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HOW DO I SEARCH NORTH DAKOTA COURT RECORDS?

North Dakota makes court records available on request to the public in compliance with the North Dakota Open Records Statutes. These records are available in paper and electronic formats and can be obtained from several parts of the state judicial system without having to provide an intention of need. Some court records have been sealed or expunged in line with a state or federal law. Therefore, such records will not be available for access. To obtain available court records in North Dakota, requestors may:

  • Visit the local courthouse to obtain a paper copy
  • Visit the local courthouse to view an electronic copy of a court record from a public access terminal
  • Remotely access electronic court records online through the North Dakota Courts website

Note that copying a court record from the courthouses will attract a nominal fee. To determine the location and contacts of any courthouse in the state, use the ‘Court Location' page on the North Dakota Judiciary website.

HOW TO OBTAIN NORTH DAKOTA COURT RECORDS ONLINE FOR FREE?

Obtaining North Dakota Court records is not free. However, requestors may access electronic copies of some court records for free through the North Dakota Courts website. Where a particular court record cannot be found online, or a requestor prefers to obtain certified copies, a visit to the local courthouse where the record in question is on file will be necessary.

The public can access electronic copies of case information from North Dakota District Courts and some Municipal Courts through the North Dakota Courts website. The website provides access to case information for criminal, traffic, and civil cases through its District Court Case Search tool. Users can search for case information by these options:

  • Case Number
  • Case Cross Reference Number
  • Defendant (default)
  • Citation Number
  • Attorney (by Name)
  • Attorney (by Bar Number)
  • Date Filed

To perform a search, select the location (the county of the local courthouse where the record is on file) under the different judicial districts in the “select a location” drop-down menu. A search by party name requires specifying the first name and the last name. Specifying only the citation number, or case number is enough to perform a search by citation number, and case number respectively.

Opinions of the North Dakota Supreme Court can be accessed online from the docket search link on the state courts website. Opinions can be searched by:

  • Docket number
  • Title
  • Citation
  • Author
  • Topic

Note that not all courts are participating in the North Dakota Courts Records Inquiry (NDCRI) system, and that only case information is available for free through the system. To obtain actual court documents, visit the relevant courthouse. A list of all participating courts in the NDCRI system can be found on the courts on the odyssey page of the North Dakota courts website.

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 NORTH DAKOTA COURT SYSTEM WORK?

There are three levels in the North Dakota Court system namely; The Supreme Court, the District Courts, and the Municipal Courts. The trial courts are the District Courts and the Municipal Courts. The District Courts have general jurisdiction over civil and criminal cases while the Municipal Courts are courts of limited jurisdiction.

North Dakota established a Temporary Court of Appeals to help lighten the caseload on the Supreme Court. Therefore, the Temporary Court of Appeals only handle appeals transferred to it from the Supreme Court. However, there are years in which the Supreme Court does not transfer any cases to the Court of Appeals

Appeals from the District Courts are filed with the Supreme Court which is the highest court in the state. North Dakota also has special courts like the Domestic Violence Courts and the Adult Hybrid DWI/Drug Courts.

HOW DOES THE NORTH DAKOTA DISTRICT COURT WORK?

North Dakota District Courts are the trial courts of general jurisdiction over all civil and criminal cases. The courts also have appellate jurisdiction of first instance over decisions of several administrative agencies. In this appellate capacity, the District Courts do not conduct a new trial but only review the record of the administrative proceeding of the agency involved.

District Courts may also serve as juvenile courts in instances where a minor is suspected to have acted delinquently, unruly, or is deprived. District Courts are authorized to issue original and remedial writs in North Dakota. Other jurisdictions cover cases involving:

  • Domestic relations matters
  • Small claims matters
  • Probate matters

North Dakota's 53 counties are divided into eight judicial districts within four administrative units. A Presiding Judge is elected by peers and is assigned duties by the Supreme Court to oversee the assignment of cases and also administer other judicial operations within a particular district. North Dakota's judicial districts are:

  • North-West Judicial District: Divide, Williams, McKenzie
  • North-Central Judicial District: Burke, Mountrail, Ward
  • North-East Judicial District: Renville, Bottineau, Rolette, Towner, Cavalier, Pembina, McHenry, Pierce, Benson, Ramsey, Walsh
  • South-Central Judicial District: McLean, Sheridan, Mercer, Oliver, Morton, Grant, Sioux, Emmons, Burleigh
  • South-West Judicial District: Dunn, Billings, Stark, Hettinger, Slope, Bowman, Adams, Golden Valley
  • South-East Judicial District: Wells, Eddy, Foster, Griggs, Kidder, Stutsman, Barnes, Logan, Lamoure, Ransom, McIntosh, Dickey, Sargent, Richland
  • East-Central Judicial District: Steele, Traill, Cass
  • North-East Central Judicial District: Nelson, Grand Forks

The 52 District Judges in North Dakota are elected to six-year terms in non-partisan elections held in the districts where they serve.

HOW DOES THE NORTH DAKOTA MUNICIPAL COURT WORK?

North Dakota law empowers municipalities in the state to choose to establish a Municipal Court. At least 90 cities in North Dakota have Municipal Courts established within its geographical borders. Municipal Courts only handle cases involving the violation of municipal laws and ordinances such as:

  • Traffic violations
  • DWI/DUI offenses

In situations where any of the above-listed offenses are committed by a juvenile, the case will be heard in a Juvenile Court.

Also, Municipal Courts' jurisdictions do not extend to handling violations of state laws. Some of the Municipal Court Judges in the state are not licensed attorneys as that requirement is relaxed for municipalities with a population size below 5,000. In municipalities where the population exceeds 5,000, Municipal Court Judges are required to be licensed attorneys except in situations where there are no attorneys available or where the available ones have recused from serving.

There are 46 lay Municipal Court Judges and 19 legally-trained Municipal Court Judges in North Dakota Municipal Courts. Lay Municipal Court Judges must undergo the continuing education programs of the Supreme Court every year. Municipal Court trials are held before a judge without a jury.

Municipal Court Judges are elected to four-year terms and are required to be qualified electors of the cities where they serve except in cities where the population is below 5,000. Municipal Judges may serve in more than one county in line with North Dakota law.

HOW DOES THE NORTH DAKOTA JUVENILE COURT WORK?

Juvenile Courts in North Dakota are established as divisions of the District Courts. The Juvenile Courts share jurisdiction with the District Court in cases related to guardianships of minor children. Juvenile Courts handle cases involving youths between the age of 10 and 18 who have been brought before the court due to delinquency or unruly acts.

HOW DOES THE SUPREME COURT OF NORTH DAKOTA WORK?

The Supreme Court is the highest court and is headed by a Chief Justice who is the administrative leader of the judicial system of the state. The Supreme Court has appellate jurisdiction over all the lower courts and is empowered to formulate laws and regulate the practice of law, supervise the legal profession, and keep high standards of judicial conduct in the state. The Supreme Court's jurisdictions include cases involving:

  • Original proceeding application for a writ
  • Exclusive bar/judiciary matters
  • Certified question
  • Election matters

The Supreme Court consists of five Justices who are elected to 10-year terms in non-partisan elections. The elections are staggered to ensure that only one position is up for election every two years. Justices are required to be licensed attorneys and citizens of North Dakota and the United States. A Chief Justice is selected by peers among the five Justices of the Supreme Court to serve a five-year term or until the expiration of the justice's elected term.

HOW DOES THE TEMPORARY COURT OF APPEALS OF NORTH DAKOTA WORK?

North Dakota law made a provision for the establishment of a Temporary Court of Appeals to help the Supreme Court handle some appellate cases and in turn speed up the rate at which appeal cases are generally handled. Cases are not filed directly with the temporary Court of Appeals but are transferred to it from the Supreme Court. There are years in which no cases are transferred from the Supreme Court to the Court of Appeals.

Unless in rare situations, the only types of cases transferred from the Supreme Court to the Court of Appeals involve:

  • Appeals of mental-health commitment proceedings pursuant to Section 25-03.1-29 NDCC and Rule 2.1 NDRAppP
  • Appeals of decrees or modifications thereof in divorce and separation proceedings involving property distribution, child support, spousal support, and parenting rights and responsibilities
  • Appeals of misdemeanor convictions
  • Appeals involving cases originating in municipal court
  • Appeals involving cases originating in small claims court
  • Appeals involving cases originating with administrative proceedings
  • Appeals involving cases originating under Chapter 27-20, NDCC (Uniform Juvenile Court Act), Chapter 14-15, NDCC (Revised Uniform Adoption Act) and Chapter 14-17, NDCC (Uniform Parentage Act)
  • Appeals or applications for the exercise of original jurisdiction arising out of pro se applications for relief from persons incarcerated or held in custody in penal correction facilities
  • Appeals from trial court orders on motions for summary judgment

The Court of Appeals consists of three judges appointed on provisional terms for a period of up to a one-year.

WHAT ARE NORTH DAKOTA SPECIAL COURTS?

The Domestic Violence Court and the Adult Hybrid DWI/Drug Court are unique courts in North Dakota. The Domestic Violence Court aims to improve the accountability of adult defendants in intimate relationships involved in misdemeanor or felony criminal courts with court orders. The Adult Hybrid DWI/Drug Courts aim to reduce recidivism among drug addicts and substance abusers through participation in the court's programs.

Not every offender is qualified to participate in the programs. Offenders must have multiple DUI, felony drug offense, or misdemeanor offenses on record to be eligible. In rare cases, first-time offenders may qualify if they have a history of substance abuse. Drug Court programs usually involve strict supervision, drug testing, and mandatory attendance in self-help meetings.

HOW MANY CASES DOES THE NORTH DAKOTA COURT SYSTEM HANDLE ANNUALLY?

Some 180,000 cases are filed (new and re-opened) every year in North Dakota's trial courts of general jurisdiction for all civil and criminal cases. There has been a downward decline in recent years, as cases filed in 2015 totaled 209,081, and in 2017 a total of 185,439 cases were filed.

However, in 2019, the District Courts recorded 173,475 filed actions and 171,901 dispositions. A closer look at the 2019 figures reveals that the District Courts recorded 149,078 new filings, and 24,397 reopened cases. On further inspection, the total figure can be broken down into 38,556 civil cases, 4,330 small claims cases, 43,041 criminal cases, 83,478 traffic-related cases, and 4,070 juvenile cases. These are all the lowest figures the District Courts have recorded over five years except for the criminal case count which ranked in second place in that period.

Still, in 2019, the Juvenile Court recorded 2,643 unruly actions, 4,597 delinquent actions, and 2,858 deprivation actions to make a total of 10,098 filings. The figures compared with the previous year were quite close with 2,408 unruly actions, 4,332 delinquent actions, and 3,349 deprivation actions recorded to make a total of 10,089 filings in 2018.

In 2019, the North Dakota Supreme Court recorded 290 civil appeals, and 115 criminal appeals to make a total of 405 new filings. In that year, the Supreme Court disposed of 296 civil appeals, and 127 criminal appeals to make a total of 423 total dispositions. In the preceding year, a total of 439 new filings, and 461 dispositions were recorded.

No cases have been transferred from the North Dakota Supreme Court to the Temporary Court of Appeals in the last five years.

District Courts Caseload Summary: 2015 - 2019

2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
NEW AND REOPENED CASES
Civil 40,755 40,258 41,264 39,602 38,556
Small Claims 4,980 4,883 4,498 4,334 4,330
Criminal 42,583 42,160 42,545 43,850 43,041
Traffic 116,463 94,272 92,822 92,421 83,478
Juvenile 4,300 4,155 4,310 4,310 4,070
TOTALS 209,081 185,728 185,439 184,517 173,475
DISPOSITIONS
Civil 39,354 44,183 43,071 39,962 37,825
Small Claims 4,904 4,953 4,403 4,435 4,145
Criminal 46,503 46,440 46,677 47,824 40,666
Traffic 119,473 98,006 94,129 94,829 85,901
Juvenile 3,684 3,573 3,663 3,680 3,364
TOTALS 213,918 197,155 191,943 190,730 171,901

Data provided the North Dakota Judiciary

Supreme Court Caseload Summary: 2015 - 2019

2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
FILINGS
New Filings (Civil) 242 317 288 300 290
New Filings (Criminal) 114 120 155 139 115
Total New Filings 356 437 433 439 405
DISPOSITIONS
Dispositions (Civil) 295 256 310 317 296
Dispositions (Criminal) 145 114 142 144 127
Total Dispositions 440 370 453 461 423

Data provided the North Dakota Judiciary

Juvenile Court Caseload Summary: 2015 -2019

2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
Unruly 2,492 2,467 2,603 2,408 2,643
Delinquent 4,586 4,461 4,744 4,332 4,597
Deprivation 2,714 2,839 3,273 3,349 2,858
TOTALS 9,792 9,767 10,620 10,089 10,098

Data provided the North Dakota Judiciary

First names in North Dakota