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What Should I Know About Public Court Records?

Public Court Records are recorded, compiled, and maintained at all three levels of government. 

On the local level, Public Records are typically recorded by Municipal courts, County Courts & Circuit Courts.  In some states, local court records are forwarded to the state level where they are often maintained in summary form.  As such, original files are not always forwarded to the state by local courts.  Municipal Courts typically cover cases where crimes are punishable by a prison sentence of no more than one year and crimes of the 4th degree.  These cases often include violations of local ordinances, offenses of fish & game, and boating laws, motor vehicle violations, disorderly person offenses, etc.  Local Courts often cover preliminary hearings for felony cases as well.  Take note that local courts will have records on both criminal and civil cases.

State Court Systems and record keeping vary from state to state, but generally the trial court system in most states includes the above-mentioned Municipal Courts, as well as State Superior Courts, Court of Appeals, and Tax Courts. State Superior Courts have a broad jurisdiction over criminal and civil courts, but usually only handle court cases that are beyond the jurisdiction of local courts.  State Superior Courts are often divided based on case types like civil, criminal, family, housing, general equity, probation, etc.  The state Superior Court may transfer taxation cases to the state Tax Court as well.  A comprehensive list of Local and State Courts can be accessed at the National Center for State Courts.

The Federal Court System is made up of the U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. Courts of Appeals, U.S. District Courts, Bankruptcy Courts, and legislative courts including, the U.S. Court of Military Appeals, U.S. Tax Court, and U.S. Court of Veterans' Appeals.  Public Records from Federal Court cases are maintained in departments and depositories such as the Library of Congress and National Archives. 

At any given time, over 90% of the inmate population were convicted by a State Court.  State Courts handle nearly all non-criminal cases as well, which include civil cases, as well as probate and divorce cases.  If you searching for divorce records, take note that essentially ALL cases are handled by state courts, even if the parties live in separate states.  The Federal Courts handle a large number of major drug offenses, white-collar crimes, and many immigration crimes, as well as most crimes committed on Federal property, and violent crimes committed on Indian Reservations.

How Can I Use Background Check Elite To Find Free Public Court Records?

The availability of Public Court Records online varies with each state, and even within each state by county or municipality.  Online access is made available through statewide judiciary websites, or by an individual county, municipality, or city court website.  Hence, in some states, online access is limited to select counties. 

Background Check Elite includes ALL online state and county court records resources in its free database (as well as Federal resources).  To access these free resources, you can utilize our drop down menus through the left-hand search box, marked FREE SEARCH.  For your SEARCH TYPE, select "Court Records", followed by your LOCATION selection.  Background Check Elite will provide you with a comprehensive list of online Court Records resources pertinent to your location selection.  You can narrow your search by county as well.  If you need to access Federal resources, simply select "Federal" for your LOCATION selection, which is below the list of state selections.  Keep in mind that Federal resources do not include state-specific resources, so you will likely want to search both.