Are District of Columbia Court Records Public?
The District of Columbia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a series of laws guiding the release of court records to the public in the capital city. The Act was established in 1976 by the District of Columbia, with further changes made in 2005. It stipulates that it is the fundamental right of all interested members of the public to request public records. According to the Act, every public body under the District of Columbia government is obligated to disclose its records to the public.
Court records in the District of Columbia are regarded as public records because courts are governmental bodies in the U.S. capital city. However, information restricted by law from public access, such as sealed or confidential court records, may not be accessible by members of the public.
What Shows Up on a District of Columbia Court Records Search
The District of Columbia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) stipulates that Court records are public because courts are governmental entities. However, some information is restricted from public access by law. Sealed or confidential records may not be accessible by the public. Court records are kept in the custody of the court clerks. Therefore, persons interested in them must first locate the courthouse with the court clerk where the case was filed. Therefore, interested persons may access and obtain copies of records through either in-person requests or on online portals. For in-person requests, individuals interested may visit the clerk's office in the specific courthouse where the records were filed. Normally, the requester requests court records in writing to the court clerk. The court clerk gives specific instructions and details on the procedures involved in obtaining records. Alternatively, interested persons may access court records online via the various online platforms provided by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals and Superior Courts. The different options may be accessed via the Cases Online page on the Courts' official website. Access to court case information from the Superior Court can be obtained by visiting the eAccess website of the county.
How Do I Find Court Records in the District of Columbia?
The first step to take when trying to obtain court records in the District of Columbia is to find the courthouse in charge of such records. In the District of Columbia, court records are usually kept in the custody of the court clerks. Therefore, anyone who wishes to inspect or obtain a copy of a court record may contact the court clerk where the case was filed.
Interested entities may access and obtain copies of court records via in-person requests or online portals.
How to Obtain Washington DC Court Records in Person
For in-person requests, requesters may visit the clerk's office in the particular courthouse where the records are maintained. Usually, requests for court records are submitted in writing by the requester to the court clerk. The court clerk issues specific instructions and further details on the procedures involved in obtaining court records. The address and contact details of the different courts in the District of Columbia are listed below.
For requests to the District of Columbia Superior Court, visit:
500 Indiana Ave. NW, Suite 2500
Washington, DC 20001
Contact number: (202) 879-1400
For requests to the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia, visit:
430 E Street NW
Washington, DC 20001
Contact number: (202) 879-2700
Washington DC Court Records Public Access
Alternatively, interested entities are entitled remote access to DC court records. The District of Columbia Courts provide different online portals for the Court of Appeals and the Superior Courts. The different options may be accessed through the Cases Online page on the District of Columbia Courts' official website.
For access to court case information from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, requesters may visit the eAccess website. The eAccess case search facility was established by the Superior Court to guarantee and improve swift online access to court records by the public. It was launched in a bid to enhance transparency and accountability in the activities of the Superior Court. The court case information available on the eAccess portal includes court dockets of criminal, civil, and tax cases, as well as criminal domestic violence cases.
Other available information includes docket entries for probate cases for large estates and small estates, major litigation, and disclaimers of interest. Also, information about docket entries in wills and foreign estate proceedings are available via the eAccess portal. Users may also access and view document images of some cases via the eAccess portal. Users are not required to register on the eAccess portal before being granted access to court case information. This implies that anyone with a browser and internet access may readily obtain access to the available court records on the eAccess.
To access court records from the Superior Court via the eAccess portal, users may follow these simple steps.
- Visit the Cases Online page from the District of Columbia Courts website.
- Under the Superior Court section, click on the "Learn More" button.
- On the page that follows, carefully go through the information displayed and click on the "Search Now" button.
- On the eAccess welcome page, enter the verification text displayed on the Captcha challenge image to proceed. Users who cannot clearly read the Captcha letters due to visual impairments may call (202) 879-1700 to be granted access.
- The eAccess Case Search portal provides two search criteria for obtaining court records. The two options are the Case Number Search and the Name Search. The Case Number Search is the default search option on the portal.
To search case information by case number:
- Enter the exact case number for the case sought. Note that the case number must be input with the specified spacing and all the leading zeroes. The acceptable format is: Full-year - space - case type abbreviation - space - six-digit case number (including the leading zeroes). Example: 2017 ADM 000002
- Click on Search. The search outputs the case that matches the provided case number, if there is any. It notifies the user if there is none. The number of search results to be displayed may also be selected from the available dropdown options.
To search court case information using the Name Search criteria:
- On the Case Search page, click on the Party Name Search tab.
- To search by the name of an individual party to the case, enter the Last Name and First Name. The Middle Name and Suffix details are optional.
- To search by a business name, enter the name of the company involved.
- Other additional fields include case type, case status, party type, date of birth search range, and date of death search range.
Note that no search results will be displayed when the date of death is supplied for a case that is not a probate matter. Also, entering the date of birth while name-searching for cases apart from criminal matters will yield no search results.
Access to the Superior Court case information via eAccess is totally for free. However, the portal only provides access to docket entries and not official record copies. Requesters who seek to obtain official copies of court records have to identify and contact the Superior Court's division directly in charge of such records. Information about the different Superior Court's divisions may be accessed on the Superior Court page.
Court case information may be available on the portal in the space of minutes after being input into the court records. However, images of documents may take some time before they are scanned into the records. Note that most divisions grant access to court case information dated as far back as 1980. For scanned document images, the availability is mostly from August 11, 2017, and upwards. Also, note that sealed or confidential court records are not accessible through the eAccess case search facility.
The Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia provides online access to appellate court case information via the Appellate E-Filing System. The E-Filing system is a browser-based Case Management System (CMS), also known as C-Track. Like the eAccess portal, users may search for court records either by Case Number or Participant Search. To access appellate court case information, follow the steps below.
- Visit the Appellate Courts CMS portal.
- On the top left corner, select either the Case Search or the Participants Search option as the case may be.
- Fill in the necessary details and click on search. The system outputs search results based on the cases that match the search criteria and input details.
How to Conduct a District of Columbia Court Record Search by Name
Conducting a District of Columbia court records search by name from the Superior Court via the eAccess portal is easy.
- By visiting the Cases Online page of the District of Columbia Courts website.
- Under the Superior Court section, select the "Learn More" button.
- Carefully go through the information displayed and select the "Search Now" button.
- Enter the verification text on the Captcha challenge image on the eAccess welcome page. Users that are visually impaired may call (202) 879-1700 to obtain access.
- The two search criteria for obtaining court records are Case Number Search and Name Search.
- Select the Name Search tab.
- For name search for individual parties to the case, enter the last name and first name. Middle names and suffixes are optional.
- Search by business name, enter name of company
- Additional fields include case type, case status, party type, birth date, and date of death search range.
How to Get Free DC Court Records Online
Persons can obtain court case information online via the Superior Court by visiting the eAccess website. Access to information through this channel is absolutely free. However, this portal only enables access to docket entries and not copies of official records. Persons who intend to obtain official copies of records should identify and contact the Superior Court's division directly in charge of such records. Information about the various Superior Court's divisions may be available on the Superior Court page.
Considered open to citizens of the United States, court records are available through both traditional, government sources, and through third-party websites and organizations. In many cases, third-party websites make the search easier as they are not limited geographically or by technological limitations. They are considered a good place to start when looking for a specific record or multiple records. In order to gain access to these records, interested parties must typically provide:
- The name of the person listed in the record. Juveniles are typically exempt from this search method.
- The last known or assumed location of the person listed in the record. This includes cities, counties, and states.
While third-party sites offer such services, they are not government sponsored entities, and record availability may vary on these sites when compared to government sources.
Types of Courts in the District of Columbia
There are only two levels of courts in the District of Columbia. These are the Superior Court ( DC Superior Court) and Court of Appeals (DC Court of Appeals). The Superior Court is the trial court of general jurisdiction in the capital city. It tries and decides all types of cases in the city, including but not limited to criminal, civil, probate, landlord-tenant, tax, traffic, family, and small claims cases. The DC Superior Court is headed by a chief judge working with sixty-one associate judges. It also has twenty-four magistrate judges who assist the court in dispensing its duty, and other retired judges giving support services depending on recommendation and approval as senior judges. The Court of Appeals is the apex court in the city. It reviews and ultimately decides appeals given from the Superior Court. The DC Court of Appeals also consists of appellate jurisdiction over case decisions from administrative boards, commissions, and agencies in the city.
What Shows Up on Washington DC Judgment Records?
Judgment records in the District of Columbia describe the outcome of a criminal or civil case filed and adjudicated in a court of competent jurisdiction. The judgment record is physical proof of the court's adjudication, and it is a public record per the District of Columbia Freedom of Information Act.
Persons who wish to obtain Washington DC public records must visit the clerk's office during business hours and provide the case information, especially the case number and litigants' names. This information facilitates the search for records sought. Furthermore, the individual must pay court administrative fees to cover the labor cost of retrieving the documents and making copies of the judgment record. These fees are payable by cash, money order, certified check, and credit card.
Washington DC judgment records contain varying information, depending on the case type. In any way, persons who obtain Washington DC judgment records can expect to see the litigants' names, the judge's name, a short case background, and the issued judgment.
Are District of Columbia Bankruptcy Records Public?
District of Columbia bankruptcy records are open to the public. They include records of cases filed in the District of Columbia. The records are mostly financial in nature and include:
- List of assets
- Income statement
- Tax returns and transcripts
- Bank statement
- Proof of identity
- Mortgage and car loan statement
- Debt profile and
- List of creditors
Debtors can file for bankruptcy in the U.S Court of Bankruptcy, District of Columbia, to protect themselves while they liquidate assets to offset their debts, or commit to a repayment plan spread over a duration.
Bankruptcy records in the District of Columbia are important because they contain vital documents that help the court, debtor, and creditor understand the financial situation of the debtor. It also provides the base for a repayment contract.
The District of Columbia bankruptcy records are not only accessible by the creditor, debtor, or attorney. The moment a person or business files a bankruptcy case in the District of Columbia, their names are entered into the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) database. Anyone can open a PACER account to view court files. It also means anyone with a PACER account can view your bankruptcy records in the District of Columbia.
Information in the bankruptcy records of the District of Columbia that is available to the general public does not include the Social Security Number, Date of Birth, and residential address of the debtor or full name of the children.
Bankruptcy records and associated recordings, including contracts, District of Columbia Liens, writs and judgments, can be made available to interested and eligible persons from their respective custodians. However, requestors may be required to provide the information required to facilitate the search and cover the cost for the duplication of the record of interest.
How to Find Bankruptcy Records in District of Columbia
District of Columbia bankruptcy records can be obtained from federal courts, credit reporting agencies, and other third-party websites. Bankruptcy records in the District of Columbia (D.C.) are created by the United States Bankruptcy Court, District of Columbia, during bankruptcy proceedings. Bankruptcy cases begin when an individual, business, or company has financial debts that they are unable to pay and declares bankruptcy by filing a petition with the federal court. These parties file the bankruptcy claim for protection, and the court, via a trustee, uses their declared incomes and assets to pay the creditors.
Unlike some legal issues resolved in the District of Columbia Courts, bankruptcy is a right provided by federal law. Therefore, it is addressed in a federal bankruptcy court. The records during these hearings are public records matters that contain details of case activities in different formats, including physical documents, electronic records, transcripts, etc.
Can You Look Up Court Cases in the District of Columbia?
Yes, members of the public may perform DC court case lookups for public court records. The Case Search facilities provided by both the DC Superior Court and the Court of Appeals may be used for this purpose. Each of the online portals requires the requester to have some information with which the cases may be identified. Such information includes the case number, name of case parties, case type, case date details, etc.
To look up court cases in the Court of Appeals, interested persons may visit the Appellate Courts Case Management System (CMS). The CMS, or C-Track, allows users to look up appellate court case information via its search facility. The Case Search and Participant Search options on the C-Track ensure that requesters find the case information with the available details.
The District of Columbia Superior Court case information may be looked up via the eAccess portal. Like the C-Track, users may also conduct their case searches with either the case number or the parties' names. Sometimes, a user may encounter outdated or inaccurate information on the eAccess website. As stated on the eAccess portal welcome page, the Superior Court will not be held liable for such inconsistencies. Note that to view case documents on the eAccess; a user needs to use a browser that can natively view PDF files. Alternatively, users may download the Acrobat Reader for free.
District of Columbia Court Case Lookup Exemptions
The District of Columbia Freedom of Information Act, DC sections §§ 2-531-539, gives anyone the right to access government records. All records of every public entity of the government in the District of Columbia, including the executive and legislative branch, are open to public inspection and retrieval.
However, some public records may not be unavailable to the public due to statutory provisions. These restrictions include documents or portions of records that fall under D.C. Code § 2-534. Records legally exempted from public records searches in the District of Columbia include: memoranda and notes used in making decisions in judicial proceedings, juvenile's cases, sexual assault, or company secrets contained in court records, divorce records, child custody records, civil harassment records, and criminal records. The exemption does not hinder disclosure of information necessary for a background check on an individual, albeit the state may severely redact the record to protect sensitive information.
How to Find a Court Docket in the District of Columbia
A District of Columbia court docket is a chronological listing of filings and proceedings that occurred in court cases in District of Columbia, from the initial complaints to the final judge's verdict. Items filed with the court are recorded and numbered on a docket sheet. It is maintained by the clerk of court offices. They are used to record case proceedings to enable easy access by record seekers. Generally, dockets enable the location of brief entries of court proceedings filed with a court. With a court docket:
- Case party can know the status and hearing dates of their case.
- Members of the public can inspect or obtain copies of court records.
- An attorney can track their cases to know court dates.
- Judges can view the list of cases scheduled for hearings and an employer can run quick background checks on intending employees.
Civil vs Small Claims Courts in DC: Understanding the Difference
Civil cases in the District of Columbia include lawsuits between entities involving certain monetary claims. Civil cases are heard and decided by the Civil Division of the District of Columbia Superior Court. The Civil Division is further divided into three branches, including the Civil Action Branch, the Landlord and Tenant Branch, and the Small Claims and Conciliation Branch.
The Civil Action Branch handles civil matters in which the monetary claim in dispute is $10,000 and above. This is with the exception of certain cases under the exclusive jurisdiction of a federal court. The Civil Action branch is also commonly known as the Office of the Civil Clerk. The Landlord and Tenant Branch handle landlord and tenant matters under civil cases. Note that due to the effects of COVID-19, all civil case hearings are now only conducted remotely.
Small Claims cases in the District of Columbia refer to cases involving monetary claims of not more than $10,000. They are handled by the Washington DC Small Claims Court, also known as the Small Claims and Conciliation Division, of the DC Superior Court. Generally, small claims cases are treated with simpler and less formal procedures. A plaintiff filing a small claims case does not necessarily need a legal representative. Self-representation is allowed in such cases except for businesses, which are required to have an attorney.
However, a person who is not up to 18 years of age or a person considered incompetent cannot file a case in the Small Claims division. Incompetence here means that the judge does not believe the plaintiff can make legal decisions for himself. An underage or incompetent plaintiff may file a small claims suit through a representative of "next of friend". Requesting for jury hearings is allowed for cases filed in the Small Claims cases division. Such a request is required to be in a written format, signed, and filed with the Clerk Office of the Small Claims Division. The request must also be filed before the first court date.
A verified answer bearing a jury hearing request is required if the jury request is from the defendant. The Small Claims Branch no longer hears cases approved for jury hearings. Rather, they are handled in the Civil Division of the Superior Court by an Associate Judge. Nevertheless, all cases involving jury demands are still documented in the Office of the Small Claims Clerk. Demanding for jury hearings in small claims cases attracts a filing fee of $75 unless otherwise waived.