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What are Texas Criminal Court Records?
Texas Criminal Court Records contain a compilation of records and information generated, created, produced, or filed in relation to a criminal court proceeding. It includes documents, information, and other data received, collected or maintained by the court or a court official on behalf of the court in connection with a criminal case. Court records may be available in electronic, paper or some other physical form. Criminal court case records may refer to:
- Calendars and dockets
Criminal court records do not include records maintained by a court that are unconnected with an existing case, such as notes prepared by a judge, drafts or other works prepared by court staff.
Note: Court records do not include tangible evidence related to a criminal investigation (such as narcotics or firearms). Generally, public records must be susceptible to some form of copying, which allows them to be shared.
What’s Included in a Criminal Court Record?
Criminal court records vary on a case-by-case basis. Depending on the charges, nature of the cases, and how far in the proceedings the case has gone, criminal court files may contain:
- Executed arrest warrant
- Judgment mittimus
- Notice of rights
- Probation orders
- Plea of nolo contendere
- Uniform arrest report
- Determination of competency to stand trial
- Suspension of prosecution
- Summons and complaint
- Documents that support the claims of the plaintiff including inmate records of the defendant (where applicable)
Certain sections of the documents filed in a criminal court record may be redacted to protect the subject’s safety or privacy.
Are Texas Criminal Court Records Open to the Public?
Most criminal court records fall under the umbrella of public records and are therefore available to the public. However, in compliance with the Texas Public Information Act, certain records (or parts of the information contained within a court record) may be exempt from disclosure if it’s protected by law or court order. Interested parties can inspect or obtain copies of criminal court records by visiting the courthouse or contacting the clerk of court or record custodian.
Understanding the Texas Criminal Court Structure
The state of Texas operates with a complex court structure that is divided into five broad levels: the highest appellate courts, intermediate appellate courts, state trial courts, county-level courts, local trial courts and federal district courts which have limited jurisdiction over selected federal crimes committed in the state.
Highest Appellate Courts
The Courts of Criminal Appeal and the Texas Supreme Court serve as the highest appellate courts in the state. Both courts have nine judges and unrestricted state-wide jurisdiction over cases. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has jurisdiction over criminal cases while the Texas Supreme Court serves as the court of last resort for civil and juvenile cases sent from the courts of appeal.
Made up of 14 courts and 80 justices, the Texas courts of Appeals constitute the intermediate appellate courts. They oversee appeals of criminal and civil cases sent from district courts and county-level courts.
State Trial Courts
With 457 courts in the state, district courts serve as the main trial courts of general jurisdiction. Although they have original jurisdiction over civil matters, felonies, selected misdemeanors and infractions, divorce cases, and election matters, some courts specialize in particular legal matters such as the Texas Criminal District Courts. Most district courts serve at least one Texas county. Some counties may be served by multiple district courts.
Courts at this level include statutory probate courts, county courts at law, and constitutional county courts. With one court in each county, Constitutional County courts have limited jurisdiction over misdemeanor offenses that carry a jail sentence or fine over $500.
Local Trial Courts
With over 1700 courts combined across precincts, municipal and justice courts make up the local trial courts for the state of Texas. They preside over different types of cases, including criminal misdemeanors that carry only a fine penalty (no confinement) such as ordinance violations and traffic misdemeanors.
Note: Most municipal courts and justice courts are not courts of record and as such do not preserve records of the proceedings or presented evidence.
Obtaining Texas Criminal Court Records
Texas criminal court records can be obtained by contacting the court where the record is stored. Access to Texas Criminal Court Records is governed by statutory law, court rules, and common law. Members of the public may request access to court records such as pleadings, case motions, court decrees, dockets, and other items in a case file. In most cases, the clerk of court serves as the custodian of records.
Note: Texas laws prevent access to juvenile criminal records in cases where the subject has committed a crime other than a felony or a Class A or B misdemeanor.
How Do I Obtain Texas Criminal Court Records Online?
The Texas Judicial Branch provides an online case search platform that contains information and documents compiled from supreme and appellate courts. It also includes court records originating from trial courts across the different counties. Interested parties can use Texas online case search tools using different options.
- Search by appellate case number: This option can be used to find criminal court records for cases heard in the Court of Criminal Appeals or Supreme Court of Texas. Searches can be done using a complete or partial appellate case number. In situations where the latter option is used, the search portal provides case files with alphanumeric strings that match the partial case number (with a limit of up to 1000 results).
- Search by Attorney Bar number: Records of criminal cases led by a particular attorney can be found by entering in the attorney’s first and last name or a known attorney bar number.
- Date Filed: Users can filter the results of a search by searching for records filed on a particular day or a specific date range.
- Trial Court Case Number: For criminal cases heard at the trial court, searches can be conducted using a known trial number. If an incomplete number is used, the search portal compares the entered number with stored files and provides results in the database with matching strings.
Most search systems allow users to combine multiple search criteria, providing increased specificity in the results.
Note: Records provided on the Texas Appellate Management E-file System (TAMES) are not updated in real-time. Some records may take longer than 24hours before they’re added to the system.
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 a 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 to Obtain Court Records in Person (Texas Judicial Branch)
Step 1. Collect Case Information
To obtain records in person, interested parties will be required to provide relevant case information to assist with the search. This includes data such as:
- Case number
- Name of the defendant (legal name)
- Name of the attorneys and judges involved in the case
Step 2. Visit the Courthouse
Identify the correct courthouse where the case is filed. The Texas Judicial Branch provides an interactive map that lists the locations of different courts by counties. It also provides the contact details of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeal, courts of appeal, and the trial courts located in each administrative judicial region.
Step 3. Submit a request
Visit the courthouse and submit a request to the clerk of the court. Most courts provide a request form to facilitate the process. Some courthouses provide public terminals where members of the public can view or inspect records.
Understanding Case Number Formats for Texas Court Records
Case numbers help provide quick information about each attached court file. The case format used for organizing court records varies with different courts. For instance, the Texas Supreme Court uses a case number format where the first two characters represent the filing year, so cases filed in 1999 begin with 99 while cases filed in 2006 begin with 06 (example 10–0475).
Cases filed in the Texas court of criminal appeal are tagged differently. Case files may be tagged based on their category: PDRS, Appeals and Writs. Case files for PDR start with an alphanumeric code “PD”, while appeal case files begin with AP (example PD–07755–03 and AP–67,85). Similarly, writ case files begin with WR, followed by numeric characters (WR–14,352–05)
How Do I Access Judicial Records?
Interested parties can inspect or make copies of judicial records by contacting the office of the Judge of the Court. Requests must be submitted in writing to the custodian of the record, indicating the record required. In cases where access is denied, requestors may be able to reverse the decision by filing an appeal with the Administrative Director of the Office of Court Administration.
- A copy of the denial notice as well as the original request
- Reasons for the request
- Presentation of any arguments or facts in the requester’s favor
Appeals must comply with the Rules of Judicial Administration and must be filed within 30 days from the receipt of the notice of denial.