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At we set out to make online court record searching simple and accessible. Not only is our public records database constantly updated. But we put the time into figuring out the how-to’s of each state and county database and put it in simple English. Making the search process simple and quick for our visitors.

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What are court records?

Court records are official documents that contain historical and sometimes sensitive information. The substance of each court record will always depend on a number of factors, chief among which is the type of case the record describes, civil or criminal. An example of a civil case court record could be a case between two individuals that involves valuables, children or even violations of constitutional rights. An example of a criminal case will always include at least one government agency or entity as well as one individual or organizational entity. Both types of court records can be helpful when information-gathering for employment screening and similar uses.

Court Docket vs Actual Court Records.

There are two major types of court-related documents kept on file: court dockets and court records. Each type of document has its purpose and uses. Where a court docket is a collection of documents, court records are the documents contained inside a court docket. Typically, a court docket will gather together every single piece of information related to a single court matter or case, whether civil or criminal. Sometimes court dockets and records can be accessed via the court’s online system, while at other times the only way to access these documents is to go in person to the courthouse where they are housed.

Court Record Public Access Terminals.

A PAC, or public access terminal, is like an information station that is located inside county courthouse buildings. Each public access terminal has a search system which is typically organized by name, date of birth or other major identifying information for the litigants involved in each case. Interested individuals and entities are typically permitted to use the public access terminal to perform searches and gather information filed about past civil and criminal matters.

Common Types of Court Records.

Criminal Court Records.

In criminal courts, criminal laws govern how criminal cases will be heard and handled. Criminal laws are focused on handling different types of crimes, including assault, robbery, rape, vandalism and similar illegal activities. When the defendant (individual or entity charged with involvement in a criminal matter) goes to court, criminal law will be used by the prosecution to try the case.

Civil Court Records.

In civil court, civil laws govern how cases will be heard and tried. When the legal dispute is of a non-criminal nature, it will be tried in civil court under civil laws. Disputes can be between individuals, businesses, agencies and similar entities. Examples of such matters may include landlords evicting tenants, partners applying to divorce, child custody hearings, financial matters including application for bankruptcy and pursuit of restitution for damages due to personal or property issues.

Bankruptcy Court Records.

Bankruptcy court is a special division within the civil court system. All proceedings heard by bankruptcy courts are always governed by federal rather than state law. Bankruptcy matters, whether individual or corporate, must be filed and heard in a federal bankruptcy court. In contrast, other types of civil or criminal cases are more typically heard in state courts.

Small Claims Court Records.

Small claims court is another type of specialized courthouse that focuses specifically on hearing and resolving cases that involve disputes over small financial sums. In most cases, the plaintiff(s) and defendant(s) will defend/represent themselves rather than hiring an attorney to do so on their behalf. Unlike other court systems, small claims court has a more relaxed process for presenting evidence, arguments and judgment enforcement. However, a judgment handed down in a small claims court is just as legal and binding as a judgment handed down by any other court. Once the judgment is rendered, the affected individuals are expected to promptly comply. In the case of noncompliance, legally-sanctioned collection methods (i.e. liens, wage garnishing) can be instituted.

Family Court Records.

A family court is another type of specialized courthouse that only handles matters relating to families. A few common examples of family-related legal matters include couples petitioning to divorce, child custody hearings and dispute hearings, domestic abuse, paternity and child support. Family courts can be governed by state law and/or local law. In some jurisdiction, a family court is called a domestic court.

Traffic Court Records.

Traffic court is where all legal matters relating to traffic citations and incidents are heard and decided. Sometimes (especially in smaller jurisdictions), a traffic court may be located inside a larger assembly of different specialized courthouses. Otherwise, traffic courthouses are usually freestanding.

Probate Court Records.

When someone passes, their remaining belongings, including property and debts, are handled in probate court. This is another highly specialized courthouse that oversees settling the affairs of the deceased both in relation to creditors and beneficiaries.

State Court Structure Explained.

State Supreme Court

Within each state there is a court hierarchy. At the very top of that hierarchy is the state supreme court. However, each state may give its supreme court a different name. When a case is appealed or errors in the handling of a case are discovered, the case moves out of the lower (or inferior) state court in which it was first heard and is transferred to the state’s supreme court for resolution.

Appellate / Appeals Court

Appellate courts are also sometimes called appeals courts. In between the lower (or inferior) courts and the state’s supreme court sits the appellate court. In most cases, an appellate court will have at least two presiding judges and sometimes more than that. Appeals courts only hear appeals from prior cases. Outcomes of cases heard in appellate courts become part of the legal precedent to govern future cases. These new precedents are then included in the greater body of case law, or judge-made law.

US District Courts

The United States has 94 district courts (trial courts). This circuit of courts is called the U.S. District Courts. These courts are federal trial courts that hear both civil and criminal matters. The goal of district courts is to resolve cases by identifying all of the case facts and applying current laws to render a decision. All matters heard by district courts, whether civil or criminal in nature, are federal matters.

Circuit Courts

Unlike district courts, circuit courts are state trial courts. These courts will hear civil or criminal cases that arise between two individuals or between entities. State law as outlined in each state’s constitution governs findings and rulings in circuit courts. In nearly all cases, a circuit court decision can be appealed and will then move to the appellate court system within that state.

County Courts

County courts hear both civil and criminal cases at the state and city level. County courts also hear appeals from rulings made at the municipal court level.

Municipal Court

A municipal court is a city or county-level courthouse. These courts have limited jurisdiction and are chartered to hear and rule on minor civil or criminal matters such as drunk driving, traffic citations, disorderly conduct, juvenile crimes and similar issues. Municipal courts can be particularly useful in that they can typically resolve many minor matters without overburdening the state court system at higher levels. is a privately owned website that is not affiliated with any government agencies. DISCLAIMER: You may not use our service or the services of some sponsored companies mentioned here to make decisions about consumer credit, employment, insurance, tenant screening, or any other purpose that would require FCRA compliance. mission is to give people easy access to direct state public record information, but we do not provide private investigator services or consumer reports, and are not a consumer reporting agency per the Fair Credit Reporting Act.