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What are Alabama Criminal Court Records?
Alabama criminal court records are documents containing recorded accounts of criminal court proceedings in the state of Alabama. These are primarily generated and maintained by the state judiciary and often contain information pertaining to the crime being prosecuted, details of court actions, motion arguments and filed evidence which is typically contained in the court's trial transcripts containing the court’s final verdict or decrees. Criminal court records in Alabama are designed to furnish interested persons with information regarding the state’s judicial processes for transparency.
Pursuant to Alabama’s public records law § 36-12-40, Ala. Code 1975, criminal court records may be made available to interested persons upon request, unless deemed confidential. To access confidential/sealed information, the requesting party is required to meet specific eligibility requirements in order to access the record of interest.
Understanding the Alabama Criminal Court System
The judicial system of the state of Alabama was integrated into a unified structure following Amendment 328 of the Alabama constitution established in 1901. This unification allows the operation of various state courts with varying authorities under the administration of the state Supreme Court; thus, providing centralized judicial support to the state’s lesser courts. The court system of Alabama comprises:
- Supreme Court of Alabama
- Alabama Court of Civil Appeals
- Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals
- Alabama Circuit Courts
- Alabama District Courts
- Alabama Municipal Courts
- Alabama Probate Courts
- Alabama Court of the Judiciary
Most criminal cases in the state of Alabama proceed from the district court of the jurisdiction where the complaint was filed or the incident occurred. All Alabama’s 67 counties each have a district court charged with attending to criminal cases in their respective judicial districts. Their functions also include hearing cases pertaining to misdemeanors and guilty pleas for felony crimes (unless the crime is punishable by the death penalty). However, the state’s circuit courts have general jurisdiction over all criminal actions including felonies and juvenile cases. The circuit court also hears appeals from the district courts, serving as an intermediary between the court of criminal appeals and district courts. Where either party is not satisfied with the verdict passed by the court of criminal appeals, the appeal may be finalized in the state supreme court which serves as Alabama’s highest court and the court of last resort.
What’s Included in an Alabama Criminal Court Record?
Court records are generally designed to contain general case information and provide an account of the processes of trial and appellate courts. As such, most Alabama criminal court records contain the personal information of the defendant as well as that of the plaintiff (which is usually the state in criminal cases), details of the crime being prosecuted and relevant court information. However, the content of most criminal court records usually varies depending on the case and the court record custodian. Notwithstanding, most criminal court records share similar characteristics. They typically contain:
- The biodata of the defendant -- including residential addresses and contact information
- Information relating to the crime in prosecution as well as its legal severity and information regarding the indictment
- The plea of the defendant as well as details of court summons
- All search/arrest warrants issued for the defendant and other related documents
- Documents relevant in demonstrating the defendant's competence or inability to stand trial.
- Filed evidence presented by both plaintiff or defendant
- The courts trial transcripts featuring court actions and motions, appearances as well as other miscellaneous documents relating to the case
- Details of the court’s final verdict as well as the penalties ascribed to the offender -- i.e. jail terms, probation, fines, community service sentences, etc.
Obtaining Alabama Criminal Court Records
Following the provisions of Alabama public information laws on judicial records, state residents and interested members of the public may view or obtain copies of Alabama criminal court records. Generally, criminal court record requests are made to the court clerk of the court where the case was filed or heard. As such, the procedure for accessing criminal court records differs from court to court. However, the most popular channels utilized in accessing criminal court records are:
- Using the state-operated, judicial district or third party online resources
- By sending written requests to the record custodian via US mail
- By making in-person requests to the office of the clerk of courts
How Do I Access Alabama Criminal Court Records Online?
The state of Alabama provides a variety of online resources through which interested persons can access electronically filed criminal court records remotely or using the court's public terminals. While most judicial districts operate individual online indexes containing locally generated court records, their state-managed alternatives allow users to conduct state-wide searches for criminal court records of cases heard within the state’s jurisdiction. Alabama’s online resources include:
The AlaFile is used by Alabama licensed attorneys, Pro Se individuals/businesses and account managers to file and receive copies of electronically filed court records. Access to this database requires the user to register online by providing the requested information. Where some information is unavailable, new registrants may upload a letter featuring a company letterhead authorizing their registration. Persons who provide false information or access the database under false pretenses may be prosecuted for perjury.
The ACIS is Alabama’s Appellate Courts’ Online Information Service which is exclusive to state-licensed attorneys. This resource provides legal practitioners with access to case files and tracking services as well as other related functions.
Access to the tool requires pre-registration by the user. This typically entails furnishing the online form with the necessary information including a state bar identification number and details of their practice or firm. Attorneys who are appearing Pro Hac Vice may register by contacting the Clerk of the Appellate Court to request a code that may be used in place of the state bar identification number.
In addition to the above, publicly available records are also accessible from some third-party websites. These websites offer the benefit of not being limited by geographical record availability and can often serve as a starting point when researching specific or multiple records. To find a record using the search engines on these sites, interested parties must provide:
- The name of someone involved providing it is a not a juvenile
- The assumed location of the record in question such as a city, county, or state name
Third-party sites are not government-sponsored websites, and record availability may differ from official channels.
How do I Access Alabama Criminal Court Records in Person?
Alabama criminal court records may also be obtained by making in-person queries to the office of the clerk of courts in the courthouse where the case was filed/heard. Given the restrictions on electronically accessible records, in-person record requests are recommended where the requestor is interested in accessing detailed court information or confidential/sealed records. All Alabama in-person record requests may proceed thus:
Locate the Record Custodian
Under Alabama’s judicial system, criminal court records are generated and maintained by the court clerk of each court location in the state’s various judicial districts. As such, in-person court record requests require that the requestor locate the record by confirming the location of the courthouse in which the case was filed or heard.
The location of a criminal court record is primarily dependent on the most current status of the case. Given that criminal cases often begin in Alabama district courts, the district court clerk of the jurisdiction where the case was filed will likely be the custodian of the record of interest. However, the severity of the crime may also impact the records custodian, since district courts do not have jurisdiction over selected felonies. Thus, criminal court records unavailable at the jurisdiction’s district court will likely be managed by the circuit court of the judicial district. Where an appeal has been filed/heard, the record may be managed by the Alabama court of criminal appeals or the Supreme court of Alabama, depending on the severity of the prosecuted offense.
For information regarding court locations and the contact details of the various circuit court clerks across the state, interested persons may use the Alabama Judicial Circuits Map.
Gather Necessary Information
Haven verified the location of the record and its custodian, requestors are required to contact the court clerk's office for information regarding the in-person record request process. Given that most judicial districts employ unique operational procedures and management techniques, most jurisdictions have distinct requirements for accessing records. In most cases, the requesting party will be required to provide any information needed to facilitate the record search. This may include the full name and personal information of the defendant as well as the case file number and/or docket number of the record, the appellate file number (if applicable). In addition to these, some jurisdictions may also request information regarding the legal counsel of the parties involved, the approximate place and date the case was filed or general information regarding the offense. Where the record of interest has been deemed confidential or is sealed by court order, the requestor may also be required to provide a court order/subpoena before access is granted
Request the Record
While in-person requests may be made at courthouses during general working hours, most custodians require that the requestor schedule their visit to the courthouse beforehand. The requesting party may also be required to confirm the appointment prior to the visit. In some cases, the requestor may be provided with an online request form on which they must indicate their personal information, the required record and the reason for the request.
Provide Identification & Fee Requirements
In addition to general case information regarding the record of interest, the requesting party will be required to provide a government-issued photo ID. This is especially relevant for confirming the eligibility of the requestor to access the record. Where a government-issued ID may not be available, requestors may be informed of any alternative forms of identification to bring along while scheduling their appointment. Also, requestors are generally charged a nominal fee which will cover the cost of the record search and any copies requested.
How do I Access Alabama Criminal Court Records via Mail?
Alabama criminal court records may be obtained by requesting the required record via U.S. mail. While the requirements for obtaining criminal court records via mail generally varies depending on the record custodian and whether or not the case information is confidential/sealed, all requestors are required to prepare written requests containing the following information:
- The personal and contact information of the requestor (including a return address)
- The full name of the defendant and/or plaintiff
- General case information including the case file or docket number of the record
- The place and date the case was filed
- The names of the legal representatives involved.
To obtain information regarding any additional requirements, requestors are required to contact the office of the record custodian. In most cases, the custodian will require that the requesting party send the request along with a cheque or money order payment of any applicable fees and, a readable photocopy of the requestor's government-issued ID. Some offices also require a stamped, self-addressed envelope with which to return the requested document.
Are all Alabama Criminal Court Records Public?
Following Rule 30 of the Alabama Rules of judicial administration, the right to public access of Alabama criminal court records is not absolute. As such, while some records are deemed ‘open’ and may be accessed by interested members of the public, others may be restricted, exempted or sealed following a court order. Generally, all documents and case information accessible electronically are public record.
Most public criminal court records are usually contained in court dockets. These dockets are typically considered a consolidated summary of the case information. It contains details of all court actions and orders as well as appearances, bench notes and the court's final judgments/verdicts. Also available to the public are court minutes, indices and calendars/schedules. Pursuant to Alabama’s rule of Civil Procedure, these are all maintained electronically.
What Records are Automatically Sealed by Alabama State Statutes?
Criminal court records may be inaccessible for a variety of reasons. In many cases, the subject(s) of the records may petition for the records to be sealed if they meet the state’s eligibility requirements. More often, some court records are automatically sealed by Alabama state statutes where they contain information deemed confidential by law or court rule. The following are confidential court record information:
- The personal information of jurors and witnesses (if applicable)
- The personal information minors
- Details of juvenile court proceedings
- All information pertaining to mental and psychological evaluation
- Financial information including social security and account numbers
- The personal information of assault victims and domestic violence protection order files
Can I Access Alabama Sealed Criminal Court Records?
Following the provisions of Alabama’s public access laws, selected persons may access confidential court case information and sealed criminal court records. To access a sealed court record, the requesting party must present a court-issued order or subpoena authorizing them to access the record of interest. These records are generally not accessible via the state’s online databases but may be obtained by making in-person queries to the office of the clerk of courts. A court order or subpoena can be requested from an Alabama licensed judge. However, legal orders can only be issued where the requested record(s) have been proven to be legally or financially relevant.
How do I find Alabama Public Records for Free?
Most online record databases managed by the Alabama judicial state system can be used to obtain public records at no cost. However, other record retrieval options may require that the requestor pay a nominal fee to cover search/copy costs. Similarly, Alabama public records can be obtained for free by making in-person requests to the state’s public offices. The public terminals available at these offices may be used to conduct state-wide searches for public records. While these searches may be performed at no cost, requestors may be charged a standard fee if copies are required.
Are Alabama Juvenile Criminal Court Records Open to the Public?
Pursuant to Rule 20 of Alabama’s Rules of Juvenile Procedure, records of court proceedings pertaining to juveniles are automatically sealed by the state statutes. However, these records may be made available to selected persons in the event of an appeal or following a court-issued order which must feature details of a good cause justifying the release of the requested document. On the other hand, statistical information on juvenile court processes and case dispositions may be obtained if it is verified that the release of the information contained in the record will not be detrimental to the subject of the record.
How to Find Alabama Criminal History Records
Alabama criminal court records may not be used as alternatives to criminal history information or background checks. The criminal history records of residents of Alabama are maintained by the Criminal Justice Services Division of the Alabama State Bureau of Investigation. Unlike court records, criminal history information contains a summary of all offenses for which an individual has been found guilty and convicted. The record also includes arrests, pending dispositions, and information regarding nolle-pressed charges (in some cases).
Criminal history records can be used for background check purposes by employers, landlords, lenders. and other certifying agencies to access an individual. To obtain a record, interested persons may use the state online repository or query the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) in person or via mail.
In-person or mail-in requests may be made by downloading and completing the ALEA Application to Review Alabama Criminal History Record Information (CHRI). This will require the subject to be fingerprinted by any of the state-approved fingerprinting services. Upon completing the process, the form may be enclosed along with a copy of a photo ID and a cheque or money order payment of the fees indicated on the form. The subject is also required to notarize the application and indicated authorization for the ALEA to release all criminal information to an indicated requestor.
Alternatively, criminal history information can be obtained online using the Alabama Background Check System (ABCS). However, this site is a subscription-based resource and requires users to pay $95 per year in subscription fees and $15 per background check requested. This online repository is especially useful for employers with frequent use for rapid but comprehensive background checks on prospective Alabama-resident employees.
Are Alabama Criminal Trial Transcripts Open to the Public?
Unless sealed by court order or Alabama state statutes (where it features sensitive/confidential information), Alabama court trial transcripts are generally public records. They typically contain motion arguments of the legal representatives of the plaintiff/defendant as well as the court’s final verdict regarding a case. Trial transcripts can be obtained by contacting the office of the court clerk in the court where the case was heard. To obtain a transcript, interested persons are required to visit the court clerk's office to select the required pages to view or copy. Requestors are generally charged a standard per-page fee for copies, and additional charges if they require the record to be mailed to a specific address. The Alabama Judicial Circuits Map may be useful for finding the location and contact information of court clerks across the state of Alabama.