Public Records are Free, Reproducing Them Aren't

Posted On 10:57 AM by Andrew Calvillo |

Generally, court records are free to view. The only time when viewing or reproducing court records comes with a fee is when the records are anywhere but the court site.

There are still some court records on paper, which is why the government is expediting the migration of these documents to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Courts collect case records five years old or younger and schedule them for electronic transfer 20 years from the oldest record in the batch. For example, court records from 2006 to 2010 will be transferred to NARA in 2026.

In other words, electronic files may not be available if a case was relatively recent. You may need to file a request with the Federal Records Center (FRC) to retrieve the file you want, which comes with a $53 fee. If the files have been transferred, it's likely with the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) service. The service's rate is 10 cents a page, but there's a limit of $3.00 per document.

This is why court retrieval services normally charge a fee for reproduction of certain court documents. It's not necessarily denying the public access to vital public records, but maintaining the health of the electronic system doesn't come free. Fortunately, some services will notify you if the cost of reproducing the documents will be costlier than expected.
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