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Under The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Title 5 of the United States Code, section 552, any person has the right to request access to public records: criminal records, arrests & warrants, inmate records, vital records & more.

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Using Court Records for Research and Background Information

Court records can be an invaluable source of information for a variety of purposes. If you are searching for your birth parents, you may want to find adoption records pertinent to your case. Divorce records, naturalization and probate records are all wonderful sources for genealogical research. In addition, conducting a background search through criminal records can simply give you peace of mind about a new person in your or your loved one’s life; you may also want information about how a certain law has been interpreted by the courts in the past if it applies to a current situation you’re in. Here, you’ll find information about how and where to find these records, who can access them, and the types of information available in specific court case files.

Laws Differ Between Branches of the U.S. Court System

Depending upon the type of records you’re searching for, you may need to approach either a federal or state-level court within theU.S. court system. Many cases that are heard in the appellate courts, or those that hear appeals from lower levels and other jurisdictions, may give you some background information about how a certain law came into effect or has been regarded in the past. Federal appellate, district and bankruptcy records can be accessed through a system called PACER, or Public Access to Court Electronic Records, as well as public search engines. State records may be available through the respective court’s website, or public search engines.

Who Can Access These Records

Much of what is included in court case records is considered public information. However, some states will protect personal identifying information of the parties involved to aid in the prevention of identity theft. Access laws also differ between states, as these are left up to the individual jurisdictions to decide. Some states may completely seal certain records, especially if minors are involved or the judge orders them so for another reason. State courts will also determine the type of information available to the public, and some records may expire after a certain time period once a case is decided.

Information Found in Court Case Records

Each court case heard in the United States carries with it a wealth of information about everyone involved. Depending upon the information you need, court case records may be the ultimate source or at least provide a starting point during your search. These records include court opinions, causes of action, the nature of the case, parties to the case and their information, dates of hearings and events pertinent to the case, documents and evidence filed with the court and official copies of these documents.

Where to Begin Looking for Court Records

Public records search engines are generally the easiest way to begin searching for different types of court records. These free services will often either provide enough information for your purposes alone, or at least point you in the right direction to find it. Some people will also hire a private investigator to find this information for them, but that can become quite expensive. Nominal fees charged by public services like PACER are also helpful, and much more convenient than traveling to the local courts in search of documents in person.

Once you know what type of records you’re searching for, you can easily track them down using a court directory for more specific details regarding a case. Whether you need to conduct some simple genealogical research or want to discover details about your future brother-in-law’s past, several types of court records may provide the answers you need.


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