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Court Records Research for Reporters: Home

Courts Records

What You Need to Know to Get Started

The type of case: civil, criminal, housing, etc.

The jurisdiction: state, federal, local. (Difference between federal & state cases.)

Not everything is online; sometimes you must go to the court to request a copy of the case and photocopy it there.

Juvenile records are usually not available, unless convicted in Supreme Court as an adult – called a “juvenile offender.” Youthful offender records are sealed. Some kids are classified as “juvenile delinquents.” More info.

A NYS family court case “record of filing” is usually available, but the documents filed in the case are not public. These rules usually apply in most states.

It is also good to be familiar with civil court procedure and to have a sense of how the criminal justice system works.

NYS Courts glossary of legal terms (see also the Manhattan DA’s Glossary of Legal Terms). Important terms from this site include:

  • jurisdiction: the geographical, subject matter, and monetary limitations of a court. Civil or Criminal – State or Federal – Misdemeandor or Felony – Etc.
  • index number: a number issued by the county clerk, which is used to identify a case – in civil matters there is usually a charge
  • docket: a document which summarizes a case, provides a list of actions/events in a case
  • caption: in a pleading, deposition or other paper connected with a case in court, it is the heading or introductory clause which shows the names of the parties, name of the court, number of the case on the docket or calendar, etc
  • complaint: initial pleading in an action formally setting forth the facts and reasons on which the demand for relief is based. In a civil case a plaintiff files the complaint. In a criminal case that is a misdemeanor, the state files the complaint. In felony criminal cases, the grand jury indicts the defendant
  • answer: a paper submitted by a defendant in a civil case in which s/he responds to and/or denies the allegations of the plaintiff
  • plaintiff: the party bringing a civil action
  • pleadings: complaint or petition, answer, and reply
  • motion: an oral or written request to the court made by a party for a ruling or order

NYS Criminal Court Structure  link pdf with details on Criminal Court Structure

NYS Civil Court Structure (below) 

NYS Courts Electronic Filing System: sign in as a guest and access civil court docket and electronically filed documents in 
Supreme Court, Court of Claims, Surrogate's Court in all of New York State.

Civil case date range on eCourts depends on jurisdiction, but some go back to the 1980s.

SCROLL has Supreme Court civil case documents for cases in New York County.

Nexis Uni has selected state cases. Click on the Cases button then select the State Cases button.

Bronx County Clerk’s Office (civil case lookup), has case documents online.

Only pending criminal cases are listed in WebCrims.

NYC Inmate search NYC Dept of Corrections

NYS inmate search NYS Dept of Corrections, goes back to 1970s.

New York Statewide criminal history record search For a $95 fee. Results are verified, reviewed, amended, if necessary, and emailed to our customers the following business day. Here are details of what you will find in a NYS Criminal History Report, from the NYS Criminal Justice Division

NexisUni has selected state cases. See “Look up a Legal Case” on the bottom of the search page. Search using party name or index #.

Criminal Court Basics from NYCourts

A walk through the Criminal Justice System for Adults in NYS, from the NYS Office of Mental Health

Contact the party attorney(s) in the case: NYS Attorney Directory lists of all NYS attorneys registered with unified court system.

via USCourts.gov 


PACER provides online access to the docket and most documents filed in both criminal and civil federal cases. Almost all federal cases are available on PACER, but the court decides which documents to make available publicly on PACER.

*You must visit the Research Center for PACER access.  Here is a PACER Tipsheet.


Search RECAP database of millions of PACER documents and dockets.Install the free RECAP extensions for Firefox and Chrome to contribute to this archive.


Federal inmate search Federal Bureau of Prisons inmate lookup site.


TRACFed (secure logins - must be on campus to view) "data collections about all federal criminal enforcement actions." TRAC Tutorials

TRACImmigration (some free) data on federal immigration enforcement

TRAC (free site) data on federal enforcement, staffing and spending

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