America is a unique place to investigate people and companies because of how it makes property and court records available to the public. The records are scattered across federal, state, and county databases, but this article will make the process of researching these records simple.

Court Records

Court records in the U.S. are often public available but they are divided up into a myriad of public databases. It is easiest to focus on whether the court hearing the case is federal, state, or county (even though courts are further divided beyond those levels).

Terminology: A Case File refers to a file of every single legal document in the case, so basically everything. A Legal Opinion is a written explanation by the judge or judges that accompanies their ruling (just to be clear, the ruling is identified in this document).

The term Docket refers to different things depending on the jurisdiction, but it generally refers to a sort of schedule of court hearings. The Docket often refers to who is involved in the case, where and when it is happening and why. Much of this information is only recorded before the case occurs but in certain jurisdictions the Docket will entail the ruling and/or events of the case.

Federal Level

The best free resource for court records is Court Listener, a website for researching federal and state court opinions. The site is maintained by the nonprofit the Free Law Project, which exists largely for the stated purpose of enabling the public to access court records.

PACER is another good resource that sort of straddles the divide between free and paid. PACER does require payment but generally at the end of the year they will dismiss the bill for anyone that spent less than about $15 that year. PACER is the official resource government resource for docket and case files of federal courts.

If you want to use PACER, you should definitely get the RECAP, a free browser extension that automatically searches for free copies of whatever record you are seeking in PACER. Specifically, it archives files from U.S. Federal District and Bankruptcy Courts. RECAP was created by Harvard and Princeton Universities and is maintained by the Free Law Project referenced above.

Dockets for federal cases are available for free  here in a less than friendly format in the Federal Judicial Center's Integrated Database. At the bottom of the screen you choose between Civil, Criminal, Bankruptcy, and Appeals and then choose "interactive mode" or download all of their data.

State Level

Court Listener, noted above, should be your first step for state courts because if it works you can avoid searching for the specific court database.

The National Center for State Courts maintains a list here of state websites  for publicly available state courts' records.

County Level

One can find individual county websites for county-level court records at Black Book Online. Just click on "County Public Records" at the bottom of the page, then choose the relevant state from the list that appears and then choose the county.

SIDENOTE: What are all of these kinds of courts and cases?

When you are looking for a specific person in court records you may, depending on the database, first have to choose which kind of case records to search before you can search for your person’s name.

Federal Courts – generally, you can expect a case to be in federal court if A.) it is a legal dispute between two people from two different states, B.) if it is a bankruptcy case, C.) a case of federal law, according to legal expert Marc Newman (https://millerlawpc.com/difference-state-federal-courts/).

State and County Courts – most importantly, you can expect criminal cases here (state and county laws are most likely to be the laws violated in general). But also family law cases, personal injury suits, contract disputes, and traffic violations, also according to Mr. Newman.

Circuit Court – the name is a bit deceptive, circuit courts are generally state and lower courts but they largely focus on civil and criminal cases. If you are looking for a civil or criminal case in a state or county database, you will likely need to choose to specify that you are looking in "circuit court" before you can choose "civil cases" or "criminal cases."

Civil – is when two people or parties have a dispute. One party files a complain against the other and they go to court. The parties will settle in a private agreement or go to trial, where either a judge or jury (depending on the trial) will decide on a resolution for the two parties.

Criminal – is pretty straight forward. The government brings the case because it believes that someone has broken the law, we have seen various iterations on tv.

Bankruptcy – bankruptcy cases are only in federal courts. The point, according to The Federal Courts’ Official Website (https://www.uscourts.gov/statistics-reports/bankruptcy-courts-and-cases-journalists-guide) , is to consider giving the person or business that is in debt an opportunity to be relieved of all or part of that debt or to repay it in a different manner.

Appeals – the losing party in a case requests that it is reconsidered.

Researching Property Records

Property records in the U.S., regardless of whether a person or an organization owns the real estate, can be found in deep web databases. These public databases are located in the local county government websites in the “County Tax Assessor” section under the heading “Property Search.” This is true for the vast majority of U.S. counties.

A quick way to find the database is to google the name of the county and “tax assessor,” because the county tax assessor maintains the records. This should lead you to webpage in the county government website where you have the option to input an address.

A directory of all of these U.S. county tax assessor databases can be found at Black Book Online.

PUBLIC ACCOUNTABILITY PROJECT

The best source for this information is the Public Accountability Project. This website allows you to conduct one search in one place, and most importantly it also gives you the ability to search on a name. The county tax assessor databases only allow you to search on the address, which is obviously limiting if you do not have the address.

Finally, there is a great tool for searching court records, judyrecords.com, which can be used to search for records in a wide variety of places.

Good luck!


Learn More About The Images We Choose

Today we celebrate the work of noted parapsychologists Dr. Ventman, Dr. Stantz, and Dr. Spegler in the field of ectoplasmic physics and for their invention of the Proton pack. Proton Packs are special because they are the only piece of technology in the world that has the ability to strip electrons away from protons. It has a hand-held wand known as a "neutrona Wand" (also called a particle thrower) connected to a backpack-sized particle accelerator. The Proton Pack, also referred to as a charged particle accelerator, functions by using a miniature cyclotron to concentrate protons by channeling though a "positron collider" and then to the neutrona wand, emitting way-fire positronic ionized stream of proton energy that polarizes with the negatively charged ectoplasmic entities which held them in the stream while active.

Dr. Ventman, Dr. Stantz, and Dr. Spegler outsiude their place of work.