Pennsylvania Court Records Search
Pennsylvania court records, as defined under 204 Pa. Code § 213.51, are the papers, photographs, dockets, books, or other documentary materials created or received by a court of law regarding a proceeding or action. These records detail the events that took place in a court case, including the identifying information of the participants and the outcome of a case. As a result, they foster transparency and accountability within the judicial system.
An individual who wants to obtain a court record in Pennsylvania may execute a court records search through a record custodian's office. Court record custodians (the clerks of courts) generally allow in-person, mail, and online searches. However, each requester must have specific details that can be used to identify a record. Examples include a case number, a defendant's first and last name, or the filing date of a case (or a date range).
Are Pennsylvania Court Records Public?
According to the Pennsylvania Right to Know Law, a public record refers to any information that documents the transactions or activities of the Commonwealth and local agencies and created, retained, or received in connection with their transactions, businesses, or activities. This law, which is the State's Freedom of information act, took effect on the 1st of January, 2009. However, the Pennsylvania Right to Know Law specifically grants members of the public access to only the financial records of judicial agencies in the state. The Public Records Policies of the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania allows access to other Pennsylvania court records.
How Do I Find Court Records in Pennsylvania?
The first step in obtaining a court record in Pennsylvania is locating the court where the recorded case was filed. The State of Pennsylvania operates a unified judicial system comprising three appellate courts (the Supreme Court, the Superior Court, and the Commonwealth Court) and several trial courts, the Courts of Common Pleas, the Magisterial District Courts, and the Municipal Courts.
The next step is identifying and contacting the record custodian for the court where the required record is domiciled. A record custodian is an individual that is responsible for maintaining and issuing public records. In the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania, court records are typically maintained by Prothonotaries for appellate courts and Prothonotaries and Clerks of Courts of the Courts of Common Pleas for the trial courts. Generally, a Clerk of Court is responsible for maintaining criminal records while a Prothonotary maintains civil records. However, in some counties, both offices are occupied by the same individual. Contact details for the Prothonotaries of the Pennsylvania appellate courts are listed below:
Supreme Court of Pennsylvania:
Pennsylvania Judicial Center
601 Commonwealth Avenue
P.O. Box 62575
Harrisburg, PA 17106
Phone: (717) 787-6181
468 City Hall
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Phone: (215) 560-6370
(All capital cases are filed at this office)
801 City-County Building
414 Grant Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15219
Phone: (412) 565-2816
Superior Court of Pennsylvania:
Pennsylvania Judicial Center
601 Commonwealth Avenue
P.O. Box 62435
Harrisburg, PA 17106
Phone: (717) 772-1294
530 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Phone: (215) 560-5800
310 Grant Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15219
Phone: (412) 565-7592
Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania Judicial Center
601 Commonwealth Avenue
P.O. Box 69185
Harrisburg, PA 17106
Phone: (717) 255-1650
Contact details for trial court Prothonotaries and Clerks of Courts are available in these online directories:
Pennsylvania Court Records Public Access
Before accessing a Pennsylvania court record, the requester is usually required to provide certain information concerning the case, such as the docket number and the names of parties involved. A fee may also be required before copies of these records can be obtained. This fee varies by county, court, and type of record requested. For example, Allegheny County charges $20 for certified copies of court records and $25 for civil record searches or criminal record checks, while Montgomery County charges 25 cents per copy for paper records, 75 cents per copy for paper copies of transcripts, 50 cents per copy for electronic copies of transcripts, and $1.75 for docket printouts.
In addition to these options, members of the public can access certain court case information and calendars for free online via the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania Web Portal. The portal offers remote access options to requesters who may be unable to make in-person or mail-in queries.
How to Conduct a Pennsylvania Court Record Search by Name
A case participant's name is required to search court records by name in Pennsylvania - for example, the name of a defendant, plaintiff, judge, or counsel.
An individual who wants to perform a court records name search in Pennsylvania can visit the courthouse where a case was filed. Requesters can view or copy court records by providing a case party name to staff at the court clerk's office. However, those requesting copies must typically pay a sum for access. The cost to acquire a court record is assessed per page and varies by the court.
The Pennsylvania judicial branch offers electronic access to court records via the UJS (Unified Judicial System) portal. Nevertheless, members of the public cannot find printable copies of court records on the site, except for docket sheets and court summaries. Interestingly, certain record custodians in Pennsylvania maintain a case portal on their websites through which persons may view or purchase case documents. An example is the Cumberland County Prothonotary's Office.
How to Get Court Records Online for Free
One way to obtain a court record online for free is to access a court's electronic case management system (typically found on a court's official website) with a name, case number, or other required search parameters. Individuals may also obtain court records for free via public computers at the courthouse (if provided). However, a small dollar amount must often be paid to receive paper copies of a court record or have the staff search for court records on one's behalf.
Another way to get a court record online is to access a private aggregate website, although a nominal fee may apply to obtain a record.
Considered open to citizens of the United States, court records are available through both traditional, government sources, and through third-party websites and organizations. In many cases, third-party websites make the search easier as they are not limited geographically or by technological limitations. They are considered a good place to start when looking for a specific record or multiple records. In order to gain access to these records, interested parties must typically provide:
- The name of the person listed in the record. Juveniles are typically exempt from this search method.
- The last known or assumed location of the person listed in the record. This includes cities, counties, and states.
While third-party sites offer such services, they are not government sponsored entities, and record availability may vary on these sites when compared to government sources.
What are Pennsylvania Judgment Records?
Pennsylvania judgment records are created when a judge issues a decision on a civil complaint or criminal charges against an individual. Generally, judgment records only exist for cases considered closed or adjudicated by the court, although it is common for litigants to pursue appeals in a higher court. In any way, the court clerk will maintain a copy of the judgment record, along with other court records. These documents are public records per the Public Records Policies of the Pennsylvania Unified Judicial System.
Persons who wish to obtain judgment records in Pennsylvania must visit the clerk's office in person during work hours. The individual must provide the case number or litigants' names to help court staff identify the case and retrieve the associated court records, including the judgment record. Upon retrieval, the requester may choose to copy the whole case file or specific documents, in this case, the judgment record. In any way, the requester must cover the administrative cost of copying or certifying the court documents. Cash, money order, certified check, and credit cards are acceptable payment methods.
Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Judiciary maintains a central database for digital copies of court records in cases filed throughout the state. Out-of-state requesters and individuals who prefer to obtain court records remotely will find this option convenient. The searcher must provide the litigants' full name or case number on the portal. While this system is free, the searcher can only access case summaries and docket sheets. Furthermore, the document obtained is not certified and inadmissible for official purposes.
Persons who obtain Pennsylvania judgment records can expect to see the litigants' names, the judge's name, and judgment date. In addition, judgment records contain the specific claims of the parties involved (civil cases) or the charges against the defendant (criminal cases), as well as the issued judgment in the case of interest.
What are Pennsylvania Bankruptcy Records?
Pennsylvania bankruptcy records are created when debtors file for bankruptcy at the district courts located within the state. Records are typically managed by the office of the clerk of the bankruptcy court. Individuals or companies can file for bankruptcy at either the eastern district, the middle district, or the western district court. Bankruptcy in the United States is a matter governed by federal law. Debtors can file for multiple types of bankruptcy, including Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Although it leaves a dent on the debtor's credibility, it takes away the heartache that comes when creditors come knocking or keep calling.
Bankruptcy records, contracts, Pennsylvania liens, contracts, writs, and related records are accessible to members of the public. However, requestors may be required to satisfy specific eligibility requirements before accessing the record of interest.
How to Find Bankruptcy Records in Pennsylvania
Bankruptcy records contain information about bankruptcy proceedings held in a federal court. Per the law, these records are publicly available, except for those sealed by the court or restricted by legislation.
Individuals who want to find bankruptcy records in Pennsylvania have the following options:
- Go to the bankruptcy courthouse where a case was filed.
- Mail a letter requesting copies to the bankruptcy court clerk's office.
- Call the Voice Case Information System (McVCIS).
- Use the online Public Access Court Electronic Records (PACER) service.
Persons visiting a court location can use electronic systems to view bankruptcy case files for free. Those who require copies can submit a request in person or via mail to the clerk's office. The charge per copy is 50 cents per page, but additional fees may apply depending on a person's request (for example, there are extra charges to obtain a certified copy).
Alternatively, one can call the voice case access system at (866) 222-8029 to access limited bankruptcy case information for free or log into the PACER platform to view or print court records.
Access to PACER costs 10 cents per page and $2.40 per audio file. However, PACER is free under these circumstances:
- When a user accrues $30 or less worth of court records in one quarter
- When a user obtains a fee exemption from the court
- When a user wants to access court opinions
- When a user is a litigant (or their attorney) eligible to receive one free copy of an e-filed document from a court
Note that bankruptcy courts generally preserve their records for 20 years. Older records are available at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Interested persons can review the websites of the Pennsylvania middle district bankruptcy court and the United States Courts for more details.
Can You Look Up Court Cases in Pennsylvania?
You can look up Pennsylvania court cases through the web portal provided and maintained by the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania. This portal provides interested members of the public with access to information on cases and court calendars for all the courts in the state. Information on court cases can also be accessed in person at the office of the record custodian or via a third-party website.
Pennsylvania Court Case Lookup Exemptions
The public generally has the right to access court cases and records in Pennsylvania, but certain cases and records are exempt from public inspection. The Pennsylvania Unified Judicial System outlines these exemptions in a chart on its website. Examples include:
- Unexecuted search warrants
- Sealed records, including sealed indictments, mental health records, plea agreements, and verdicts
- Notes taken by jurors
- Pre-sentencing reports
- Certain criminal history record information
- Child support records
- Adoption records
- Juvenile delinquency records, etc.
For any restricted court case or record in Pennsylvania, access is typically only granted to a person involved in the case or someone with approval (a court order) from a court of competent jurisdiction.
What is a Court Docket in Pennsylvania?
A Pennsylvania court docket is an official record the courts keep that lists every proceeding, event, or filing in a court case. This includes past and upcoming proceedings.
Any Pennsylvania court docket contains information about a court case and parties involved, including the names of the case parties and their counsel, the case/docket number, court appearance dates, the assigned judge, case status, a summary of filings, etc. As a result, members of the public can obtain court dockets to determine the document filed in a court case or the date, time, and venue of a court appearance. The specific information in a docket may vary by court or case.
A person can visit or contact the court clerk where a case was filed to obtain a Pennsylvania court docket. Alternatively, they may search the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania's Case Search Portal as follows:
- Visit https://ujsportal.pacourts.us/CaseSearch.
- Choose a search parameter under "Search By" and select "Search". For instance, a case participant's name or docket number.
- After the search results come up, click the letter "D" in the case column. This opens a case's docket.
Types of Courts in Pennsylvania
The Pennsylvania court system consists of both federal and state judicial arms. The federal courts in Pennsylvania consist of the bankruptcy and district courts, such as the United States District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and the United States Bankruptcy Court, Middle District of Pennsylvania. These courts resolve cases under federal jurisdiction that occur or are filed in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Meanwhile, the state courts handle legal disputes that arise within the Commonwealth, as directed under Title 42 of the Pennsylvania legislature. Pennsylvania has different types of state courts, but all can be categorized into trial or appellate courts. If regarding the Pennsylvania judicial system as a two-step pyramid, the trial courts are at the bottom of the pyramid. However, the role they play is not any less significant. The trial-level courts, such as the superior, magisterial district, and courts of common pleas, are responsible for hearing most civil (non-penal) and criminal cases brought to the Pennsylvania court system.
The Pennsylvania appellate courts, some of which have trial-level jurisdiction, hear appeals from the courts below them. (An appeal seeks a review of a lower court's judgment to determine the legality or fairness of the judgment.) The appellate courts in Pennsylvania also have exclusive jurisdiction over some cases. For example, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is the only court authorized to review death penalty sentences.
What are Civil Court and Small Claims in Pennsylvania?
Per Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes Title 42, Courts of Common Pleas have unlimited original jurisdiction over all civil matters filed in the state. According to sections 1123 and 1515 of this same law, Magisterial District Courts and the Philadelphia Municipal Court have original jurisdiction over civil matters that involve sums not more than $12,000, i.e., small claims. Note that this amount is exclusive of costs and interests.
Pennsylvania small claims courts are usually less expensive, faster, and less formal than matters filed in the Courts of Common Pleas. However, most small claims matters in Pennsylvania have a statute of limitation, and the case must be filed within this period. For example, cases involving personal injuries have a two-year statute of limitations, while cases involving breaches of contracts have a four-year statute of limitations. As such, even though the presence of an attorney is not required when a person files small claims matter, it is advisable to get legal advice before filing these cases.