Court transcripts are written or recorded accounts of court proceedings. Typically created by a court reporter, court transcripts are meant to be a word-for-word record of every court proceeding that occurred during a given trial, including court proceeding, witness testimony, attorney arguments and questions, and verdicts. Court transcripts of a particular trial are usually publicly available by request for any interested party.
Before the advent of tape and digital recording devices, court transcripts were written by hand or typed. Court reporters, also called stenographers or transcriptionists, had to use a unique and often personalized form of shorthand to record words as quickly as possible. Since a court transcript is meant to be an exact replica of the court proceedings, speed and accuracy were vital skills needed by a court reporter.
Today, some court reporters use a specialized machine called a stenotype that has unusual keys. Instead of having one key per letter, the stenotype keyboard has keys linked to phonics; when a “chord” of keys is pressed together, it spells out a syllable or word in one movement, instead of only one letter. The stenotype allows skilled users to type more than 100 words per minute, far faster than with a regular keyboard.
Many courts now also allow the use of a digital recorder to create court transcripts. As long as it functions correctly, a recording device will accurately capture exactly what transpired during a court session, with no concerns about speed or accuracy. Even with a digital recorder, however, a court reporter must often certify and notarize that the recording is accurate and correct.
Court transcripts can often be requested by the public, but in some cases may not be available. Judges have the right to restrict access to court records on the grounds that privacy is in the best interest of the case. Records that might be restricted include family court proceedings such as custody hearings, trials that involve minors, and proceedings that require the release of trade secrets.
To request court transcripts, locate the case number and name of the primary attorneys involved. Many courthouse will have available records of all cases tried on site, so requests can be made in person if the trial was local. Since many courthouses and justice systems now operate websites, it's also possible to obtain records via an online request. Additionally, several databases of public records can provide requested records for a small fee.