Don’t Forget the Fed

Most researchers who use Search Systems to find court records know that we provide links to court databases at the municipal, county, and state levels. While those are key databases, don’t overlook the federal court system. Federal civil and criminal cases are handled by the U.S. District Courts.

So how does one research federal cases?  There is only one resource – the PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) system.  PACER is a service of the United States Judiciary, and operated by the Administrative Office of the United States Courts.  The information found on PACER is not available anywhere else. This is why we provide helpful links to many PACER access points, such as on our main Court Records page.

If you pay for a nationwide criminal record search from any online service, you’ll find that the results will not include any convictions for federal crimes.  This is because federal cases will ONLY appear on the PACER system.  It is well worth your time to set up a PACER account and run the names of your subjects through this system.  Not only will you find federal civil and criminal cases… PACER includes ALL bankruptcy filings in the U.S.

So how much does PACER cost and how does it work?

Fortunately, PACER does not charge a sign-up fee, but you do need to establish an account.  Their search and download charges are quite reasonable at 10 cents per page.  You can obtain dockets and documents within the same search. So if your name search brings back 3 pages of results, you will be charged 30 cents. If you open the case details for one particular name, and the docket is 2 pages long, you will be charged another 20 cents.  Then if you want to open the document for one item, and it is 10 pages long, you will be charged another $1.00.  You total thus far would be $1.50.  Hardly breaking the bank.

What’s more, PACER will cap your billing for single documents and case-specific reports.  So if one document was written by a long-winded attorney and came out at 75 pages, you will only be charged the cap of $3.00 for the document.  Basically they charge you for the first 30 pages but you get the entire document.

PACER invoices customers quarterly. You can set up your account with a credit card for faster registration and automatic billing.  PACER includes a field on the search page where you can input a client code.  This is helpful if you need to conduct research on a number of matters and you need to track the expenses for each of your clients or projects.

There are a few different ways to search the PACER system.  You can search all of their courts at once, using the PACER Case Locator or you can search at individual court PACER websites. Many states are divided into federal districts. For example, Alabama has a Middle District, Northern District, and Southern District U.S. District Court.

For U.S. Bankruptcy Courts, you can search by name, case number, Social Security number, or tax identification number. For the U.S. District Courts, you can search by name, case number, or filing date range. For the U.S. Courts of Appeals, you can search by name or case number.