What are the Different Types of Court Records?

M. Lupica

There are several different types of court records that are publicly available upon request for legal research or just personal curiosity. The most common public records that are kept in courthouses are case records, land records, and criminal records. Generally the court will make them available as part of the public record, though accessibility may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

Public court records include case files, dockets, and court orders.
Public court records include case files, dockets, and court orders.

Cases of all kinds are searchable court records. Most jurisdictions make every case available, including criminal, civil, bankruptcy, and even simple traffic violations. Depending on the nature of the document, the court records will typically detail the name, address, and date of birth of the party involved. Further, it will detail how the case progressed, with all the filings made by any of the parties shown on the case log. If it is a criminal or civil trial, then very often the written opinion of the presiding judge will also be made available.

Some employers will check to see if applicants have committed any criminal offences.
Some employers will check to see if applicants have committed any criminal offences.

Public land records are also commonly sought after court records for a variety of reasons. Because the land records detail every conveyance of the land that has been made, listing each and every previous owner, they are often researched by subsequent purchasers of land in order to determine that the land conveyance they are making will be valid. Additionally, public land records will show any liens and easements that formerly existed and currently exist on the property. Lastly, land records include the deed, which gives detailed information as to the actual defined boundaries of the tract of land in question.

Once someone is convicted of a crime, that conviction usually remains on their record.
Once someone is convicted of a crime, that conviction usually remains on their record.

The third type of court record that is generally public record are people's criminal records. Often, employers will require a background check into the criminal record of an applicant because of the nature of the job. They will seek out public court records in order to do so. Most jurisdictions have statutes protecting people's privacy, however, and require their authorization in order to give access to such information.

Because they are generally entirely public record, land records and documents detailing court proceedings are almost always accessible to anyone who seeks them out. Many jurisdictions make this information available online, though because modernization of court records is an expensive task, many courthouses require that anyone seeking to browse any such records must do so in person. If the court has not done so themselves, private organizations sometimes compile the records in an online database and charge a small fee to gain access.

Court records can be easily searched for online.
Court records can be easily searched for online.

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Discussion Comments


@Azuza - I don't think that's psycho, I think that's smart. You never know who you might meet these days especially if you're new in an area or live in a big city.

I would just like to remind everyone that there are certain types of records you can get expunged. In most states you can get records of cases where charges weren't filed, the charges were dropped, you were found not guilty, or you received probation before judgment expunged. It'll be like it never even happened!

I know some of those things don't look that bad but expungement is nice if you don't want the whole world knowing your business!


I used to use the case search engine for my state on prospective dates all the time when I was single. I know it sounds a bit psycho but us ladies need to protect ourselves!

I'm really glad I did act a bit psycho because I think it protected my safety in the long run. The first time I ever used the case search I found that my potential suitor was convicted on a domestic assault charge. I ran in the other direction from that one as fast as I could!

Another time I found that a man who was pursuing me was still legally married. Of course when he met me he wasn't wearing a ring and told me he was single. I'm really glad I saved myself the trouble of getting involved with such a cretin!


@David09 - You don’t even have to go to the courthouse records online to find a lot of information. There are some so-called “people search engines” that will let you look up people in different states, and you’ll find some basic information including birthdates and prior addresses.

It’s a total invasion of privacy, yes, but they pull their information from the same places, the courthouses; then they collate it and make it available to the public.


@SkyWhisperer - I don’t think that there is anything to be embarrassed about. They are public records, and anyone can do a search on them.

You’d better believe that real estate investors, and even some employers, research those records. That is after all the nature of a background search. It’s a perfectly valid endeavor.

I sometimes look up court records for my state (Oklahoma court records) if I’m interested in purchasing a piece of property as an investment. I need to know everything about it that I can learn, like deeds, prior owner, liens, floods, etc.

It’s public information and the public certainly has a right to know. What your motivation was for doing the search, that’s up to you, but I wouldn’t characterize it as spying.


I’m almost embarrassed to admit this, but I’ve used public court records to do a little spying on an old business associate with whom I had a little falling out years ago.

A business deal went sour, and we split up, and I heard from a friend that he was caught in the middle of some lawsuits, some which were filed against him and some which he filed.

I did a lookup on courthouses and dockets in the state where we live, and found that almost everything was available online. I was able to locate my friend’s dockets, found out the dates of the lawsuits, the nature of them – more information, in the end, than I wanted to know.

Like I said, I felt a little bad doing the search, but it’s out there for a reason. I guess courts have to decide what they want to make public and what they want to withhold.

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