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What are Criminal Court Records?
Criminal court records contain all the information and documents maintained by courts in criminal cases filed by a prosecutor against a person accused of a crime. It also includes documents and information created and maintained by the court in the course of criminal proceedings. Depending on the status of the criminal case, the records may also contain the findings and decision of the court.
Understanding the Georgia Criminal Court System
The Judicial system in Georgia consists of 3 levels of court: the supreme court, the court of appeals and trial courts. Although there are 6 classes of trial courts in Georgia, each one exercises jurisdiction over specific matters. Trial courts in Georgia include the Superior court, Juvenile courts, Probate courts, Municipal court, Magistrate court, and State court.
- The Georgia Supreme Court, founded in 1845, is the highest court of the State, also described as the court of last resort for all cases unless the case is a matter relating to the interpretation of federal Constitutional law. The Supreme court hears appeals on criminal and civil cases from the court of appeals, although it has the discretion on whether or not to hear such appeals. Appeals on matters involving capital punishment (murder case for which a death penalty has been or could have been imposed) may be brought before the court as well as other matters on which the Supreme court has exclusive appellate jurisdiction such as cases involving questions on the Georgia state constitution and the constitutionality of Georgia legislation, writ of habeas corpus (involving the unlawful detention of a person) and election petitions.
- The Georgia Court of Appeals has jurisdiction over appeals from trial courts and appeals on which the Supreme court has no exclusive jurisdictions. A person may approach the Court of appeals after a criminal conviction is pronounced by the trial court, with the aim of overturning the conviction or reducing their sentences.
- Georgia Superior Court is organized into 49 circuits in total, all over Georgia. As a court with general jurisdiction, it has the authority to hear criminal and civil cases. Superior courts have exclusive jurisdiction to hear felony cases, (except for those involving a juvenile offense that may also be brought before a juvenile court) and certain appeals from courts of limited jurisdiction. Unlike appeal cases before the Superior and the Court of Appeals, evidence may be presented before the Superior courts. Depending on the circumstances or peculiarities of a case, appeals before Superior court may become a trial de novo (A new trial of the case).
- The Georgia State court is a court of limited jurisdiction with authority to hear criminal misdemeanor cases and some civil cases outside the exclusive jurisdiction of the Superior court, The court may also hear appeals on certain cases from the Magistrate court.
- The Georgia Magistrate has limited jurisdiction, meaning it cannot hear certain criminal cases. However, the court has the authority to refer a felony case to the Superior court or a misdemeanor to a state court after determining that there is probable cause or the charges against the accused person were strong enough to go to trial in those courts. This is described as a preliminary hearing or a commitment hearing, under the Uniform Magistrate Court rules. The Magistrate Court does not declare the guilt or acquittal of the defendant, rather, it determines whether or not the case against them is sufficient to stand at a trial.
- Probate courts hear matters relating to wills and administration of estates, while the juvenile courts hear matters concerning juvenile delinquency and related matters. Municipal courts have jurisdiction over traffic violations, ordinance violations and if authorized by law, they may hear certain criminal and civil cases and also hold criminal preliminary hearings.
What’s included in a Criminal Court Record?
Criminal court records contain all the information and documents filed and presented in courts by the prosecution and the defendant, as well as orders, findings, decisions, and judgment of the court. The Clerk of the trial court is required to transmit the complete records of the trial court on a particular case to the Court of Appeals, in a required format once the matter is filed for an appeal.
The records of the trial court may include
- Court index/docket provides general information on a criminal case including the name of the defendant and the case number,
- The name of the defendant
- Date of filing
- Records of pre-trial hearings
- Name of the trial court and Judge(s)
- Witness testimonies
- Sworn affidavits
- Records of opening and closing statements
- Evidence presented by both the state and the defendant including physical, oral and documentary evidence
- Minutes of court activities for a specific court date.
- Transcript of the trial
- Orders and rulings during trial
- Jury charge
- Final orders or judgment and sentencing
Obtaining Criminal Court Records
Criminal trial courts are courts of records meaning all documents filed and received by the court as well as records of criminal proceedings are deposited in the office of the Court clerk who is the custodian of all such documents and information and has the legal responsibility for keeping, maintaining and providing access to such records. Criminal Court records are public records under the Georgia open records Act and are generally accessible except when specifically excluded under the law.
How Do I Access Georgia State Criminal Court Records in Person?
Understanding the Georgia court system may provide an interested person with direction on which court may have heard the criminal matter of interest, considering the jurisdiction of each court. Under the open records Act, any interested person may obtain physical copies of criminal court records from a Georgia court by finding and approaching the court in which the case was heard and/or determined and following the necessary steps including
- Obtaining and providing the case number. The case number is the easiest way to locate a criminal court record. This may be found on the court docket or court index, arranged alphabetically. Apart from the case number, the name of the defendant can also be very useful in locating and confirming that the correct case file is obtained
- Submit records request form. The interested person will be required to submit a request in writing. The court clerk would usually provide or direct the interested person to obtain and fill out a request form for that purpose.
- Search through and obtain copies of records of interest. The court clerk would usually pull out the case file, on the computer, if located for physical inspection by the interested person.
- Pay fees for copying. Obtaining copies of court records may attract a fee.
How do I Obtain Georgia Criminal Court Records by Phone?
An interested person may contact a criminal court by phone to obtain information on a criminal court record. The Clerk may require some information including the name, date of birth of the defendant, the case number and some information about the interested person.
It is important to note that the Court of Appeals does not keep the records of a trial court beyond a specific period, approximately a year, but certain records may remain in the permanent records of the court. An interested person is advised to call the Archive of the Appeals Court before to find out if the records of interest are available before requesting for them.
To obtain records from a Court of Appeals, the interested person must first obtain the case number and then look through the searchable pdf, focusing on the year the case was docketed by the Court of Appeals. Information obtained on the pdf file will be useful in obtaining the records of interest from the archive.
How to Find Georgia State Criminal Court Records Online?
- Visit an official website. the Georgia Court records are accessible online on the E-Access to Court records page on the official website of the Judicial Council of Georgia, Administrative Office of the Courts.
- Select the County of Interest. The page provides a list of all counties in Georgia and a link to each county’s service provider access page.
- Register to gain access. The service provider, Peachcourt, requires the interested person to register their email address and password to create an account before they are granted access to court records and available information.
- Alternatively, and interested persons may visit each court's official website and click on the case search window.
- Obtain court records on a third party website
Publicly available records are accessible from some third-party websites. These websites offer the benefit of not being limited by geographical record availability and can often serve as a starting point when researching specific or multiple records. To find a record using the search engines on these sites, interested parties must provide:
- The name of someone involved providing it is a not a juvenile
- The assumed location of the record in question such as a city, county, or state name
Third party sites are not government sponsored websites, and record availability may differ from official channels.
Are all Georgia Criminal Court Records Public?
Not all Georgia criminal records are accessible to the general public. It is generally presumed that all Georgia State Criminal Records are public records under the open records Act. However, the law and the rules of the court put certain limits on the types of records that may be publicly accessible. For instance, juvenile delinquency records are restricted from public view except for juvenile felony cases, the juvenile court has some discretion on certain sensitive matters concerning a young person under its jurisdiction.
A court may issue an order restricting access to certain criminal records, on due cause permitted under the law and the Rules of Court. Rule 21 of the Uniform Rules of the Georgia Superior Courts provides for procedures for appealing an order of court limiting access to court records.
Records that may also be restricted or redacted from public view include
- Records of pending investigations
- Records that may disclose confidential information on witnesses or other persons collected by law enforcement or prosecution and put such person in danger, or records that may disclose confidential surveillance information.
- Trade or business secrets, or proprietary information
- Victim’s confidential information
- Sealed or restricted criminal court records
- Name of a person younger than 18 years of age
- Financial account numbers, the last 4 digits may be permissible
How do I find Georgia State Criminal Public Records for Free?
It is possible to view criminal court records for free on the court website or at the court location, however, courts would usually charge a fee for obtaining copies of records. The fees for copying may vary, depending on the court and the County in which it is located. The fees for records of the Court of Appeals
- $50 for records less than 501 pages
- $100 for records and transcripts of more than 500 pages but less than 2001pages
- $150 for records and transcripts of over 2000 pages but less than 4001
- $250 for records and transcripts of more than 4000 pages
The Court of Appeals fees is charged to a party rather than individuals, such that once the attorney for the appellant has paid the fees, other attorneys for that party may access the records for no additional fees,
Can I Access Sealed Criminal Court Records?
If eligible, a person may successfully restrict public access to their criminal records by following one of the 2 applicable paths for sealing available under Georgia laws, depending on whether they were arrested prior to July 1, 2013, or after July 1, 2013. A sealed record is successful once it is restricted from the public view by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and a Georgia prosecutor has approved a case for expungement.
Sealed or expunged records are generally no longer available to the general public, private businesses or licensing boards but remain accessible to judicial officers and criminal justice agencies and may be used or considered in the course of an investigation.
The criminal records restrictions do not automatically extend to court records, a person who has successfully restricted their records may file a petition at the trial court to seal their criminal court records as required under the Georgia Code. The court would usually determine if the public interest would suffer at all in comparison with the possible damage to the individual if an order to restrict the records is not granted. The court will order in favor of the petitioner because the harm to them outweighs public interest and reject the petition or otherwise.
What Records are Automatically Sealed by Georgia Statute?
- Juvenile records are automatically sealed once a juvenile delinquency complaint has been dismissed by the court. All records pertaining to the complaint including fingerprint, arrest, and pictures taken by law enforcement agencies are deleted.
- When the juvenile proceedings are conducted by informal adjustment and the juvenile has completed the adjustment. The court would usually order that their juvenile records be sealed.
- An adult’s criminal record may be automatically restricted prior to an indictment if 2 years have elapsed and the prosecutor is yet to file charges for a misdemeanor, 4 years for offenses minor nonviolent and non-sexual offenses and 7 years have elapsed without an indictment for a felony or sexually motivated crime. Automatic restriction of records prior to an indictment is usually temporary and may resurface once the case is disposed of
- Records may be automatically restricted if a person is found not guilty by the trial court or acquitted of the criminal charges against them, or all the criminal charges were dismissed by the court.
Are Trial Transcripts Open to the Public?
Once filed by the court reporter, court transcripts become part of the documents created and maintained by the court clerk on court proceedings. Transcripts are public documents, accessible as open records and may be viewed or copied by an interested person provided they meet the necessary criteria for obtaining records, including submitting a written request and paying applicable copying fees, unless the court determines that the confidentiality of the transcript outweighs the public interest.
How Do I Obtain Federal Criminal Court Records Online?
The United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia provides online access to case records through the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER). For older cases, an interested person may follow the instruction for ordering records on NARA, for ordering records by mail, fax or E-mail and
- visit the National Archive website,
- select order reproduction
- click on court records
- Choose the case type of interest.
Note, it is advisable to first obtain information on the accession and case file location number of the case of interest from the pdf list provided on the court’s website, before placing an order for public records on NARA or contact the court’s contact division office.