The online court records obtainable from this venue are widespread, often free, and overall very worthwhile.
Every state has a judicial branch that oversees that state’s trial and appellate court system. The name of the agency will vary, but it is often known as the Administration Office of the Courts (AOC) or State Court Administrator’ Office.
Knowing about this agency and their online services is important because thru the AOC more counties and courts are online than from the individual county-based systems. Consider these overall statistics about state judicial systems and the state courts at the county level, from the Public Record Research System:
- 27 States Offer Online Access to Both Civil and Criminal Records Statewide
- 5 States Offer Online Access to Partial Statewide Access
- 5 States Offer Access to Only Online Civil Records Statewide
- 1 State Offers Access to Only Online Criminal Records Statewide
- 13 States Have Online Access to Neither
The specific states and sites with web access are profiled in Chapter 6 of The Manual to Online Public Records 4th Edition.
These Systems are Not Created Equal - Know the State-by-State Variations
Online researchers must be aware that there are many nuances to these searches. The value of a statewide court search varies by state. Consider these evaluation points:
- Pay or free or both? While some of the free searches are good, the adage you pay for what you get can certainly apply here.
- Is the search a statewide search? All counties may not be on the system.
- Is the throughput posted and is there uniformity? For example, one county may have cases dating back for seven years, while another county may have only two years of history.
- Are identifiers shown? The lack of identifiers to properly identify a subject varies widely from state-to-state. A lack of is especially apparent on the free access search systems.
- And perhaps the most important evaluation point: Is an online search equivalent to searching onsite? The level of your due diligence and need for accuracy will determine if using an online site that is in reality a supplemental search is sufficient for your needs. This of course is true for ANY online site for ANY type of public record.
This article is taken from The Manual to Online Public Records 4th Edition by Mike Sankey and Cynthia Hetherington. For more information on this publication, please visit The BRB Bookstore or Contact Katee@brbpublications.com.