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The U.S. Court System

The U.S. Court System

The United States has both a federal court system and a state-level court system. The federal courts are split further into three levels, District Court (trial courts), Circuit Court (the first level of appeal), and then the Supreme Court (the highest level of appeal in the country). Courts of appeal do not hold trials. They determine whether or not any errors were made in the original case and either uphold the decision or overturn it.

Each U.S. state has courts at the city/town, and county-level spread throughout, and each state dictates the types and number of courts based on the needs of its residents. For example, some mid-western states have Water Court to settle issues about the jurisdiction over state waterways.

Federal Courts

Federal Courts

Unlike state courts, civil cases held in federal court must concern the Constitution or federal statutes. Criminal cases held in federal courts may sometimes overlap with state courts. A defendant has the option of having his or her case tried in state court or “removed” to federal court. Another distinction about federal courts is that the judges, including Supreme Court justices, are selected by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

State Courts

State courts are run much differently than federal courts, and the judges or justices are sometimes elected, and sometimes they are appointed by the local government. State courts are allowed to process civil cases and criminal cases involving state laws. Sometimes they will begin processing a federal criminal case, but it often ends up being “removed” to federal court for finalization.

If someone is unhappy with the verdict of a state court decision, they can appeal to the state court of appeals and eventually to the state Supreme Court. Each state has a different hierarchy of courts physically located within the state. Most states have a Supreme Court and a Court of Appeals, then the state courts below those and finally any county, city, or municipality-level courts.

What are Court Records?

What are Court Records?

Court records refer to many different types of things related to a court case. They may include evidence, court filings, a docket, case files, forms, judgments, witness testimony, rule books, meeting minutes, attorneys’ paperwork, and administrative records. Court records also include dozens of other items that make up all the paperwork created by, stored, and maintained by the United States court system. They may also include electronic files stored online or in a computer database. Access to most court records is open to the public unless sealed by a judge.

Court records may also overlap with local, state, and federal law enforcement and may include things from the local Sheriff’s Office, police records, the state department of corrections facilities, and coroners’ files.

Types of Court Records

The U.S. court system has many different types of courts and just as many types of court records. Depending on the case type (civil vs. criminal), the court records may be very different. Some examples of the wide variety of court records in the U.S. are:

Types of Court Records
  • Photographs
  • Marriage certificates
  • Divorce decrees
  • Wills
  • Receipts for the division of property in an estate
  • Subpoenas
  • Writs
  • Child custody paperwork
  • Court minutes
  • Indexes
  • Witness testimony
  • Court orders
  • Arrest warrants
  • Bench warrants
  • Guardian appointments
  • Judgements
  • Case files
  • Jury records
  • Witness lists
  • Attorney files
  • Police records
  • Attorney’s arguments
  • Court summons
  • Dockets