Instant Access to State, County and Municipal Records
Are New York Court Records Public?
The New York Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) refers to a series of laws stipulating that the public has access to public records of government agencies in New York. This law allows individuals to obtain records from any government agency without a statement of purpose. However, several courts may consider the requestor's motive, especially where there is litigation. Public records in New York include any information kept, held, filed, or produced by any New York state agency or the state legislature.
New York's FOIL was first passed in 1974 by the state legislature, but it was later vetoed and replaced in 1977. The law has been amended three times since then. The amendments occurred in 1982, 2005, and 2008.
How Do I Find Court Records In New York?
The first step to take when trying to obtain court records in New York is to identify who keeps the record in question. New York court records are not governed by FOIL Section 225 of the State's Judiciary Law. This law specifies the provision of court records to the public as one of the responsibilities of a Court Clerk. Court Clerks are responsible for documenting and safekeeping court records in New York. The State Court Clerk specifically maintains Supreme Court records and Court of Appeal records.
Requestors may submit requests for court records directly to the Clerk of the Court or the County Clerk that maintains those records. Usually, the court where a particular case is tried will have the necessary records about that case. However, the New York Supreme Court and County Court usually share court files with county clerks’ offices. As a result, requestors should verify whether the records they seek are available in any of these offices.
To obtain a court record, visit the Office of the Court Clerk in person or send a request asking the Court Clerk to mail copies of the court record. For an in-person request, the individual must submit an application. Individuals shall visit the nearest courthouse to request the application form.
To obtain court records, New York requires that the following conditions must be met:
- Requests must be for specific records.
- Requestors must be able to describe the record sought clearly.
- Provide relevant information about the record.
- Requests must conform to the court's indexing and record retrieval system.
Residents may also use an alternative request method to obtain New York Court records. Some New York Court records are available online. The New York State Office of Court Administration provides online access to various court-related data. Residents may submit a request on the eCourt page, which is available on the New York State Court website. Individuals may also use the eTrack case tracking service to locate court records or use the New York Court record search page.
Individuals may also request police records when the records are part of prosecution papers submitted to the court. However, these records may not be open to the public, depending on the status of the case or the court's discretion. Requestors must know that requests for court records usually come with fees.
Section 225 of the State's Judiciary Law permits Court Clerks to collect fees for copying and certifying court records. Here's a breakdown of the fees:
- To obtain a copy of any record, requestors are required to pay sixty-five cents per page with a minimum fee of $1.30.
- To certify a prepared copy, individuals must pay sixty-five cents per page with a minimum fee of $5.20.
- To obtain a copy of any record on file in the office in a medium or format other than paper, the actual cost of reproducing the record is stated in section 87 of the Public Officer Law.
The CPLR § 8019(f) also authorizes County Clerks to make other charges as regards to copying of records. Residents can avoid paying too much to obtain court records by visiting the court directly. Public photocopiers generally are available at a lower per-page cost than what the clerk will charge for the same service. However, since the request for copies of certain records may be voluminous, the clerk may set regulations concerning the record provision. This is to ensure that the other functions of the clerk are not affected by requests for court records.
Considered open to citizens of the United States, public records are available through both traditional sources, 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.
How Do New York Court Work?
New York courts are where most of the legal issues in the state are resolved. The New York State court system deals with nearly four million cases a year from the 62 counties. Matters brought before New York State courts range from criminal cases, personal injury claims, commercial disputes to landlord/tenant issues. New York State courts resolve disputes either by public hearings or settlement. Parties to a dispute may gather to tender their testimonies over a matter before a judge or jury, depending on court rules. Alternatively, disputes may be resolved outside the court when both parties reach a compromise.
The New York State Court system is divided into Trial Courts and Appellate Courts. Trial courts are further divided into
- Courts within New York City
- Courts outside New York City
- Courts operating within and outside New York City.
Trial courts within the state include Civil Courts of the City of New York and Criminal Courts of the City of New York. Trial courts outside New York include District Courts, City Courts, Town and Village Justice Courts, and County Courts that are located in counties outside New York City. Courts operating within and outside New York City include the Supreme Court, Family Courts, Surrogate's Court, and the Court of Claims.
New York Appellate Courts are divided into Intermediate Appellate Courts and Highest Appellate Courts. Intermediate Appellate Courts include Appellate Terms of the Supreme Court and the four Appellate Divisions of the Supreme Court. The highest Appellate Courts are also called the Court of Appeals. The New York Court of Appeals is located at:
20 Eagle Street
Albany, New York 1220
Phone: (518) 455-7700
What Are Civil Court and Small Claims
Civil Courts are Trial Courts that decide lawsuits involving damages up to $25,000. This court may also include a small claims section for cases involving damages of up to $5,000 and a housing part for landlord-tenant matters. New York Small Claims Courts are special parts of a court that decides matters involving damages of up to $10,000 or less. An individual may sue another in this court without a lawyer.
However, only residents that are 18 years and above are eligible to sue someone in New York. The individual must also pay a court fee of $15 - $20 and submit a completed court form specifying the claims.
What Are Appeal Court Limits?
Residents may appeal the judgment or order made by a judge in a lower court. The New York Judiciary specifies that judgments made by a Referee or an Arbitrator cannot be appealed. Matters that were settled by mutual agreement of both parties, or by default, may also not be appealed in New York. In New York, you may file an appeal within 30 days from the service of the judgment.
Interested persons may contact court reporters for more information, which will include the cost of preparing typewritten transcripts of the minutes of the trials. The contact addresses of court reporters are available on the New York Civil Court location and phone listing page.
How Do I Find My Case Number In New York?
A case number is a unique number given to a case to distinguish it from others. A case number helps to provide information about the year a case was filed, the office in which it was filled, and the judicial officer to whom it was assigned. A requestor may request a court case number from State Court Clerks or County Clerks. This can be achieved by contacting the Office of the Court Clerk in person or via mail. For instance, the individual may visit the County Clerk of New York County for Supreme Court records at:
Office of The County Court Clerk
New York Supreme Court Record
60 Center Street
Note that requests made in person cost less than remote requests. Some county courts have case number locators on their official websites.
Can You Look Up Court Cases In New York?
New York operates a unified court system making it easier for individuals to track court cases. New York courts offer free case information services to the public. Requesters may find dates for hearing cases in criminal and family courts by visiting the New York State Unified Court System eCourts website. Interested persons may also view information on active and disposed cases on the website.
Information on cases in Supreme and Local Civil Court may require individuals to sign up for eTrack. eTrack is a case tracking service that provides information about the status and appearance of cases via email. Individuals may also receive reminders about the hearing of Civil Supreme and Local Civil Court cases. Visit the Court of Appeals website for current case summaries and oral argument webcasts.
Does New York Hold Remote Trials
According to The Revised Pandemic Procedures in the Trial Courts issued by the New York Chief Administrative Judge, trial courts in the State of New York may conduct virtual bench trials and hearings. The memo stated that taking effect from November 16, 2020, all future bench trials and hearings will be held virtually unless with the permission of the respective Deputy Chief Administrative Judge. It also notified that new jury trials, whether criminal or civil, will be suspended till further notice. Summons for new grand jurors are also suspended till further notice. Pending criminal, civil, and grand juries will continue till they are concluded.
The provision for remote hearings was due to the unfavorable trends in the rate of transmission of coronavirus in the New York state. However, in-person court conferences might continue under strict social distancing rules, health, and safety procedures. These decisions may be open for further amendments depending on the state of the public health situation.
What are New York Appellate Courts?
New York Appellate Courts are divided into Intermediate Appellate Courts and Highest Appellate Court. These two levels of courts hear different appeals according to their jurisdiction.
Intermediate Appellate Court
The intermediate Appellate Court is divided into four appellate departments.
- The First Department: it hears appeals of decisions in cases starting in the New York City Civil and Criminal Courts.
- The Second Department: the Appellate Terms hear appeals of decisions in cases that started in District, City or Town and Village Courts.
- The Third Department: it deals with decisions that started in County Court.
- The Fourth Department: it hears appeals of decisions in cases starting in City Courts and Town and Village Courts.
The New York Court of Appeals
The New York Court of Appeals hears civil and criminal appeals from the state intermediate Appellate Courts and some trial court cases. This court is also known as the highest Appellate Court in the state. The New York Court of Appeals hears appeals reached by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. All other courts that are not Appellate Courts in New York are registered under trial courts.
New York Trial Court
New York Trial courts decide most of the legal disputes in the state. These courts hear matters ranging from money claims, misdemeanors, felonies to criminal charges. New York Trial courts are generally divided into three broad groups, and they include:
- Trial courts within New York City
- Trial courts outside New York City
- Trial courts operating within and outside New York City.
Some Trial courts in New York include:
New York Supreme Court
The New York Supreme Court is the general court of jurisdiction at the trial level of the Unified Court System of New York. It generally tries cases outside the jurisdiction of lower courts, although it has unlimited jurisdiction in criminal and civil cases. Its caseload covers cases involving marital separation, divorce, criminal prosecution of felonies, and annulment proceedings. The Supreme Court also hears equity suits like mortgage, foreclosure, and injunctions.
New York Family Courts
The New York Family Court is a specialized court of the State Unified Court System located in each county. New York Family Courts hear legal matters involving children and families. Family Court cases may include adoption, guardianship, foster care approval and review, child abuse, neglect, juvenile delinquency, family violence, etc.
However, granting of divorce is beyond the jurisdiction of the New York Family Court, and can only be done by the Supreme Court. In New York City, Family Court shares a concurrent jurisdiction over family offenses with the New York City Criminal Court. In the New York law, family offenses cover only people who are related by blood, in actual marriage, or who have a child in common.
New York Surrogate Courts
New York Surrogate Courts handle all probate and estate proceedings in the state. All Surrogate Courts handle matters concerning the wills of individuals who have passed away, the validity of wills, and the administration of estates. New York Surrogate Courts are authorized to handle adoption. Surrogate Courts operate within and outside New York City. As such, every county in the State of New York has a Surrogate Court. The Judge in each county’s Surrogate Court is known as the “Surrogate of [X] County” (example, the Surrogate of Broome County).
The surrogate of any county must be a resident of that county and is installed through a countywide election. In the State of New York, county surrogates are usually elected to 10-year terms in office. Only County Surrogates in New York City are exceptions to this, being elected to 14-year terms instead. Also, all 62 counties in New York have only one surrogate, each except Kings County and New York County, each having two surrogates. In some counties with few residents, the County Court Judge serves as the County Surrogate at the same time.
New York Criminal Court
New York City Criminal Court hears cases concerned with misdemeanors and lesser offenses. Criminal Court judges may also conduct arraignments (initial court appearances following arrest) and preliminary hearings for felonies. As the name suggests, the court only exists in New York City. Unlike in other trial courts where judges are elected, the Mayor of the City of New York has the responsibility of appointing the judges for the court.
The judges are usually appointed to a 10-year term in office. Only persons who are charged with serious crimes may face a jury trial. Serious crimes in New York state are defined as those which may attract more than six months of jail terms. Defendants charged with non-serious crimes may be entitled to a bench trial.
New York District Courts
The New York District Court is a state court whose jurisdiction cuts across eight counties in the State of New York. District Courts are special courts that arraign defendants accused of felonies, misdemeanors, and lesser offenses. These courts also deal with civil suits involving claims up to $15,000 and matters of small-claims not in excess of $5,000. It also handles landlords’ and tenants’ matters. Its jurisdiction in Suffolk County also covers town ordinance offenses that are prosecuted by the towns.
New York District Courts are located in counties outside New York City. They are located in Nassau County and parts of Suffolk County. In Suffolk County, the District Courts consist of six districts. The first district covers all the other districts and towns, while other districts have courthouses covering one town each.
New York Town and Village Courts
New York Town and Village Courts are collectively known as Justice Courts. They handle cases involving vehicle and traffic matters, criminal offenses, and small claims. They also hear civil suits involving claims up to $3,000. They also handle landlord and tenant matters that may lead to eviction and money judgment for due back rents.
There are about 1,300 locally funded Town and Village Courts throughout the State of New York, except for New York City. Justices for these courts are usually elected to a 4-year term, and non-attorneys are allowed to be justices. However, non-attorney justices must undergo and complete the required courses on judicial education to qualify.
New York County Courts
New York County Courts are located in each county outside New York City. These courts have exclusive authority to conduct trials in felony matters. County Courts share misdemeanor cases and other minor offenses with Town and Village Courts. County Courts also have limited jurisdiction over cases involving claims for money damages up to $25,000. Except for the five counties in New York City, every in the State of New York has an operational county court.
In New York City, the New York City Court and the Supreme Court share the supposed responsibilities of a typical County Court. Each County Court in the state has at least one judge and can have additional judges as may be provided by the law. The judges of the County Courts are usually elected to a 10-year term in office, effective from the first day of January after their election. As a requirement, an elected judge must be a resident of the county in which he was elected.