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Court Records and Briefs in the Law Library

Research Guide about finding court records and briefs in the law library.

What Is in This Guide?

Image of U.S. Supreme Court BuildingBy Farragutful (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Court Records and Briefs in the Law Library

Court records and briefs are the documents submitted to or created by a court in a particular case. Briefs are submitted by attorneys to the court for the purpose of summarizing facts and making legal arguments. The record contains all other documentation that usually relates to the facts of the case and, if on appeal, the decision making process of the lower court. The record frequently contains items such as transcripts, documentation about items admitted into evidence, instructions to the jury, and opinions of the lower court. These documents can all be valuable in understanding what arguments were persuasive to the court and to get a better understanding of the underlying issues, especially factual issues that are often not reviewed in detail in published court opinions.

The availability of records and briefs varies widely by jurisdiction. Records and briefs for many older cases (pre-2000) are not available online. In addition, some dockets are sealed (e.g., to protect victims in criminal cases) and are inaccessible even in print.

This guide explains where to find U.S. Federal and state records and briefs online and how to access the print and microfilm records and briefs held by the Kathrine R. Everett Law Library, which includes records and briefs from the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Court of Appeal for the Fourth Circuit (covering North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Virginia), the North Carolina Court of Appeals, and the North Carolina Supreme Court.  The information is organized into the following pages:

Getting Started

Although some records and briefs databases allow for full-text keyword searching (e.g., for searches by topic), it is usually most helpful to have the following information on hand when searching for records and briefs:

  • Docket or case number
  • Citation to reported decision (if available)
  • Names of the parties
  • Names of others involved (e.g., judges, attorneys, law firms)
  • Relevant dates