Are North Carolina Court Records Public?
Public records are documents or information gathered by government agencies while carrying out their official duties, which members of the public have the right to access and review. North Carolina court records are examples of such documents. The North Carolina Public Records Law permits the general public to access public records of government agencies. These records may be in the form of paper, digital, or electronic materials.
North Carolina's public record law describes public records as people's property. It maintains that interested persons may obtain copies of their public records free or at minimal costs unless otherwise stated by the law. The General Statutes 7A-109(a) reiterates that records maintained by the court clerk under the Administrative Office of the Courts rules are public. The public record law, however, exempts some court documents from public disclosure. It exempts arrest and search warrants, criminal summons, and indictments sealed by court order per GS 132-1.4(k). Similarly, GS 132-1.3(a) exempts settlement documents in cases involving medical malpractice actions against public hospital facilities from public disclosure. No case law in North Carolina exempts the judicial department from the North Carolina Public Record Law.
What Shows Up on a North Carolina Court Records Search
North Carolina court records contain forms, briefs, documents, and dockets of litigations. The Office of the Clerk of the Court in North Carolina has the authority to keep court records and make them available to interested persons.
Individuals interested in carrying out a court record search can do so in person, via mail, or online. There are self-service public terminals provided by the Office of the Clerk of the Court in the counties in North Carolina within courthouses where one can access case records (criminal or civil). One can do a name search (defendant, victim, or witness name) or a case number search.
A requester can check the web page maintained by the North Carolina Judicial branch to access court case records available to the public. To inspect or obtain hard copies of documents filed during a case, an inquirer can visit the Office of the Clerk of the Court where the case was filed. An inquirer can also mail a request to the Office of the Court Clerk to obtain records. Please note that one must pay a fee to make copies of any record.
The North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts (NCAOC) provides remote access to court case documents to interested persons via Remote Public Access Program (RPA). The options provided for this access include online access and extracts. Those interested in using this medium should bear in mind that a fee applies to the usage of the service.
How Do I Find Court Records in North Carolina?
The first step to take when trying to obtain court records in North Carolina is to identify the court records of interest. Afterward, the requestor should gather sufficient information that will facilitate the search. The county offices of clerks of courts in North Carolina operate public, self-service terminals where interested persons can find North Carolina court records. These self-service terminals are otherwise known as the Civil Case Processing System (VCAP). Requesters can obtain information on court documents about some proceedings, estates, and civil cases at these terminals in two ways. These include party name searches and file number searches. Most recorded information concerns case parties and dates for documents prepared by the court or filed with the clerk.
How to Conduct a North Carolina Court Record Search by Name
Those who want to conduct a North Carolina case search can use any of the self-service public terminals provided within the courthouse. Records can be searched using a defendant's name, a victim's name, or the name of a witness.
One can as well check the website of the North Carolina Judicial Branch. On the web page,
- Click on the service option on the home page.
- Choose the 'Ecourt filing' from the drop-down list.
A page would be displayed
- Scroll down, click on the 'search court records, and then on the 'get started'
- On the page displayed, click on the smart search.
The inquirer can then enter the name of a party involved in the case and click the submit button. When a person is unsure of the full name of the party concerned, one can do a wildcard search following the instructions provided.
Visiting the Office of the Clerk directly is another option; one can provide the name of any of the parties involved in a case so the clerk can help retrieve the case record.
Interested persons can use party name search to find information on court records at the public, self-service terminals when the file numbers are not known. They can use all or parts of the party's names to execute the search. Party names follow a preset arrangement to provide consistent results from information retrieval. The best way to conduct name searches is to type the last name, a comma, and then the first initial.
Requesters can also search using full names separated by commas with no space between names. An interested person should enter the full company's name without punctuation to obtain information on a company's court record. The terminal allows an individual to conduct party name searches within a specific county, a combination of five counties, and statewide.
How to Conduct a File Number Search
Finding court records by file number is simple and is the most efficient search method. However, requesters cannot conduct statewide or multiple county searches using file numbers. They must search for a single county at a time. North Carolina file numbers typically contain a two-digit calendar year, court type, and a sequential number. For instance, a file number can read as 19 CVS 731267.
Note that using the VCPA requires public users to log in with user IDs and their passwords. Requesters who have difficulty accessing the terminals should contact the Help Desk at (919) 890-2407 for support.
How to Obtain North Carolina Court Records in Person
Persons who are interested in obtaining North Carolina Court records may also go right to the sources. They can make in-person requests at the courthouses with the custody of the records of interest. Such persons must, however, know what they seek before appearing at the courthouse. Sometimes, record search at courthouses may be time-consuming and extremely slow. Requesters should contact the offices of the clerks ahead before heading to the courthouses. They must be willing to pay some nominal fees for search and copying as may be required. It is also possible to request copies of audio recordings of proceedings from the offices of the clerks. For a confidential cases such as juvenile cases, submit the Form AOC-G-115 to the office of the clerk in the county. If the proceeding is not confidential, interested persons can make their requests using Form AOC-G-114.
How to Get Court Records Online for Free
The North Carolina Judicial Branch provides a free online court record search. A researcher who desires to carry out a free case record search can visit its website and follow the instructions provided above. An inquirer can do a case number or name search. Case searches using a public terminal provided in the courthouse are free.
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 Shows Up on North Carolina Judgment Records?
North Carolina judgment records describe the outcome of a criminal or civil case following a trial or court's review of the case facts. The North Carolina Public Records Law makes this document open to residents and interested members of the public. The primary requirements to obtain judgment records in North Carolina are for requesters to possess the necessary case identifying details and pay the associated fees.
Requesters may then visit the clerk's office and submit a request for the court record, specifying the judgment record as the document of interest. Upon retrieving the record, the requester may obtain a regular copy or certified copy of the judgment record, depending on the document's intended use. Another way to get judgment records is to use self-service terminals at the courthouse to search for cases and obtain copies of case files. The system will return available court records, and the searcher may print the documents of interest.
North Carolina judgment records contain various information, depending on the nature of the case. Generally, a typical judgment record contains the litigants' names, the judge's name, and the judgment date. More importantly, the document will describe the charges or civil dispute and the court's decision following a trial or examination of the case facts.
Are North Carolina Bankruptcy Records Public?
North Carolina Bankruptcy Records are publicly accessible financial records of individuals, businesses, and organizations that have filed for bankruptcy. In North Carolina, bankruptcy documents are not sealed; all records are deemed public. Individuals or businesses may file for bankruptcy in the following United States Federal Courts in North Carolina: the Western, Eastern, and Middle Districts of North Carolina Bankruptcy Courts. Members of the public may obtain certified document copies from the Clerk's Office but must pay a copying and processing charge in advance. Additionally, interested parties can register for electronic access to case information via the PACER Service, enabling them to print documents independently.
Under state law, interested members of the public may access bankruptcy records and related recordings such as North Carolina liens, writs, and judgments. However, requestors may be required to satisfy specific eligibility requirements to obtain or view these records and provide relevant information to facilitate the record search.
How to Find Bankruptcy Records in North Carolina
According to North Carolina general status § 132-1, bankruptcy records are public records and can be accessed by interested persons.
Individuals interested in finding a bankruptcy record in North Carolina can access them,
- Online through PACER using the case locator tool. To use PACER, one would need to have a registered account to access records provided on the platform. The fee per page access is $0.10, reaching a maximum fee of $30 per document. This fee can be waived if usage per quarter falls below $30.
One can also,
- Send a request via mail to the Office of the Clerk of the Court where the bankruptcy was filed.
- Visit the clerk's office where the case was handled in person to request records. The fee to carry out a record search is $30, printing fee per page is $0.50
There are 3 bankruptcy courts (the eastern, middle, and western districts) in North Carolina, 1 for each district.
To access bankruptcy records that are closed in North Carolina, an inquirer can request a record via mail from the Federal Records Center (FRC). The requester would be required to submit a printed filled-out request form, including a $64 check payable to the clerk of the bankruptcy court where the case was filed or a money order.
A bankruptcy search can be done using the name of the record, a case number or social security number.
Can You Look Up Court Cases in North Carolina?
Yes. Anyone seeking to look up court cases in North Carolina can do so at the public, self-service terminals available at the clerk of court's office in any county. The best way to look up cases using these terminals is to search by the case number of interest. Other search options include names of parties involved in the case or witness names. Persons interested in obtaining paper files of cases may do so by visiting the clerk of court's office in the county where such cases were filed. Note that fees may apply. Alternatively, the North Carolina Courts online payment portal provides a means of looking up court cases. An Interested individual should select the county where the case was registered, input the file number in the File Number field, and then click Look Up File for access.
North Carolina Court Case Lookup Exemptions
While North Carolina offers public access to court records, documents considered confidential by the law and sealed court records (for safety or privacy reasons) are not made available to members of the public. For instance, pursuant to § 48-9-102, adoption records are not open to the public. As stated in § 7B-3000, juvenile records are considered confidential. Other court records not accessible to the public include expunged records. These court records cannot be looked up or inspected by the public except by the parties involved or persons who, by law, are granted access.
How to Find a Court Docket in North Carolina
A North Carolina court docket is a summary of a criminal or civil case. it is typically one of the documents found in a court record. Because of the information contained in a docket, they come in very handy to judicial staff, parties involved in a case, and members of the public seeking information about a court case. For instance, they can be used to track hearing dates, times, and venues, especially in situations where there are multiple case hearings, it serves as a calendar. One can as well get details such as names of parties involved in a case, case information, court opinion, disposition, or decision from a docket.
A civil case docket can be accessed from the web page maintained by the North Carolina Judicial Branch. One can find the dockets of e-filed documents following these directions:
- Click on 'services' on the home page then select 'legacy civil e-filing' on the drop-down list and scroll down. Under the E-file court document, One can choose either the Appellate court or the business court. Once one clicks on either, a page is displayed where one can search the online documents available using an attorney's name, case title, case number, party name, or filing date,
- On the next page displayed the inquirer can click on the court docket option to view the case docket.
Another option would be visiting the courthouse in person to request an inspection of the court dockets from the clerk.
Types of Courts in North Carolina
The North Carolina court system has three divisions, the Appellate Division, the Superior Court Division, and the District Court Division. The Appellate Division constitutes the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.
- The Supreme Court is the highest court, it handles federal matters and appeals from lower courts (the Court of Appeals inclusive).
- The Court of Appeals serves as a transitional appellate court to help ease the caseload of the Supreme Court.
- The Superior and District Courts serve as the Trial Courts in North Carolina.
- The Superior Court has jurisdiction over civil cases of $25,000 and above, felony cases, including appeals from the District Court.
- The District Court hears lower levels of serious crimes and $10,000 - $25,000 worth of claims in civil cases.
- The magistrate court. The magistrate court is not exactly a court in the sense of the aforementioned courts. In this type of court hearing, a magistrate under the supervision of a chief District court judge presides over this court. The court hears both criminal and civil handling of small claims cases.
Civil vs Small Claims Courts in North Carolina: Understanding the Difference
North Carolina small claims courts are a division of the District Court that handles civil cases involving $10,000 or less. The primary focus of the court is on property recovery and lawsuits seeking monetary rewards. In most small claims cases, plaintiffs and defendants do not require legal representation. Parties in small claims cases file lawsuits and defend themselves. However, corporate entities who wish to file lawsuits at the Small Claims Court require the service of lawyers. A Magistrate Judge is responsible for handling all disputes in Small Claims Court. Persons who are at least 18 years old may bring in claims in this court. An independent minor may also file small claims. Typically, a small claims hearing is held within 30 to 60 days of serving a complaint. The following are some of the cases heard by North Carolina Small Claims Courts:
- Cases where the plaintiffs seek an amount of money not exceeding $10,000
- Disputes where plaintiffs seek to recover personal properties whose fair market values are not more than $10,000
- Eviction cases, as in the matter with landlords and tenants
The process of filing a small claims case takes place at the clerk of the Superior Court's office. The filing fee is $96. Small claims cases must be filed in the county where at least one of the defendants resides, and plaintiffs are responsible for serving defendants with copies of summons. Persons who intend to file small claims cases can use the following forms: