If you or a loved one has been convicted of a crime, you may want to access court transcripts from court cases. There can be a lot of reasons for this. Maybe you want to file an appeal or a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Or maybe you want to review what happened during your trial. There are ways that you can access court transcripts from court cases, even if those cases are old.
How can you access federal court transcripts?
Federal court records are electronic and available to the public. This includes United States district (trial level), appellate and bankruptcy courts. Officials put these records on a system called Case Management/Electronic Case Files (or “CM/ECF”).
Anyone can view most of the court records in this system. You can do so by going to the Public Access to Court Electronic Records website, which is more commonly known as “PACER.” To view court filings or transcripts, you can register an account and search for cases. There is a charge to view many documents on PACER. But PACER waives fees up to $30 over a three-month period. For most people, this means the records are free.
Records that are more than 30 years old may not be available online. Paper files may exist from these order cases. If so, officials may have moved them to the National Archives and Records Administration. If so, it might still be possible to view them. But officials may also destroy records after a period of time. They can do this because of the federal courts’ records-retention policy.
How can you access state court transcripts?
Although it might not be as easy to access state court transcripts, many state court files are easy to access as well. Some states like North Carolina allow you to make the request online. Other states like Michigan allow you to view some records online.
Because every state is different, it’s impossible to explain the rules for each state. However, if a state does not offer court records online, they may be available in person. For example, the Washtenaw County Circuit Court, the state trial court in Ann Arbor, MI, gives you online and in-person access.
Figuring out where you have to go to find court records might not be easy. But government resources like this map by the U.S. Department of Justice may help.
Can you access prison records online, too?
Probably. Many prison records are available online. For federal prisoners, for example, you can look up records on the BOP’s “Find an inmate” page. Many states have similar online lookup tools. For example, the Michigan Department of Corrections has an Offender Tracking Information System. California has an Inmate Locator.
If you or your loved one has been convicted of a crime, you may want to access court records or transcripts from court cases. For most cases, you can do this online. But even if the records aren’t available online, you should be able to access them in person. You can use these records in court cases or to review what happened in your case.