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Types of Court Cases, Information Found in Their Records and How They Affect U.S. Laws

Depending upon the type of court case records you are searching for the reason you need them, there may be a variety of places you need to look. Generally, most court cases are divided in the court system and qualified as either part of the state or federal jurisdiction. In addition, these state court cases or federal court cases can further be classified as criminal, where society has been harmed in the offense, or civil—where another party or property has been harmed, but society has not.

Case Jurisdiction: State or Federal?

Depending upon the jurisdiction a case falls under, this will determine whether it will be heard by a state or local court or presided over by a federal judge. The territorial boundaries that determine jurisdiction were outlined in the U.S. Constitution, and define state jurisdictions as those within their own borders and all others as federal jurisdiction. This state jurisdiction includes all real and personal property within these borders, businesses and individuals. In addition, a long history of court case law or opinions that interpret the laws are frequently relied upon to establish precedent when determining where the control begins and ends with each type of jurisdiction.

Civil vs. Criminal Cases

Further distinction between types of cases includes whether they are considered a civil or criminal matter. Probate, adoption, bankruptcy and family court cases are all considered civil matters, but bankruptcy cases are a federal versus state matter. Criminal cases can include misdemeanor and felony offenses such as DUIs, theft, assault and murder. These may fall under state or federal jurisdiction, depending upon where the offense took place and who the parties are that are involved.

Information Found in These Records

A wealth of information about the parties and case details can be found in these case records. Docket entries, the charges involved, all hearings and minutes entered, parties to the case and judgments and rulings may all be found in a case file. These files are the most complete source of information about any case, regardless of whether it is a civil or criminal matter, state or federal.

Case Law and Interpretation by the Supreme Court

The history of U.S. case law is based on decisions by appellate courts, such as the U.S. Supreme Court or a state’s Superior Court. These high courts frequently hand down decisions in appeals and cases which provide a new interpretation and application of statutory law. Later, these decisions are used in future similar court cases to argue a defendant or plaintiff’s position in a matter. These citations establish precedents that can be applied in appeals from lower courts. However, lower courts may also rule against these precedents—especially if they are outdated. If the case is then appealed, the higher court may decide to agree with the lower court or overturn its decision if it feels the precedent is still viable.

Although case law does not rewrite local and federal statutory codes, judges may also use former decisions to validate a ruling or sentencing in a current case. These decisions, arguments and parallel comparisons argued by both parties to the case are all included in court case records, providing valuable sources of information for attorneys, law students and even civilians searching for validation or support for a current argument. Regardless of the type of court case record you need, references to these former decisions and opportunities to find opposing precedents may help you to prepare for an appeal or other upcoming case, or simply to better understand why a specific ruling was made.


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