Courts and court websites provide access to records of ongoing and recently closed cases. (Records for older, closed cases are sent to archives and depositories.)
Access to court records varies dramatically from court to court. Some courts provide access to most recent court documents for free online. Other courts provide no online access to dockets or court documents at all.
Most commonly, however:
Your best starting point is the individual court's website, which will allow you to purchase any documents available online and tell you how to purchase any documents available in paper at the courthouse.
Most recent federal dockets and court documents are available for a fee through the federal courts' PACER system. If you are a law student or faculty member, Bloomberg will retrieve PACER documents for you for free. To get started, see the relevant pages of this guide:
A few federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Tax Court, do not use PACER, so you will need to rely on information they provide freely on their websites or that has been retrieved elsewhere and made available on Bloomberg, Lexis, Westlaw, other databases, and microfiche. Additionally, many federal courts post selected court documents for free on their websites, potentially saving you a PACER fee. To get started, try the following websites:
California state courts do not have a unified e-filing system like PACER. Instead, you'll need to visit the websites for the individual courts to check what dockets and court documents are available.
Dockets for Los Angeles Superior Court cases can be accessed for free, if you have the docket number:
If you are unable to obtain a docket number from Bloomberg, Lexis, or Westlaw, the LA Superior Court website allows you to search dockets by party name for a fee:
Finally, the LA Superior Court website allows anyone to purchase selected civil and small claims documents and government agencies to request criminal records.
To locate the websites for other California state courts, check:
Los Angeles attorneys sometimes need to retrieve New York state cases. Fortunately, New York state trial courts (Supreme Courts) provide most civil case dockets and court documents for free on:
To find court websites for other states, use these directories: