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What are Florida Criminal Court Records?
Florida Criminal Court Records consist of all the information and files generated during official criminal court proceedings. They include filed transcripts, tapes of depositions, documentary exhibits, progress dockets and more. Court records aren’t restricted to only traditional written media. Available records may also include documents, photographs, films, recordings, maps, papers and letters made or received in connection with the related case. Data processing software and tapes may also be included as court records.
Not all records generated during a court proceeding qualify as court records. In compliance with the laws set by the Florida Rule of Judicial Administration (2.420), records produced by the judicial branch, such as drafts of opinion, court conference records, written materials prepared by a judge, and advisory opinions related to the court’s administration are protected from public view.
What’s contained in a Criminal Court Record?
The content of a criminal court record varies with different subjects, depending on the nature of the charges and how far their case goes. Not all cases end with trial convictions. Many of the criminal court cases in Florida often end with plea bargains before or during the trial. Some of the contents of a criminal court file may include:
- An original affidavit showing support for probable cause
- Arrest warrant
- Violation/infraction complaint
- Uniform Arrest report
- Orders regarding probation
- Transaction sheet
- Documents related to programs for
- Alcohol Education Program
- Drug Education Program
- Youth Offender
- Accelerated Rehabilitation
- Family violence education program
- Judgment mittimus
Who Can Access Criminal Court Records?
Florida’s Sunshine law establishes broad access to public court records for every citizen, except where prevented by law, statute or court order. Almost any adult can view or request official copies of criminal records.
Understanding the Florida Court Structure
Florida’s court’s system is divided into two broad categories: appellate courts and trial courts. The appellate level consists of the Supreme Court and five courts of appeals, while trial courts are made up of 67 county courts and 20 circuit courts.
Made up of seven justices, the Florida Supreme Court serves as the court of last resort for criminal and civil cases in the state. It has jurisdiction over appeals against district court decisions, death penalty verdicts and conflicts between lower courts among others.
Courts of Appeal
The District Courts of Appeal (DCA) serve as the state’s intermediate appellate court. They’re divided into five jurisdictions, with headquarters at Tallahassee, Tampa, Miami, Daytona Beach, and West Palm Beach. DCAs preside over most appeals originating from the circuit courts involving matters of the state constitution and court judgments.
Circuit courts serve as the trial courts for the state of Florida. They have general jurisdiction over civil and criminal cases, including:
- Major felonies that may lead to incarceration
- Domestic relations cases
- Civil cases involving disputes greater than $15,000
- Appeals from county court judgments
With at least one in every Florida County, County courts have limited jurisdiction over certain types of civil and criminal cases, such as misdemeanors, ordinance violations, civil cases where the dispute is less than $15,000, civil dissolutions, uncontested divorces, and juvenile traffic cases.
Obtaining Criminal Court Records
Residents of Florida can obtain criminal court records using any three means:
- Obtaining records in person
- Obtaining records online
- Obtaining records by mail
How to Obtain Florida Court Records in Person
Step 1. Identify the Right Court
Criminal court records for cases filed at the circuit court can be obtained by visiting the local trial court. The Florida court website provides a list of the different courts in Florida’s court structure as well as their location and address. It also provides a clerk directory that contains a list of trial court clerk’s street addresses, website and phone numbers for different county courts.
Step 2. Gather Case Information
Any request for criminal court records must include relevant information to facilitate the search. The surest approach to finding a court record is to conduct a search using the case number. However, records can also be found by conducting searches using the name(s) of the parties involved in the case, attending attorneys or a presiding judge. In cases where none of this information is available, members of the public may be able to find the record by manually searching through court records filed within a specified period.
Step 3. Request for Records
To obtain records, interested parties are required to submit a written application, providing relevant details, such as the case number, name of the defendant named on the record, the presiding judge or the attorneys who managed the case. While most appellate and trial courts have rules governing the submission of requests for records as well as access to proceedings and courtroom information, requests for criminal court records are generally processed by the clerk of court.
Step 4. Pay for Records
Although criminal court records are free, requesters will still be expected to pay for the amount of time spent searching for the record as well as the fees for making copies of the provided record. Interested parties will be expected to complete payment before copies of the record are released. The total fee for each physical record request varies, depending on the number of copies required.
How to Obtain Criminal Court Records by Mail
To obtain criminal court records by mail, residents must first establish that the court offers this service. Interested parties can confirm this by contacting the clerk of court or visiting the court’s official webpage. Mailing details, as well as the cost for coping official court records, can be found on most court websites. While the rules vary with different clerks, most courts require a physical address for mailing records. Payment for records may be made by credit card or check. Obtain records by mail may take 3 days to 2 weeks determining on the court and the difficulty in finding the record.
Obtaining Criminal Court Records from County Courts
Electronic access to criminal court records for county court cases can be obtained using the Comprehensive Case Information System (CCIS) — an online portal that provides a secure single point search tool for state-wide court cases. To use the search portal, the requester must first select the appropriate county. It provides search options for attorneys, party access, registered users and members of the public. Although passwords are required for the party access, attorney access, and registered user access, no such requirement is needed for public access.
Note: Registered, attorney and party access often provide information on records restricted from public view.
Searches can be conducted on a case-by-case basis or using a specified date range. Members of the public can also search through the online portal using a known first and last name (or business name).
As at 2019, the CCIS only provided online access to circuit and county courts in 35 counties, including Baker, Bradford, Calhoun, Columbia, Desoto, Dixie, Franklin, Gilchrist, Glades, Gulf, Hamilton, Hardee, Hendry, Hernando, Highlands, Holmes, Jackson, Jefferson, Lafayette, Liberty, Madison, Marion, Martin, Nassau, Okeechobee, Pasco, Polk, Putnam, Santa Rosa, Sumter, Taylor, Union, Wakulla, Walton, and Washington.
Many of the county courts outside the CCIS portal provides online access to criminal court records via independent search platforms maintained on their official website. Records searches may be limited to a fixed number of results and may only contain documents for cases filed from 1990 till present. The following are links for some of the major county courts in Florida:
- Alachua County
- Bay County
- Brevard County
- Broward County
- Charlotte County
- Citrus County
- Clay County
- Collier County
- Duval County
- Escambia County
- Flagler County
- Gadsden County
- Hillsborough County
- Indian River County
- Lake County
- Lee County
- Leon County
- Levy County
- Manatee County
- Miami-Dade County
- Monroe County
- Okaloosa County
- Orange County
- Osceola County
- Palm Beach County
- Pinellas County
- St. Johns County
- St. Lucie County
- Sarasota County
- Seminole County
- Suwannee County
Can I Find Florida Court Records Online?
Yes, some trial and appellate courts provide online access to criminal court records and other information. For instance, the Florida Supreme Court maintains an online platform that members of the public can use to search for dockets. The Florida District Courts of Appeal also provides access to docket information via a searchable platform. Interested parties can conduct searches by case number or using other options, such as searching by filing date, attorney/party name or lower tribunal case number.
Are all Florida Criminal Court Records Open to the Public?
The majority of the information generated during a criminal court proceeding falls under the umbrella of public record and therefore can be accessed by members of the public. However, access to some records may be restricted by law, Florida statute or court order. For instance, members of the public cannot access or view sealed criminal court records. Florida juvenile criminal court records are also protected as confidential records, which makes them completely exempt from the state’s public records law.
Exceptions exist. In compliance with Florida laws (section 985.04), juvenile court records may become public records if:
- The minor has been transferred to the adult criminal system
- The minor is being tried for a crime that qualifies as an adult felony
- The minor is sentenced to the juvenile system from the adult system
- Florida criminal court records may also be deemed confidential if the court rules that should be kept from public view to:
- Prevent a serious threat to the administration of justice
- Obtain evidence for legal issues to another case
- Avoid injury to a party protected by privacy rights
- Protect a government interest
- Protect trade secrets
Note: Although sealed records are closed to the public, they can still be viewed by several government agencies as well as the Florida Bar. In addition, access to sealed records may still be obtained if a filed court request to unseal the records is approved.
Are Transcripts of Florida Criminal Court Proceedings available to the public?
Access to the transcripts of criminal court proceedings may be available at some courts. The process of obtaining these records varies with different courts. To obtain copies of a transcript for cases filed at the Federal district court, interested parties must contact the court reporter or courtroom deputy listed as present during the proceeding. Members of the public may be able to order copies of a transcript by visiting the court’s website and paying the applicable fee.
Transcripts of cases filed at the county courts can also be obtained by submitting a request to the digital court reporter or the respective court reporting office. To reduce the risk of delays, requests for transcripts should include as much relevant information such as the:
- Requester’s name
- Contact details
- Case number
- Case style
- Time and date of the proceeding
- Type of proceeding
- Name of the presiding judge