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What are Michigan Criminal Court Records?
Michigan criminal court records refer to the various documents and recorded data pertaining to the criminal court proceedings within the state’s jurisdiction. These records are typically maintained by the state judiciary and are designed to provide critical evidence of court actions, motions and the deliberations leading up to final judgments or decrees. They furnish members of the public with details of judicial processes to provide insight into the impartiality of the state’s legal system. As required by Michigan’s Freedom of Information Law, these records can be made available to interested persons upon request, provided the records are deemed non-confidential, or the requestor meets the eligibility requirements for accessing otherwise restricted information.
Understanding Michigan’s Criminal Court System
Michigan’s judicial system is a unification of all the state’s courts under the ‘One Court of Justice’ concept. Following its adoption in 1963, the concept allows for the operation of the state judicial system as a single unit of various arms. Each of these courts has a unique judicial function, and may hear felonies, misdemeanors and infractions depending on their jurisdiction The court system comprises:
- Michigan state Supreme Court
- The Michigan Court of Appeals
- The Trial Courts ( Comprised of the Circuit Courts and District Courts)
- Several other administrative and specialized courts ( including small claims courts, bankruptcy courts, probate courts and the court of claims)
There are 57 circuit courts and 105 district courts in Michigan which are responsible for processing criminal cases against offenders of adult age in their respective jurisdictions. While the circuit court serves as the state’s primary trial court with the broadest powers for hearing felonies, district courts hear criminal cases of lesser severity and are considered trial courts of limited jurisdiction.
Most criminal cases begin in the state’s circuit and district courts but are finalized in the state court of appeals or the state supreme court.
The court of appeals serves as an intermediary between Michigan’s trial courts and the supreme court. The Court of Appeals hears appeals of judgments from trial courts throughout the state while the supreme court is the highest court and the court of last resort in the state of Michigan.
What is Included in a Criminal Court Record?
While the content of criminal court records is known to vary depending on the case and the court where the record was generated, most criminal court records share similar characteristics.
Criminal court records are specifically maintained to provide information regarding the details of a criminal court case, the parties involved and the most recent status of the case. As such, most criminal court records contain:
- The personal information and residential address of the defendant and/or plaintiff (if applicable)
- Details of the crime committed as well as their legal severity—i.e. infraction, misdemeanor or felony.
- Issued and/or executed search and arrest warrants and related filings.
- Court summons and information on indictment
- Information regarding the defendant’s plea
- Documents relating to various programs which may impact the defendant’s competency to stand trial
- Trial transcripts including motions and actions taken during the court proceeding
- Any official receipts, transaction sheets and miscellaneous documents relating to the case
- The final judgment, penalties, probationary conditions, and fines
However, criminal court records often exclude inmate records or incarceration information unless directly relevant to a court proceeding.
Obtaining Michigan Criminal Court Records
Michigan state residents are afforded the legal right to view and obtain copies of criminal court records from various court record custodians. Given the varying legal authorities of various courts and their distinct operational methods, the procedure for accessing criminal court records generally varies from court to court. However, the most popular channels utilized in accessing criminal court records are using online resources, via U.S mail and by making in-person requests.
Publicly available records are 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 Michigan Criminal Court Records in Person?
Following the restrictions on court records obtainable via remotely accessible channels, in-person requests are recommended to persons looking to obtain complete criminal court records with few or no exclusions. To access Michigan court records in person, the requesting party is required to proceed as follows.
- Locate the Record Custodian
Under Michigan’s judicial system, criminal court records are managed by the various circuit and district courts as well as the state’s Court of Appeals and Supreme Court. To obtain a record, the requestor must confirm and locate the jurisdiction where the case was originally heard. The circuit or district court of the jurisdiction will likely be the custodian of the record of interest (unless the cases have also been heard by the appellate, courts). Other factors such as the severity of the criminal offense and the most current status of the case might also be useful for determining the record’s location. Michigan’s One Court of Justice website features directories that feature details of courthouse addresses and contact information in various jurisdictions.
- Gather Necessary Information
Upon locating the record custodian, requestors are advised to contact the court administration for information regarding any requirements for accessing the record of interest. In most cases, the requestor will be required to provide information with which to facilitate record search—this may include the names of the plaintiff/defendant, details of the offense, the case file number of the record as well as the name(s) of either or both attorney. If the record required is deemed confidential, the requestor will be required to provide a court order/subpoena in order to access the required record.
- Request the Record
To request criminal court records in person, requesters must visit the appropriate courthouse or clerk’s office during official working hours. In some cases, visits may only be made on appointment-basis, which is the responsibility of the requestor to make and confirm. Record requests may also require the requestor to complete a request form on-site and provide a reason for their request—this will depend primarily on the record type, the requestor, and the record custodian.
- Provide Identification and Fee Requirements
Pursuant to Michigan state laws, persons seeking access to court records may be required to confirm their eligibility to view the record by presenting a government-issued ID. Requestors may also be charged a nominal fee to cover the cost of elaborate searches and copies. Where this is the case, the requesting party will not be provided with the requested records unless all financial and identification requirements have been met.
- How Do I Find Michigan Criminal Court Records by Mail?
An alternative to making in-person record requests to a courthouse, interested persons may send a written request for a criminal court record via U.S. mail. The requirements for obtaining records via mail generally vary depending on the record custodian, the case and the authority of the requesting party. Generally, however, all written requests must include:
- The personal information of the requestor
- Full names of the defendant and plaintiff
- The case file and docket numbers (where applicable)
- The place and date the case was filed
- The names of either or both attorneys.
Most custodians also require that requestors enclose a cheque or money order payable to cover search and copy costs, as well as a copy of the requestor’s government-issued ID and in some cases, a self-addressed envelope. However, prior to preparing a written request, intending requesters are advised to contact the custodian for sufficient information regarding the process.
- How to Find Michigan Criminal Court Records Online?
The Michigan Courts One Court of Justice website features a case search tool that allows members of the public self-serve from the state’s database of criminal court records. However, the tool only provides access to criminal cases heard by the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court and excludes any information deemed confidential by court order.
To find Michigan criminal court records using the tool, users may conduct online searches following the instructions on the case search tips page. Users must furnish the tool with the required criteria which may be the case docket number or the full name of any of the persons or companies involved in the case. Interested persons may also use the case by list feature of the tool to view all docket sheets of a specific attorney if the aforementioned criteria are not known. Attorney searches require the attorney’s name and/or their bar number.
In addition to obtaining case information, interested persons may also access court opinions and orders using the OCJ Opinion and Order Search tool. Searches for opinions and order of Michigan’s Supreme Court and Court of Appeals can be conducted by party name, docket number or keywords
Since most trial courts (circuit and district courts) operate independently and provide different online resources and tools that provide access to court records, the One Court of Justice website also feature a Trial Court Directory which provides comprehensive information regarding the circuit and district courts of various jurisdictions as well as their online services such as online access to records, online dockets, and online filings.
Are all Michigan Criminal Court Records Public?
Following the establishment of Michigan’s Rule 8.116, members of the general public may access criminal court records including records of court proceedings. The state’s courts may not restrict access to these records unless there is a specific interest to be protected which outweighs the right to public access. As such, most criminal court records are public record and their custodians are tasked with facilitating public access unless restricted by law or court order. Some confidential court record information includes:
- Records pertaining to juvenile court summons and proceedings
- Details of mental health and psychological evaluations
- Financial account information and social security numbers.
- Information regarding domestic violence
How do I find Michigan Public Records for Free?
The state of Michigan Public Information Office maintains public electronic records that can be obtained for free by using any of the available online resources. The One Court of Justice website features the public case search tool, the opinion, and order tool and a public access index of schedules, calendars, case information and oral arguments accessible online.
To access public records for free users may conduct online searches by furnishing the tool with the required criteria. In addition, The online Trial Court Directory provides comprehensive information regarding local circuit and district courts which provide similar online services.
While remote access to most records is free, requestors may be charged a nominal fee for paper or media copies and additional fees for authentication.
Can I Access Sealed Criminal Court Records?
Michigan’s right of public access (Rule 8.116) allows members of the public the right to challenge restrictions on the accessibility of court records. As such, sealed criminal court records may be made available to persons who meet specific eligibility requirements. To be eligible to access a sealed criminal court record, or other restricted information, the requestor is required to be a legal representative of the subject(s) of the record, or a member/staff of the criminal justice system, the state department of human services or an authorized professional licensor. Persons who are neither of the aforementioned may access criminal court records by obtaining a court order to that effect. However, to be issued a court order or subpoena, the requesting party must state-specific interests that outweigh the need to keep the required information confidential.
Are Trial Transcripts Open to the Public?
Following the establishment of Michigan Trial Court Record Management Standards, members of the public may view or request copies of trial transcripts filed with or recorded by the court. These copies are to be made from the official transcript and may be provided to an interested person for a fee not exceeding $0.30 per page, pursuant to MCL 600.2543 of the standard. Trial transcripts feature information regarding court actions and decisions as well as oral arguments of every attorney and the testimonies of witnesses where applicable. They provide an unedited account of the court’s proceedings as documented by the court clerk.
How Do I Obtain Federal Criminal Court Records Online?
The United States District Courts of the Eastern District of Michigan and Western District of Michigan are courts of federal jurisdiction located in Michigan’s eastern Lower Peninsula and western districts respectively. Both courts are tasked with presiding over federal criminal cases in their respective jurisdictions and maintaining court records of cases that they hear. To provide online access to these records, the U.S government operates PACER (public access to court electronic records). The PACER case locator serves as the national index for federal courts and may be used to search, view or copy case information.
To use the PACER case locator, interested members of the public may register in order to receive login information with which to access the index. Once provided with the required login information users may conduct remote searches online using information regarding the record of interest such as the names of the parties involved, case file/docket number and the date the case was filed. Users are generally charged $0.10 per page or a maximum of $3 for a document.