In order to keep the public well-informed and keep the judicial system in check, the records, documentation, transcripts, videos, etc., that pertain to a hearing or trial should be made accessible to the public…although a few exceptions sometimes apply for specific reasons. In fact, you can request a copy of a court transcript or download it directly from the District Court where the trial was held; all you need is the code and status of the filed case.

However, not all cases get the same treatment when it comes to public accessibility. In addition to information being sealed or redacted, some case records can be completely erased—as long as they follow certain criteria.

Cases Subject to Deletion

When requesting a court record from a District Court or County Clerk, you expect to be given the record without issue. Unfortunately, you may be surprised if the clerk responds to your request by saying the record doesn’t exist.

Doesn’t exist? How can that be? You know the person who was on trial and witnessed parts of the hearing, so how can the records not exist?

Well, depending on the nature, time frame, and outcome of the case, the records may not exist because they were deleted…at least from public access. Police, court, and prosecutorial records are summarily erased in certain situations to protect the reputation of the accused. When a case satisfies one of the following stipulations, the public record associated with that case is deleted.

  • More than 20 days passed since the defendant was acquitted or the case was dismissed (without the pursuance of an appeal), or it has been at least 13 months since the prosecution dropped the case with a nolle prosequi decision.
  • The case’s defendant was granted an absolute pardon.
  • The primary charge associated with the case for which the defendant was convicted was decriminalized.
  • The case’s defendant was a minor and was discharged from the court’s supervision once he satisfied his responsibilities or reached legal age.
  • The person involved applied for and received expungement of a specific criminal record.

When “Gone” Doesn’t Really Mean “Gone Forever”

It’s important to recognize that when records are removed from public access, they may not be completely purged from the state’s files. Prosecutors and law enforcement officers may be able to obtain access to non-public records in performance of their duties.

There are also alternative sources of information that cannot be suppressed. Attorney’s notes and records are not confiscated even when a case is sealed, but attorney-client privilege prevents those materials from being shared. A richer source for a researcher may be press news reports. The information explosion of recent years means that most newspaper and magazine articles are archived in some form somewhere, and those reports may shed light on a legal proceeding that is currently closed to public review.

Information Wants to Be Free

For more information on transcript accessibility or further court record inquiries, please browse our extensive collection of informative blogs. We strive to educate our readers by thinking outside the box. Expand your boundaries by learning more about the legal system and joining the discussion.

In the comment section provided, feel free to write a few sentences on how you feel about court record limitations and requirements. Should public records be erased for certain cases? Should the outcome of a case determine whether the public has the right to study it or learn from it? We’re eager to hear what you have to say.

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