The number and variety of court records available in the United States can be staggering: according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, there are at least 102.4 million court cases per year, with more than half being traffic related. Regardless of the severity of an offense, documentation begins to accumulate when one is arrested or served with summons papers and compounds with each court subsequent appearance or decision. Sorting through complex court documents - even finding the correct source, whether civil court records, criminal court records, local courts, or federal courts - can be a daunting task. can help streamline the process by searching millions of records with a few key words.

Types of courts and cases

Courts are a primary source of public records of transactions: marriages, divorces, property deeds, corporate dissolution, and of course penalties (sentences) for transgressions against the state or another person. Cases handled by civil courts are those in which people or companies sue one another to stop or change behavior or practices, things like boundary disputes, copyright infringement, fraud, breach of contract, or wrongful death. A judge and sometimes a jury make the decision.

Civil Cases


Civil cases that seek financial reimbursement for an injury, called tort cases, have grown in recent years to more than 500,000 annually at the federal level (due to the high sum of money involved). While these cases often grab headlines when they seem frivolous, only 2 percent make it to the trial phase. Others may be thrown out by the courts or settled out of court. Some people blame the number of personal injury attorneys in practice (there are more than 80 per 10,000 residents in states like New York and Massachusetts) for the dramatic increase in these sorts of cases. Even if a case is thrown out of court because it lacks merit, some documentation will remain with the court where it was filed.

Criminal Cases


Criminal court cases are brought by the government against an individual or group. These are cases in which a penalty is sought for breaking the law and may include secret informants and other background information that is only visible to the judge - the the grand jury if the offense is considered a felony. Sentences are usually handed down according to guidelines established by previous cases and national sentencing guidelines.

Federal Cases


Cases that go to federal court rather than state court are those that meet one or more of the following criteria: the U.S. is a litigant; the case pertains to violations of federal laws; if a case involves individuals from different states and more than $75,000; and cases pertaining to bankruptcy, patents, copyright, or maritime law. Criminal cases are less frequently heard in federal court, but crimes committed on federal property including parks and post offices are decided here, as are cases of illegal drugs brought across state lines and using the U.S. Post Office to swindle victims.


History of court records

How did all of this record keeping get started? Almost 4,000 years ago, Hammurabi, a Babylonian king, spelled out the law for his people on clay tablets. His "eye for an eye" doctrine is the basis for modern-day law, but who could foresee the legacy of court records that bearded ruler would start with the cuneiform pressed into moist earth.

Some of the earliest written documents left by ancient peoples in Sumeria, China and other countries were legal records of transactions: purchases, sales, and penalties handed down by jurists. Hammurabi's is famous for its unflinching equality of penalties but a large portion of his code dealt with contracts, including payments for different jobs (like ox cart drivers) and assigning liability for homes that collapse. Not much has changed in thousands of years despite the advancement to digital records rather than papyrus or scratching characters on an animal skin. Of course the volume of records has multiplied exponentially and are categorized more specifically, but the need for public records of transactions and penalties remains.