“It is a well-established principle that court records are presumed to be open to the public. Courts in the United States have recognized both a common law right and a First Amendment right to judicial records of court proceedings.”

 

–The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

 

How to get started

First, you need to know the jurisdiction.  Is it a federal, state or local case?

Second, not everything is online.  Sometimes you’ll have to visit the courthouse.  Or call the the court clerk, they will give you information over the phone.

Third, every court has different information online.  Some will post full case information, others will provide only docket information.

Fourth, Public Access to Court Records (PACER) is the best place to go for federal cases.  This Journalist’s Guide to the Federal Courts and Understanding the Federal Courts is very useful to read.

Fifth, don’t forget about LexisNexis for case information at most jurisdiction levels- i.e. has info on cases where a motion was decided in higher court.

Sixth, for high-profile cases, check out The Smoking Gun and TMZ

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Here are some New York Resources:

  • The New York County District Attorney’s Office puts out a helpful explanation on how the Criminal Justice system works–from arrest to sentence.  Read it here
  • New York State Unified Court System:  civil and criminal case docket information, and, in some cases, filings.
  • SCROLL (for Manhattan Supreme Court):  The Supreme Court, Civil Branch, New York County handles civil cases (those not involving criminal offenses).  Located in the New York County Courthouse, the Supreme Court’s main courthouse at 60 Centre Street
  • NYS Webcrims (login as a public user) -Docket info on pending criminal cases in local and superior courts in 13 counties and summons cases for all of New York City, updated nightly.
  • Arrested Person Location:  The City provides information about people who were arrested in the last 24 to 48 hours and who have not yet seen a judge. Call 311 to find a recently arrested person.
  • NYC Incarceration Lookup  (info not available 30 days after discharge)
  • eX: Sean Shaynak – Brooklyn Technical High School teacher accused of having sex with students
  • NYS Inmate Lookup (this goes back to the 1970s)
  • ex: Jason Bohn -Convicted of strangling his girlfriend, first four minutes of the attack were captured on cell phone because victim, Danielle Thomas, pocket dialed her friend
  • NYS Parolee Lookup
  • ex: Douglas Fagan

 

CRIME STATS

NYPD weekly Citywide Crime stats, includes historical data.

NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services statistics on crime, law enforcement and arrests;probation and incarcerationYou should call press office of this agency when you need historical statistics for crime in your CD or neighborhood. Email dcjsstats@dcjs.ny.gov or call their media relations (518) 457-8828. They need some lead time for statistics request, usually many requests can turn around in 24 hours.

NYS Criminal Justice Agency Directory search by type of agency and county

 

NYC Criminal Case Info

Office of the Deputy Commissioner, Public Information (DCPI) 646-610-6700. After a case goes to the prosecutor – DCPI can no longer help you, you have to contact the prosecutor for info.

 

NYC Medical Examiner’s Office investigate deaths of persons in occurring from criminal violence, by accident, by suicide, or in any unusual or suspicious manner.

 

NYS Criminal History Record Search Fee-based ($65.00) – Statewide criminal history search, from the NYS Office of Court Admin.

 

Call the county district attorney/prosecutor’s public information/communications office, or check the website for details. Many times you can get criminal history, case info and documents – ex.: Bronx County District Attorney Public Info Office: (718) 590-2234

 

Local Law enforcement or court sites, like the sheriff’s office, county jail or local court. Some may have databases, and if not, call them. You can sometimes find arrest record, mugshots, etc.

 

NYS Courts Press “What’s New” page latest news from NYS Unified Courts, sometimes has documents from prominent cases.

 

NYS Unified Courts press center website contacts and latest from NYS courts, sometimes includes documents and info on major court cases.

NYS Division of Parole and NYS Division of Probation Parolee Lookup

New York State Sex Offender Registry registered sex offenders in NY classified by risk of re-offense.

 

Locate Attorneys

Experts

  • Colleen Long of AP recommends, University of California-Berkeley criminal justice expert Franklin Zimring.

 

Additional Resources

 

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