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Are District of Columbia Court Records Public?

The District of Columbia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is the 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.

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 either in-person requests or through the online portals. 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 details of the address and contact of the different courts in the District of Columbia are listed below.

For requests to the District of Columbia Superior Court, visit:

Moultrie Courthouse
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:

Historic Courthouse 
430 E Street NW 
Washington, DC 20001 
Contact number: (202) 879-2700

Alternatively, interested entities may access court records online. 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 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.

Considered open to citizens of the United States, public records are available through both traditional government sources and 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.

How Do the District of Columbia Courts Work?

Courts in the District of Columbia are the government agencies generally responsible for the settlement of both criminal and civil disputes in the capital city. They hear and decide cases between individuals, individual versus organization, and cases between organizations. The courts provide rulings and judgments on cases according to the provisions of the law and available evidence. Hearings, trials, and appeals are handled by courts depending on their scope of jurisdiction.

The District of Columbia consists of only two levels of courts. These are the Superior Court, also known as DC Superior Court, and the Court of Appeals, also known as the DC Court of Appeals. The Superior Court of the District of Columbia is the trial court of general jurisdiction in the capital city. It hears and decides all kinds of cases in the city, including criminal, civil, probate, landlord-tenant, tax, traffic, family, and small claims cases. The DC Superior Court is presided over by a chief judge working with 61 associate judges. It also has 24 Magistrate judges who assist the court, and other retired judges rendering support services based on recommendation and approval as senior judges.

The Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia is the highest court in the city. It reviews and ultimately decides appeals sent from the Superior Court. The DC Court of Appeals also has appellate jurisdiction over case decisions from administrative boards, commissions, and agencies in the city.

What Are Civil Court and Small Claims  in Washington DC?

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 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.

What Are Appeals And Court Limits in Washington DC?

Court appeals are requests to an appellate court to review a decision made by a court of lower jurisdiction. In most cases, any party who does not find a court's decision satisfactory may file an appeal to a higher court. Appeals are usually made through a written document to persuade the appellate court to reverse the decision in favor of the appellant. However, such appeals are made only based on a valid reason, such as an error in law. The appellate court has the authority to decide whether to affirm, modify, or reverse the lower court's decision.

In the District of Columbia, all appeals from the DC Superior Court are heard and decided by the DC Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals usually does not conduct fresh hearings or take new evidence on appealed cases. Instead, it reviews the Superior Court's decisions and gives an ultimate ruling based on the correctness of the judgment according to the law.

How Do I Find My Case Number in the District of Columbia?

In the District of Columbia, a case number is a unique identifier for every court case. It may be possible for two or more cases to involve parties with similar names and other details. As such, a case number proves the best way to identify a case, given that no two cases can have the same case number. Case numbers also indicate some vital information about a case, such as the year of filing, type of case, etc. It is a crucial detail when trying to search for or obtain copies of court records.

To find a case number in the District of Columbia, an interested person must have other details that can identify the particular case in question. The requester may obtain the case number by searching for court case information using the Name Search criteria. For case numbers of cases filed with the DC Superior Court, the user may conduct a case search by name on the eAccess portal.

For appellate cases, the case number may be displayed as part of the search results when a user conducts a Name Search on the Appellate Courts CMS. If a search matches multiple cases, the cases will be listed in the search results. The requester may then select the particular case in question and view further details about it.

Can You Look Up Court Cases in the District of Columbia?

Individuals may look up information about court cases in the District of Columbia online. 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, otherwise known as C-Track, allows its 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.

Does the District of Columbia Hold Remote Trials?

Due to the events and effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the District of Columbia Courts are authorized to hold remote trials. This approach was adopted to help minimize the health risks posed by the spread of the coronavirus.

As stated in the Superior Court Remote Hearing Information page, most remote hearings conducted by the Superior Courts are accessible to the public. Interested persons may join via WebEx, a video conference application, or via phone. The WebEx remote meeting may be accessed with a laptop, desktop, smartphone, tablet, or iPad. For access with a computer, a user may click directly on the court's WebEx URL. Alternatively, the user may visit the WebEx page and enter the Meeting ID for the particular remote hearing.

Participants who are smartphone users may download and install the WebEx app from the App Store. The WebEx app is named Cisco WebEx Meetings on the App Store. A participant who connects to a remote hearing via WebEx is usually placed on hold pending admission into the court clerk's hearing. All participants must abide by the meeting regulations, which may include self-identification, muting of microphone, etc.

What Is the District of Columbia Court of Appeals?

The District of Columbia Court of Appeals is the court of the highest level in the capital city. It decides cases appealed from the DC Superior Court. It also has the legal right to review decisions from administrative bodies of the government. Apart from its appellate responsibilities, the DC Court of Appeals also reviews the Superior Court's proposed rules. It also regulates and oversees its member attorneys.

What Is the District of Columbia Superior Court?

The District of Columbia Superior Court is the capital city's trial court and holds jurisdiction over all civil and criminal cases. Cases appealed from the Superior Court are decided by the Court of Appeals. The Superior Court is made up of about eight divisions, with each division carrying out responsibilities assigned by the court. The divisions include:

  • Civil division, which consists of the Landlord and Tenant Branch, and the Small Claims Branch
  • Criminal division
  • Domestic Violence division
  • Multi-Door Dispute Resolution division
  • Family Court
  • Tax division
  • Probate division
  • Special Operations
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Results are based upon available information from state, county and municipal databases, and may not include some or all of the above details.

B.F. Hastings Building in Sacramento circa 1853 – 1st Building of the Supreme Court

The United States Supreme Court was built, in its modern form, between 1932 and 1935.

  • The District of Columbia Court of Appeals is the court of last resort for the District of Columbia. It was established in 1970, and is located in Judiciary Square in the city of Washington DC.
  • The DC Court of Appeals has 9 judicial positions. They serve 15 year terms and are appointed by the President of the United States. It is seperate from the National Court System.
  • The Superior Court of the District of Columbia has 62 judges. They also serve 15 year terms.
  • They serve as the court of general jurisdiction in the area of Washington DC.

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