HOW DO I SEARCH FLORIDA COURT RECORDS?
In accordance with the Florida Public Records Law, citizens have the right to inspect and copy most Florida state courts' records and documents from the custodians. Each court in the state serves as the custodian of its own records hence, requestors may obtain these court records as follow:
- Visit the courthouse where the case is filed with a written request to the Clerk of the Court (usually a request form is available at the office)
- Determine the court's website to find the link to search electronic copies of case records (visit the Florida State Courts page for links to courts' websites)
Note that citizen right to access these court records is not absolute as court records deemed confidential or sealed by the law or court order may not be made available. Expunged criminal records and juvenile case information fall into this category. Clerks of Courts may charge a nominal fee to copy available court records and an additional fee to certified copies.
HOW TO GET FLORIDA COURT RECORDS ONLINE FOR FREE?
The electronic formats of court records are the only copies deemed free but note that these copies are not certified hence may not be accepted as true copies. Florida state courts provide these electronic copies as a service to the public when a certified copy is required, visit the local court where the case was filed.
To access these electronic case records from the Florida appellate courts, visit the individual website of each court and select Case Information or Online Docket link on the webpage. Links to these websites are provided on the Florida Courts page, alternatively access each from the links below:
- Florida Supreme Court
- First District Court of Appeal
- Second District Court of Appeal
- Third District Court of Appeal
- Fourth District Court of Appeal
- Fifth District Court of Appeal
The search tools on these pages allow users to query the database by a number of filters including:
- Case number
- Cases filed
- Date filed
- Party or attorney
- Lower tribunal case number
To access electronic copies of case records from the 67 County Courts in the state, use the Links to the Circuit Courts found on the Florida Courts website to reach individual county's courthouse webpage. Alternatively, visit the county's courthouse website by selecting the relevant county from the list below.
- Indian River
- Palm Beach
- St. John
- St. Lucie
- Santa Rosa
Court records are considered open to the public and are usually accessible through government sources, though they may also be accessed through third-party websites. These websites offer an easier method in most cases, as they are not limited by geographical area, or by limitations in search engine technology. They can often serve as a starting point when looking for a specific record, or multiple records. Interested parties must usually provide:
- The name of the person listed in the record. This may not apply to records on juveniles.
- The assumed or known location of the person listed in the record. This will most often be a city, county, or state.
Because they are not government-sponsored, record availability on third party websites may vary when compared to government sources.
HOW DOES THE FLORIDA COURT SYSTEM WORK?
The Florida court system operates on four levels consisting of the Supreme Court, five district courts of appeal, 20 circuit courts, and 67 county courts. Each of these levels plays a distinct role in providing justice to the citizenry. The Supreme Court serves as the court of last resort (the state's highest court), while the five district courts serve as the intermediate appellate court. Florida Trial Court system is made up of the circuit courts and the county courts.
Florida Circuit Courts reserves the general jurisdiction over all criminal and civil matters. However, in practice, the Circuit Courts handle cases beyond the jurisdiction of the County Courts. The jurisdiction of the County Courts is limited to certain kinds of criminal and civil cases. Note, the Miami-Dade County trial court system is organized differently with jurisdiction divided between the courts.
WHAT ARE FLORIDA APPELLATE COURTS?
Florida appellate courts include the Supreme Court that is the highest in the state and five Districts Courts of Appeal.
HOW DOES THE SUPREME COURT OF FLORIDA WORK?
This is the highest appellate court in the state and it is composed of a Chief Justice and six Justices. Each justice is selected by a direct election of the people to serve a six-year term. To stand for election, the person must be a registered voter in Florida and must have practice law in the state for the last 10 years. A minimum of five of these justices is required to sit for every case with four agreeing before reaching a decision.
The Supreme Court of Florida has some flexibility to its jurisdiction as set out in the state constitution. This allows the Legislature to increase or decrease categories of cases under its jurisdiction. While the court exercise mandatory appellate jurisdiction in a few cases, it has discretionary appellate jurisdiction in most cases. Cases, where the court has mandatory jurisdiction, include appeals of death penalty conviction and appeals of District Court of Appeals decision declaring invalid a state statute or constitutional provision. Similarly, there are matters where the court has original and exclusion jurisdiction,examples of such matters include "extraordinary writs".
HOW DOES THE DISTRICT COURT OF APPEAL WORK?
As obtained in most states in the U.S., Florida's District Courts of Appeal serve as the intermediate level of appellate review between the trial courts and the Florida Supreme Court. Florida's District Court of Appeal was created in 1957. Prior to this, appeal cases were handled by the state Supreme Court. Consequently, most of trial court decisions that are appealed are never heard by the Supreme Court.
As a general rule, a Florida District Court of Appeal decision is taken as the final appellate review of any litigated case. Though displeased party may appeal such decision in the Florida Supreme Court and then in the United State Supreme Court. These higher courts are not required to accept such cases for further review and in practice, most are denied. This is due to the fact that the Florida Supreme Court has predominantly discretionary jurisdiction, meaning it can choose which cases it wants to hear. Note, death penalty cases are directly and automatically appealed to the Florida Supreme Court, bypassing the District Courts of Appeal.
With regards to the state constitution, it is required that the State be divided into appellate court districts with a court of appeal serving each district. The five District Courts of Appeal in Florida are headquartered in Daytona, Lakeland, Miami, Tallahassee, and West Palm Beach.
Cases brought before each District Court of Appeal are reviewed by a panel of three judges. The appointment of judges to the District Courts of Appeal follows the same requirements for the appointment of Justices of the Supreme Court. A Chief Judge is also selected by the district court judges in each district to oversee the administration of the courts in the district. The jurisdiction of Florida District Courts of Appeal as outlined in Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.030.
WHAT ARE FLORIDA TRIAL COURTS?
Florida has a simple two-tiered trial court system comprising the Circuit Courts and the County Courts.
HOW DOES THE FLORIDA CIRCUIT COURT WORK?
The Florida court system has 20 judicial circuits and the constitution provides that a circuit court be established to serve each judicial circuit. These Circuit Courts are the trial courts of general jurisdiction in Florida. In practice, the circuit courts hear appeals cases from the county courts and case not assigned to the county courts by statute. Most circuits are made up of multiple counties except for the Eleventh Circuit (Miami-Dade), Thirteenth Circuit (Hillsborough), Fifteenth Circuit (Palm Beach), Sixteenth Circuit (Monroe), and Seventeenth Circuit (Broward).
Judges of the Circuit Courts are elected by voters of the counties within the circuit in a nonpartisan election. Before contesting, the candidate seeking the position of a circuit judge must have been admitted to practice law in the state for at least five years. In each judicial circuit, a chief judge is appointed to oversee all the trial courts (both circuit and county courts) within the circuit.
The jurisdiction of Florida Circuit Courts covers the following matters:
- Civil cases with claims more than $30,000
- Family law case,
- Juvenile matters
- Probate, guardianship, and mental health cases
- Appeals of certain county court decisions
HOW DOES THE FLORIDA COUNTY COURT WORK?
Florida Constitution establishes a county court for each of the 67 counties in the state. Referred to as "the people's courts" due to a greater part of the courts' dealing including a large number of traffic matters, misdemeanors, and disputes of relatively small monetary claims.
Appointment of judges to these courts is by the membership of the Florida Bar (for at least five years) and/or election by the county residents. Also, the population size of each county and the caseload determines the number of judges in each county court. Each judge is eligible to serve a six-year term.
The jurisdiction of Florida county courts is limited over certain types of criminal and civil matters. This jurisdiction as established by statute include:
- Most misdemeanors and violations of municipal and county ordinances,
- Some juvenile traffic cases,
- Most civil and equity cases when the amount in controversy is less than $15,000 (extended to $30,000 beginning january 1, 2020),
- Concurrent jurisdiction with circuit courts over most landlord-tenant cases,
- Simplified or uncontested divorce and civil dissolution cases.
HOW DOES THE MIAMI-DADE COUNTY COURT WORK?
Courts organization in Miami-Dade County is unique to it, with the jurisdiction of Circuit Court and County Court merged. Miami-Dade County Courts are segregated into divisions comprising Civil Court, Criminal Court, Family Court, Probate and Mental Health Court, Juvenile Court, and Traffic Court. Miami-Dade Civil and Criminal Courts have two division each with the following jurisdiction:
- Miami-Dade Circuit Civil Division hears most civil cases with dispute claim above $30,000,
- Miami-Dade County Civil Division hears general civil cases with dispute claim below $30,000, landlord-tenant matters, and small claims, where damages sought range from $.01 to $8,000
- Miami-Dade Circuit Criminal Division hears cases of felonies and related criminal cases
- Miami-Dade Circuit Civil Division hears misdemeanor criminal cases, certain civil infractions, and municipal ordinance violations
Miami-Dade County also has six District Courts exercising concurrent jurisdiction in some civil cases with the Circuit Court and County Court.
HOW MANY CASES DOES THE FLORIDA COURT SYSTEM HANDLE ANNUALLY?
Approximately, three to four million cases are filed in the Florida court system annually. In 2007-08 and 2008-09 fiscal years, over 4.4 million cases were filed by lawyers and litigants in the state. This total is over 3.5 million for the most recent fiscal year reported (2017-18). Filings at the County Courts account for over two-thirds of the total cases filed yearly. Cases filed at the County Courts range between 3.1 million to 2.4 million in recent years.
Filings, Florida's Trial and Appellate Courts, Fiscal Years 2008 - 2009 to 2017 - 2018
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Data Provided by Florida State Courts