entered case records online from before electronic file-keeping. In Dallas County, Texas, for example, you can search civil, criminal, and family court records, including divorce actions, from the 1960s forward for free. Some of the earlier records do not have much information – perhaps only the party names, disposition, and case number. You are likely to find more information online about recent cases. In Pennsylvania, you can search criminal records from the 1950s forward. Older records will have a docket sheet with information like defendant’s date of birth and date the case was filed, but newer records will have a Court Summary that shows a person’s criminal record in that court.

If you do not find the information you need online, contact the Clerk for that particular court or county. Often there will be paper records kept by the court that are far more detailed than what is kept online. Some courts will photocopy and mail court records to you if you can provide the case number and/or party names and dates. Other courts require that you visit the court office in person to obtain photocopies. Find contact information for any court at CourtReference.

Court records searches may not turn up land records, active warrants, inmate records, and property tax information. These types of records are generally held by other county offices. You can find links to search these various records in all fifty states at The Free Public Records Directory.

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