Access to court records is governed by rules and policies adopted by the North Dakota Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has long recognized and supported the public's general access to court records. For courts to do their job properly it is critical that court records are complete and accurate. As a result, the Supreme Court has adopted rules governing access to court records.
The main rule about court records is Administrative Rule 41, entitled Access to Judicial Records.
A second, important rule is Administrative Rule 47, which tells you how to request a record search.
How can I gain access to court records?
You can conveniently conduct online searches of district court record information by name, citation number, or case number.
The search site is located on the Supreme Court's website at: http://www.ndcourts.gov/publicsearch/default.html.
An online search will show you record information maintained anywhere in the state. The site also allows searching court calendars, which gives court users information about court dates and times.
You can also contact the clerk of court in the county in which a record is located. Clerks of court are the custodians of court records and are responsible for maintaining the integrity and completeness of the records. A drawback to going to your local clerk's office is that you will only find paper record information that is maintained in that office.
What court records can I see?
Court records and record information are generally open to public inspection. However, some records and record information cannot be disclosed because they are confidential by law or by court rule.
Examples of confidential court records or record information:
A fuller listing of confidential records or record information is in Section 5 of Administrative Rule 41 and the Appendix to the rule.
How do I get written information about a record from the clerk of court?
Administrative Rule 47 describes how to get a written response from a clerk of court about a record.
There is an important exception to these search and fee requirements: If you only want to know whether a particular record exists or has been filed, such as "Is there a probate record concerning Person X" or "Has a criminal case been filed concerning Person Y", and you do not want written confirmation of specific contents of the record, then this would not be a record search and a fee is not required. The clerk of court can simply tell you "Yes, there is a record" or "No, such a case has not been filed", as the case may be.
Can I look at records in the clerk's office?
Except for confidential record information, court records are open to public inspection during normal business hours. Most clerk's offices have public computer terminals that allow the public to search the court's record information system.
How can I inspect records in the clerk's office?
Make an oral or written request to the clerk. A written request may be required ifyour request is lengthy or needs clarification.
Clearly identify the record requested so the clerk can find it without doing extensive research.
You cannot make a standing request for record information that does not exist yet.
The clerk is not required to allow access to more than 10 files per day per requestor but may do so if it doesn't disrupt the clerk's primary responsibilities.
You must inspect the record in full view of court personnel whenever possible. After your inspection of the records, you cannot leave until the records have been returned and examined for completeness.
How do I get copies of a court record?
Once you have located the record information you want, you can ask the clerk to make copies of the record. The clerk will tell you the charge for making copies. As of May 1, 2007, the fee for making copies is .10 per page, with a $1.00 minimum charge.
What if the clerk tells me I can't look at a record?
Sometimes a clerk of court will be uncertain about whether certain record information can be released to the public or may think the record is not open to public inspection. The clerk must tell you, in writing if you ask, why you can't look at the record and the specific state or federal law or court rule that keeps you from looking at it. The clerk may also ask the court whether the record can be disclosed.
Can I ask the court to prohibit access to a record?
Sometimes there is information in a court record that a person does not want made available to the general public. Under Administrative Rule 41, Section 6(a), a party to the case or the person about whom information is present in the court record can ask the court to prohibit access to that information. The court can also prohibit access on its own. If you want the court to prohibit access, you must submit a written motion to the court and give notice to all parties in the case.The court can require you to give notice to others if the court considers it appropriate. Based on the request and certain considerations the court is required to take into account, the court will decide whether to prohibit access to the record information.
Can I get access to confidential record information?
Much like asking the court to prohibit access to a record, you can ask the court to allow access to an otherwise confidential record. You must submit a written motion asking the court for access to the record and you must give notice to all parties in the case. The court will then decide whether access to the information will be permitted. Administrative Rule 41, Section 6(b) describes this procedure.