How to Research Federal Court Records
Federal court records can prove to be an invaluable resource when you need to check into the background of an individual or verify the financial status of someone you know or are considering hiring, or a business you may want to know more about. These records may include bankruptcy filings, civil and criminal records.
District Court Records
The U.S. court system is divided into 94 districts, and each of these districts contains trial courts that hear cases which fall under federal jurisdiction. These courts will hear both civil and criminal cases that may be decided by a judge or a jury. Each state contains at least one district, in addition to the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
Separate from the district courts are the bankruptcy courts, which only deal with bankruptcy cases. Bankruptcy is always a federal case, so these types of records are held by the corresponding federal court. Each of the 94 districts has a bankruptcy court where individuals and businesses can file for bankruptcy protection. The most common types of bankruptcy filings are Chapter 7, Chapter 11 and Chapter 13.
PACER, or Public Access to Court Electronic Records, is a public service which allows registered users to search, view and make copies of case and docket file information from federal courts across the country. These cases may originate from appellate, district and bankruptcy courts, and are largely available instantaneously.
When using PACER to access federal court records, you may search the U.S. Party/Case Index, or link directly to the specific court where a case was heard. Anyone using the service must register and pay a nominal fee to access these records.
Information in Federal Court Records
The dockets and files available through PACER will provide you with scanned copies of documents, a list of chronological case events, judgments or current case status and all parties involved in the case. These will also provide appellate court opinions and other case information such as causes of action, the nature of the suit and any dollar amount requested and awarded.
How to Use These Records
These records may be used as reference points for research, either for projects or your personal use. If you are involved in a similar case and would like to learn about prior opinions or judgments, PACER is a wonderful tool to use. You may also have the option to conduct background checks for employment or personal purposes by searching for the individual’s name. This will provide results from across the nation. If you are considering buying or partnering with a business, you may also check for any bankruptcy or UCC filings that have not been disclosed to you so far.
PACER charges $0.08 per page of information accessed, but you may also conduct a general search for free through a public search engine. These search engines will at least provide results to let you know if a paid service can give you more details about a person, business or specific case.