I would venture a guess that most people have at least heard of courtroom dramas on TV such as Judge Judy. These shows are good examples of civil court dealings and types of rulings that occur in such cases. Of course, there can always be bigger cases, with “bigger” representations, such as companies, but the outcomes are similar; some form of restitution is awarded to one party while the other gets socked with the bills, or something along those lines. Courtroom drama can provide very interesting entertainment, but seriously, why would you want your “dirty civil laundry” aired to the world? Regardless…whatever the reason that you are looking for a civil record in California, it is usually possible to get one as they are considered public records.
According to the article What are Public Record civil Court Actions on eHow.com, “Every pleading that is filed in connection with the civil action becomes a matter of public record and, as such, is available for inspection.” As always though, there are exceptions to what is available for the public to view.
What Are Civil Records?
First of all, what’s considered a civil record and what does it involve? To put it simply, civil records, or civil court proceedings, involve “non-criminal litigation,” a plaintiff against a defendant. Some examples of cases include lawsuits filed by individuals or corporations, some divorces, or some civil rights violations to name a very few. In contrast with a criminal case; generally a criminal case is usually the state against an individual who has broken the laws and the individual is punished by being required to carry out some jail time or in the most extreme of cases, being executed. In a civil case, the individual is most commonly required only to pay some damages to the other person or the plaintiff.
With that in mind, a civil record would include the dealings that have been handed down from a judge and pretty much all the information about a civil case. Once the case is filed, or the first official complaint is made, a docket number is assigned to the case to help track it and for later reference. Knowing this number, or the names of the individuals involved in the case is usually necessary in obtaining a copy of the civil record.
Accessing Civil Court Records in California
To actually see these records in California: According to the Superior Court of California website, anyone can obtain a copy of a civil case. This excludes cases involving “family law, probate, small claims, traffic, appeals, juvenile traffic, unlawful detainer cases under $25,000, and juvenile cases.” There are three ways in which they advise people to go about obtaining these documents. One, you can go and view it yourself at a designated place, for the County of Sacramento it is called the Civil Records Unit. Two, you can hire an agency to retrieve the documents for you, or three, you can write to the Civil Correspondence Clerk and have them find the documents for you. This route takes about 3 weeks and there are fees for the work and copying of files. Naturally, you would need to provide information about the case that you are looking for, such as the case number. Their website also lists the fees for these services and copying the documents. One can also obtain certified copies of case files. Here, files are only kept “on-site” for three years, and then are moved elsewhere.
Keep in mind that every county will have a place for viewing these records and may have slightly different ways to obtain them so; you may have to do some research yourself about how best to get these documents. Many times, there will be ways to research these documents through online databases set up by the county.
More Methods for Accessing Civil Records
Another way to obtain court records is online, at www.cacd.uscourts.gov. This is through something called the PACER Access. This is not only for California but nation-wide and is another way for the public to gain access to case and docket information for all district, bankruptcy, and appellate courts electronically. However, you can’t just retrieve this information willy-nilly, you have to set up an account through this site that includes your name and address. But, anyone can register. This site will help you to locate the records that you are searching for. Usually, knowing the district or circuit in which the case was filed will help you to locate them quicker. To view documents in the PACER site costs $0.08 per page but the cost is capped at $2.40. Additional restrictions apply as well.
Some civil records contain “sensitive” material and are not available to the public, some information is simply removed, such as in child custody cases. According to the “Federal Rules of Civil Procedure,” personal and private information such as social security number and birth date are restricted with how they are put on the record. For example, if personal information has to be put on the record, it will only include the year for the birth date or the last four digits of the social security number.
You may have guessed that because civil records are so easily obtainable, they are probably also available through an online search provider. If you would like to obtain access to complete civil court records on anyone by simply filling in a name, visit the California records resources page for links to the top providers of civil records, criminal records, addresses, phone numbers, family records, and more.
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