Are Missouri Court Records Public?
The State of Missouri has two statues that govern its release of records to members of the public. The first is the Missouri Public Records Law, enacted in 1961 to grant transparency to the government and its agencies’ activities. It is strict and has lots of limitations regarding the records accessible to the general public.
In reaction to President Richard Nixon’s Watergate Scandal, a second Freedom of Information Law, otherwise known as Missouri’s Sunshine Law, was enacted in 1973. The Sunshine Law, as captured in Chapter 610 of the Revised Statutes of Missouri, makes public all written or electronic records, actions, deliberations, and votes of every government body in the State of Missouri.
Under this law, public access to records may still be denied but only to the degree dictated by state statute. Technically, every record captured in the Missouri Public Records Law is also accessible through the Missouri Sunshine Law. However, the Public Records Law has not suffered repeal because certain clauses in the Sunshine Law may explicitly exempt access from certain government records. Still, such records may be deemed accessible in the Public Record Law.
As such, both laws are complementary and have, thus, remained relevant. Pursuant to § 610.010(4) of the Sunshine Law, Missouri court records are public records that can be accessed by interested members of the public. However, Mo.Rev.Stat. § 211.321 posits that Juvenile Court records, social records, and all information obtained for the execution of courts’ official duties are not subject to access and inspection by the general public, except through a court order.
How Do I Find Court Records in Missouri?
The first step to take when trying to obtain court records in Missouri to identify the court where the case was heard or tried. Typically, Court Clerks are custodians of court records in Missouri. Once the court is identified, requesters may obtain the necessary contact information such as a physical address, mailing address, phone numbers, and email from the Missouri Courts Online Directory. Requesters can search this directory by providing the county’s name where the court is located or the court’s city name and zip code.
With the right contact information, interested persons may obtain court records in person, electronically, or by mail. For in-person requests, visit the courthouse and obtain the appropriate request form from the Clerk of the Court. The clerk may charge requestors certain fees for preparing copies of the record requested.
Some courts allow mail-in requests. Requesters may confirm by contacting the Clerk of the Court through the Missouri Courts Online Directory’s information. For online requests, use the Missouri Courts Case.Net portal. The portal allows requesters to search for records using any of the following:
- Filing date search
- Litigant name search
- Scheduled hearings and trials search
- Case number search
- Judgment index
Each of these search options requires the requestor to provide relevant and specific details on the case under consideration. The search results bear headings:
- Case header: this is a general overview of the case, which contains the filing date, case type, case number, disposition status, and the court where the case was heard.
- Parties and attorneys: as the heading suggests, it captures all the parties to the case and their respective attorneys.
- Docket entries: this is a summary of the case, including exhibits, motions, subpoenas, summons, notices, etc.
Searching for records via the Case.Net portal is free. However, concerned persons may use the service to pay for filing fees and other necessary court payments.
Considered open to citizens of the United States, public records are available through both traditional government sources and third-party websites and organizations. In many cases, third-party websites make the search easier as they are not limited geographically or by technological limitations. They are considered a good place to start when looking for a specific record or multiple records. To gain access to these records, interested parties must typically provide:
The name of the person listed in the record. Juveniles are typically exempt from this search method.
The last known or assumed location of the person listed in the record. This includes cities, counties, and states.
While third-party sites offer such services, they are not government-sponsored entities, and record availability may vary on these sites when compared to government sources.
How Do Missouri Courts Work?
Missouri Courts are saddled with the responsibility of interpreting the Federal, State, and County laws and delivering justice to cases before the courts. The Missouri court structure comprises of three levels, which are:
- The Trial Courts
- An Intermediate Appellate Court
- The Supreme Court
The Missouri Trial Court system is made up of Municipal Courts, Circuit Courts, and Administrative Hearing Commission. These Courts are charged with hearing facts and deciding civil, criminal, and family-related matters. Trial Court Judges are chosen by merit, using the assisted appointment method, where appointed judges serve a short initial term before a yes or no retention election. Elected and retained Judges' terms begins on the 1st day of January after the election. This method applies to all the Trial Courts in the State except most Circuit Courts.
Circuit Courts are the primary trial courts in Missouri. Circuit Courts have jurisdiction over all civil and criminal cases. Missouri Circuit Courts are organized into divisions based on the type of cases they handle. Circuit Courts are divided into Family Court, Associate Circuit, Juvenile Court, Juvenile Court, Probate Court, Small Claims Court, Municipal Court, and Traffic Court.
Each Missouri Circuit Court operates an Associate Circuit where certain cases like misdemeanors, criminal cases, and infractions are handled. These cases are heard and judged by Associate Judges within the particular Circuit Court.
Family Court has exclusive jurisdiction over certain types of cases. Cases heard by a Family Court include Child Custody, adoption, juvenile proceedings, adult abuse, prevention, dissolution of marriage (divorce), legal separation, annulment, maintenance (alimony), etc. If a particular Circuit Court has no Family Court division, cases under the court’s jurisdiction automatically go to a Juvenile Court.
Cases heard by a Juvenile Court include juvenile delinquency, truancy, adoption, and guardianship. Juvenile Court may also hear cases relating to child care and treatment, and matters involving children alleged to be beyond the control of their parents. Juvenile matters are usually presented in front of a Judge, not a Jury.
Every Circuit Court in Missouri has a Probate Court division. Probate Court has jurisdiction over all probate matters such as probate of wills, the determination of heirs, administration of trusts, and most guardianship cases. Probate matters in Missouri may last for more than six months because it takes Creditors at least six months to file a claim against the estate. Once a claim is filed, the Executor must review the claim and approve or deny it.
Finally, a Circuit Court may also have a Municipal Court or Traffic Court division, which oversees the violation of municipal ordinances. Some Circuit Courts may also have administrative tribunals that hear cases related to traffic and parking violations. Note that these Courts operate under the supervision of Circuit Courts.
While a Circuit Court may have a Municipal Court within it, Municipal Courts are generally the second level of Trial Courts in Missouri. Municipal Courts are courts with original jurisdiction over municipal ordinance violation. The majority of the Municipal Courts in Missouri have a presiding Circuit Court Judge and one Municipal Court. Note that there are no strict laws concerning this. Some Counties may have several Municipal Judges.
The Administrative Hearing Commission is the last division of the Missouri Trial Court. This Court is a neutral, independent administrative tribunal that has jurisdiction over 100 matters in the State. Cases involving State tax, professional licensing, Medicaid provider, Highways and Transportation Commissions, etc., are under the jurisdiction of the Commission. The Commission may hear cases statewide even though it operates out of one central location. Cases brought before the Commission may be appealed from decisions of other State agencies.
Intermediate Appellate Courts are also known as the Missouri Court of Appeals. This Court handles all appeals from Civil Courts and those not included in the Supreme Court exclusive jurisdiction. Cases Decided in the Court of Appeals may be transferred to the Supreme Court, but this does not happen often. Less than 10 percent of appeals are transferred to the Supreme Court. In Missouri, the Appellate Court is divided into districts, which include Eastern, Southern, and Western Districts.
In an appeal, a record of the current status of the case is filled. Each party usually files a brief stating its argument and the basis for them. Note that these documents are open to the public. The Court of Appeal may decide to hear oral arguments or not. When there are such arguments, no witnesses or juries are allowed to participate. Only the judges decide whether there are prejudicial mistakes in the matter. The Missouri Court of Appeal has 32 judges. The Judges are selected using the Missouri Nonpartisan Court Plan and the help of the Appellate Judicial Commission.
The Supreme Court is the highest in Missouri. This Court has exclusive jurisdiction over cases involving the validity of the United States Statute, the validity of Missouri Statute, State revenue laws, the imposition of the death penalty, and challenges to a state's official right to hold office. Aside from these cases, the Supreme Cases may also consider appeals from lower courts of public interest. The Supreme Court also supervises the activities of lower courts by making detailed court practices and procedures available. There are currently seven Judges, including one Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. A Supreme Court Judge serves a 12 years term in Missouri.
What are Civil Court and Small Claims in Missouri?
Civil cases are non-criminal cases in which a Plaintiff seeks compensation or money damage from a Defendant. Generally, Civil cases are heard in Missouri Trial Courts. Cases with less than $25,000 in dispute are filled in the Associate Circuit Civil Court. In comparison, cases of more than $25,000 in dispute are filled in the Circuit Court. Civil cases that involve non-monetary claims such as restriction orders are generally filled in the Circuit Court. Most types of civil cases require a filing fee to be paid by the Plaintiff.
Missouri Small Claims Courts are a division of the Circuit Courts. The division offers a simple procedure for claims less than $3,000, minus interest and cost. However, the Small Claims Court allows a defendant to submit a counterclaim above $3,000. Missouri Court structure permits part or all of the matters of small claims to be transferred to another court division. Parties often appear in Small Claims Court without an Attorney.
What are Appeals and Court Limits in Missouri?
An appeal is a request to a higher court to reverse the Trial Court’s decision after final judgment or other rulings. Either of the parties in a matter can file an appeal with the Missouri Court of Appeal. Individuals must first file an appeal with the court. Next, the court decides to review arguments, which may be submitted orally in some cases. Then, the Judges handling the case will reach a unanimous decision on whether there was a prejudicial mistake at the trial level.
The Court of Appeal may sustain the original decision, reverse it, send it back to the Trial Court. Individuals who are not satisfied with the Court of Appeal’s decision may appeal to the Supreme Court. Note that this may be rejected except when the matter is important to the State.
Generally, in civil and criminal appeals, the notice of appeal must be filed with the Trial Court Clerk no later than ten days after judgment. Appeals are no longer possible after this deadline. However, a party may seek leave from the Court of Appeal to file a late notice of appeal. The individual is required to submit a written motion to the Clerk of Court of Appeal for this request.
In Missouri, individuals are not allowed to appeal cases involving the validity of United State Statutes, the validity of Missouri State Statute, State revenue laws, the imposition of the death penalty by the Supreme Court, and the right of Missouri officials to hold office.
What Are Missouri Judgment Records?
Missouri judgment records are court documents containing the court's decision on a case in its jurisdiction, usually following the examination of case facts or a trial. The clerk of courts creates judgment records following this decision and stores them along with other court documents relevant to the case.
The Missouri Sunshine Law makes these records open to interested members of the public. To obtain judgment records in Missouri, a requester must know the case number and litigants' names and be prepared to pay the associated court fees. Armed with this information, visit the clerk's office during business hours. Once there, submit a request for the court record, providing the case number and the litigants' names. Knowing the presiding judge's name and the judgment year can also help expedite the search.
Upon retrieving the judgment records sought, the requester may obtain regular or certified copies. Besides visiting the clerk's office for judgment records, interested persons may also order the court documents on the court's website. However, this option is only available if the court maintains an online repository for case documents. Persons who obtain Missouri judgment records can expect to see the litigants' names, the judge's name, and the judgment issued.
What are Missouri Bankruptcy Records?
Missouri bankruptcy records provide financial information on people and companies that have filed for bankruptcy relief. Once filed, these records are maintained by federal courts and become available to the public. Interested parties can obtain copies of a record by syubmitting a request to the clerk in charge of the records. Requesters my also be able to access copies by registering an account with the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) System.
In Missouri, interested and eligible members of the public by view or copy records of bankruptcy proceedings as well as writs, judgments, Missouri liens, and foreclosures. These records are typically held in the judicial district where the petition or claim was originally filed. However, requestors will be required to provide the information required to facilitate the search and cover the cost of research and duplication of the record.
How Do I Find My Case Number in Missouri?
A case number is a reference number given to each case to ensure proper recording of developments in the case. A case number helps to identify when a case was filed, where it was filled, and the person in charge of the case. To find a case number, individuals may submit a request to the Clerk of the Court in person or do so using the Missouri CaseNet website.
For in-person requests, the individual may visit the Clerk of the Court for more information on finding their case number. However, when the procedures are public, the individual may file and submit their request to the Clerk. In some County's requesters may submit their request via mail.
Individuals may also use the remote method in locating their case numbers. This is possible with the help of the CaseNet tool. Missouri CaseNet is a State database where individuals may retrieve court information, including case number, litigant name, filling date, scheduled hearing, and judgment index.
To locate a case number, individuals are to click on the case number icon, after which they are directed to a new page. Here, the individual is expected to select the particular court where the case is kept. Note that records of Court that are yet to adopt the CaseNet program are not available on the database. Also, court records that are not considered public in Missouri are not available on the database.
Can You Look Up Court Cases in Missouri?
Yes, individuals may look up court cases in Missouri. Ordinarily, individuals may visit the office of a Court Clerk for information on cases. Each court in Missouri has several procedures for this. However, most in-person requests have been suspended due to COVID-19. Individuals may still look up court cases using the CaseNet website. Court records, including case number, current case status, filing date, etc., are available on the database. The website is usually open from Monday through Friday, 6.AM. to 1.AM. Requestors are expected to read court specific notices to determine the status of a particular proceeding.
Does Missouri Hold Remote Trials?
Yes, in April 2020, the Missouri Supreme Court held its first remote argument. The Court had announced that it would continue with oral arguments scheduled for months, although remotely due to COVID-19. Since then, the State of Missouri allows certain types of proceedings to be done remotely. The seven Supreme Court Judges handled the hearing. The Chief Justice was seen from his usual perch on the bench, while the others were not. Attorneys participated through video conferencing, and arguments were made as well.
To combat the pandemic, the State has taken measures to suspend most in-person proceedings while reducing access to courtrooms significantly. However, critical proceedings are allowed in some areas of the state, and courtrooms may operate with no more than ten people.
What is the Missouri Supreme Court?
The Supreme Court of the State of Missouri has been the highest in the state since 1820 when the State's first constitution was adopted. The Court ensures a stable and predictable justice system by acting as the court of last resort on matters involving the state’s constitution and laws.
The Supreme Court has exclusive jurisdiction over certain types of issues, and it may review appeals of cases from the Court of Appeals. Once the Court accepts a case, lawyers must submit a written copy of the trial court proceeding. Next, the court hears oral arguments before deciding a matter. Most Supreme Court decisions are issued as written opinions. Missouri Supreme Court licenses all attorneys practicing in Missouri, maintains the official role of attorneys, and disciplines lawyers and judges for violating ethical rules of conduct.
Missouri Court of Appeals?
The Court of Appeals is where most appeals in Missouri are heard. The Court is charged with the responsibility of reviewing trial court judgment to ensure the law is not misrepresented. Technically, the Missouri Court of Appeal is the final judge of appeals in the state, except by the Supreme Court’s intervention. The Court of Appeal is divided into three, with each controlling a district in the state. Each district has its courts, number of judges, and commissioners. However, the three courts adopt a uniform procedure for submitting and hearing appeals in the State.
Missouri Circuit Courts?
Missouri Circuit Courts are where most cases begin in the State. The Court maintains exclusive jurisdiction over several civil and criminal cases. There are 46 such courts in Missouri, with one in each County. Circuit court cases are managed by circuit judges, probate judges, municipal judges, associate circuit judges, and commissioners. Who hears a particular case is determined by the case’s nature and the division that handles such cases. Missouri Circuit Courts also hear small claims cases and cases involving non-monetary compensation.
Missouri Municipal Courts?
Municipal courts are authorized courts for hearing cases of municipal violations in Missouri. These Courts, which are parts of Circuit Courts, allow residents to obtain a fair and impartial trial on an alleged city ordinance violation. Municipalities may decide to have their unique ordinances or adopt the same one provided by the State. In some cases, such ordinance may include traffic laws.
Municipal Courts are led by a Circuit Judge and a Municipal judge. Some Municipals may require help from Courts in neighboring municipalities. Municipal courts may have their courts and judges, but generally, these courts are part of Circuit Courts, and they are led by a Circuit Court Judge.