Florida Court Records
Instant Access to State, County and Municipal Public Records
Are Florida Court Records Public?
The Florida Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a series of laws providing public access to public records of government bodies in the state. Established in 1995, the Florida Sunshine Law considers any record including maps, tapes, letters, recordings, and other materials regardless of characteristics or physical form received or made pursuant to law or ordinance in connection with the transaction of official business by any government agency a public record. According to Section 119.07(1)a of the Sunshine Law, record custodians in Florida are obligated to permit the inspection or copying of any records in their possession by any interested persons at any reasonable time and under reasonable conditions.
Under the Florida Rule of Judicial Administration 2.420, the public has a presumptive right of access to all court records with the court clerk. These records include case dockets, transcripts, motions filed by the parties to a case, filed exhibits, and disposition records. Note that certain court records may be confidential in situations where making them public will prevent a serious, imminent threat to the administration of justice or where there is no reasonable alternative to closure.
The Florida FOIA is regarded as the oldest state-level open government law in the United States and is keenly enforced by the relevant authorities in the state.
How Do I Find Court Records in Florida?
The first step to take when trying to obtain court records in Florida is to ascertain the court where the case was filed. The Florida court system consists of the Supreme Court, the District Courts of Appeal, Circuit Courts, and County Courts. For cases heard in the circuit and county courts, obtaining the location of the court in question will be required. Visit the Florida Courts website to access court locations in the state. Upon locating the address of the appropriate court, the next step is to make a request to the keeper of records in the court. Court records are typically in the custody of the Clerk of Court.
Records in cases that have been finalized in the Florida Supreme Court are transferred to the Florida State Archives or returned to the clerk of court in the county where the case was initiated. Hence, requests to obtain such court records should be made to the Division of Library and Information Services (DLIS) or the local county clerk. The DLIS can be contacted at:
R.A. Gray Building
500 South Bronough Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0250
Phone: (850) 245-6719
The Supreme Court of the State of Florida provides online access to its Opinions, Disposition Orders, Case Summaries in oral argument cases, and Dockets. Case summaries are archived yearly and can also be accessed in monthly view. The online docket portal allows users to search docket information by the date filed, case number, party or attorney, lower tribunal case number, and cases filed options. The online docket portal is updated every fifteen minutes and provides public access to all non-confidential briefs, petitions, referee reports, and dispositional orders filed on or after February 1, 2015.
Docket information for Florida District Courts of Appeal is available online. Docket information for all the districts are refreshed at least once daily. Cases may also be searched using case numbers, party or attorney information, lower tribunal case/county, date filed, and cases filed options.
Court records from Florida trial courts can be obtained in person or by mail requests. Some counties like Broward County make electronic certified documents available at a fee. However, some courts provide online access to the public for viewing court records. For example, Broward, Miami-Dade, and Orange Counties provide portals for accessing case information online.
Obtaining court records in person or by mail costs $1 per document page, $2 per certified document, and $2 to search cases per year in Broward County. The county charges $8 per electronic certified court document. Miami-Dade and Orange counties charge $1 per page and $2 per document certification. Typical payment options are by cash, personal check, money order, and cashier's check.
Individuals who wish to obtain court records in person or by mail will be required to provide relevant case information for requested records. These include the name of the parties to the case and the case number. Mail requesters are generally required to include self-addressed stamped envelopes. Surcharges may apply for transactions carried out using credit and debit cards where permitted.
Considered open to citizens of the United States, public records are available through both traditional, government sources, and through 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. In order 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 Florida Courts Work?
The Florida court structure comprises two trial-level courts and two appellate-level courts. The trial courts are the Circuit and County Courts while the appellate courts are Courts of Appeal and the Supreme Court. There are five District Courts of Appeal, 20 Circuit Courts, and 67 County Courts. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court sits as the chief administrative officer of the state's judicial branch.
The County Courts and Circuit Courts are the first contacts with the judicial system in Florida for most residents. Majority of civil and criminal cases in Florida originate at the Circuit Court level. Cases from these trial courts may be appealed to the Court of Appeal where necessary. The Supreme Court is the apex court in the state and may review decisions of the Courts of Appeal.
The Supreme Court sits in Tallahassee and has seven justices who serve six-year terms. Five justices constitute a quorum in the apex court. Four of these justices must agree for a decision to be reached in the Florida Supreme Court. A person must reside in Florida and be admitted into the practice of law in the state for the preceding ten years to be eligible for the office of justice in the Supreme Court.
The Courts of Appeal is divided into five districts with a total of 64 judges who serve six-year terms, 15 judges serve in the first district in Tallahassee, 16 judges serve in the second district in Lakeland, 10 judges serve in the third district in Miami, 12 judges serve in the fourth district in West Palm Beach, and 11 judges serve in the fifth district in Daytona Beach. Cases handled in the District Courts of Appeal are reviewed by three-judge panels. Like Supreme Court Justices, District Courts of Appeal Justices are appointed by the Governor and stand for retention vote every six years within their districts.
There are 605 judges in Florida's 20 judicial circuits. These judges preside individually and are not on panels. Florida assigns judges to each circuit based on the caseload handled in the circuit. Circuit Court judges serve six-year terms. Each of Florida's 67 counties has at least one judge. In all, there are 330 judges in the County Courts. The judges do not sit on panels but preside individually.
Pursuant to Ch, 2020-61, Laws of Florida, beginning from January 1, 2021, parties appealing certain County Court decisions will have their appeals heard in the District Courts. Appeals of the decisions of County Courts pending before Circuit Courts and subject to the jurisdiction change will be transferred automatically to the appropriate District Court of Appeal.
What Are Florida Civil Courts and Small Claims?
Florida small claims courts are divisions of County Courts that resolve minor legal disputes among parties where the amount in controversy does not exceed $8,000, excluding costs, interests, and attorneys' fees. Small Claims Rules apply to small claim actions. These are special rules which are different from regular court rules. Under these rules, individuals can handle their own cases without an attorney.
Civil cases may be handled in the Circuit Courts or the County Courts. Where the amount in dispute does not exceed $30,000, general jurisdictions over actions of law in these matters fall under the purview of the County Courts. The Circuit Courts have jurisdictions in all actions of law where the amount exceeds $30,000.
What Are Florida Appeals and Court Limits?
Appeals are made to higher courts to review decisions of trial courts or lower tribunals to determine if legal errors occurred during the determination of cases. Appeals are not considered trials and are not established to give litigants a second opportunity to reargue facts to cases. Florida appellate courts do not serve as second juries.
The Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure specifies the time limit for initiating appeals in the state. A Notice of Appeal must be filed with the Clerk of the lower court or administrative agency within 30 days of the date from which a judgement was rendered. If a Notice of Appeal is not filed within this stipulated limit, the court cannot take the appeal.
What Are Florida Judgment Records?
Florida judgment records are court documents detailing the outcome of a criminal or civil case in Florida. These records are available to interested members of the public per the Florida Freedom of Information Act. Thus, any individual can obtain copies of a judgment record on a case of interest provided that person can identify the case and pay the associated costs.
The search for Florida judgment records begins at the clerk's office in the court where the case was finalized. This court is located in the county where the defendant lives or where the crime happened in most cases. Once the requester identifies the record custodian, they may visit during business hours to request the judgment record at the administrative desk. The court staff will require details, such as the case number, litigants' names, and the year of judgment to search and retrieve the case record. Upon retrieval, the requester can obtain copies of the entire case record or specific documents, like the judgment record. Either way, they must pay the applicable copying fees and certification fees.
An interested person may also obtain a Florida judgment record from the repose of their home. This method involves visiting the court of jurisdiction's online portal for storing digital copies of court records. Here, the requester must also provide the necessary details to facilitate a search and obtain the judgment record of interest. Most courts charge a search fee for online court records, albeit nominal.
Persons who obtain Florida judgment records can expect to see the litigants' names, the judge's name, and judgment date. In addition, judgment records contain the specific claims of the parties involved (civil cases) or the charges against the defendant (criminal cases), as well as the issued judgment in the case of interest.
What are Florida Bankruptcy Records?
Florida Bankruptcy Records provide financial information about people and corporations who have instituted bankruptcy proceedings. These records consist of the applicant’s total annual income, investment assets, and development properties. The public can view Florida’s Bankruptcy Records from the following Federal Courts: North, Middle, and Southern Bankruptcy Courts of Florida. Generally, bankruptcy records can be accessed within the State on the internet via the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) platform and the Clerk’s Office.
Bankruptcy records and related documents such as Florida Liens, writ notices, foreclosures and contracts are maintained and disseminated by government-run institutions throughout the state. Interested persons may request these records by making in-person or mail-in queries to the relevant agency
How Do I Find My Case Number in Florida?
A case number is a unique number allocated to a particular court case. Case numbers are typically allocated by trial courts or courts with limited jurisdiction and are determined by each court. Case numbers may contain all numbers, letters and numbers, or include special characters, such as dashes. Many courts attach specific meanings to case numbers as used in those courts.
Case numbers can be found using online portals provided by some of the counties in Florida. Some of these counties, such as Broward and Miami-Dade Counties allow users of their online case information portals to find case information by using other search filters such as party name or attorney information. Typically, when users conduct case information searches using other search filters, the search result will display the case number for all returned entries. It is also possible to obtain case numbers by contacting the clerk of court in the courthouse where the case was filed. Charges may apply for obtaining this service from the county clerk offices.
Case numbers allow for easy reference to specific cases and are hence useful for tracking court cases. They can help identify what year cases were filed and the judicial officers assigned to such cases.
Can You Look Up Court Cases in Florida?
Yes, court cases that have not been redacted can be accessed in Florida. Note that certain records such as juvenile court records are kept confidential in the state. Interested persons can remotely access online portals made available by many of the County Courts to look up court cases. The appellate divisions of the Florida court system also provide online access to court cases on its Supreme Court docket portal and the District Courts of Appeal docket portal. In-person requests are also accepted at the courthouse locations where cases are filed. Note that nominal fees may apply for in-person requests, while access is free for the majority of the remote access provisions.
Does Florida Hold Remote Trials?
Yes. Following the Florida Supreme Court order in March 2020 suspending jury trials due to the COVID-19 pandemic, five judicial circuits in the state were selected to take part in a pilot remote jury trial program. Entire trials, from jury selections to final verdicts were held remotely using the Zoom application. Florida holds the record for holding the first fully remote civil jury trial in the United States. Verdicts in Florida remote trials are legally binding.
What is the Florida Supreme Court?
The Florida Supreme Court is the highest court in the state and an appellate court. By state constitution, the court must review all cases where a death sentence is imposed, where a District Court invalidated a state statute or some aspect of the constitution, bond validations, and some specific orders of the Public Service Commission regarding public utilities rates and services. The court holds discretionary jurisdiction over certain cases such as cases regarding the interpretation of the constitution, review of trial court judgements, issues certified as of great public importance, certified direct conflicts, and certified questions issued by federal courts. With the assistance of the Office of the State Courts Administrator, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court oversees the administration of the entire state court system. The Florida Supreme Court has exclusive authority to regulate the admission and discipline of lawyers in Florida as well as the authority to discipline and remove judges.
The Supreme Court gives advisory opinions to the Governor, on request, on matters pertaining to the Governor's constitutional powers and responsibilities. As the highest tribunal of Florida, the apex court has distinctive powers that are crucial to the state's judicial power but that are not decision-making powers in contested cases. The Supreme Court formulates the procedures and practices of all Florida courts, subject to the power of the legislature to repeal any rule by a two-thirds vote of its membership. If five justices of the Supreme Court concurs, the court has the right to repeal any rule adopted by the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission.
Supreme Court judges are appointed by the Governor from a list of candidates recommended by the Judicial Nominating Commission. The appointment of a justice must be confirmed by a retention vote held at least one year after assuming office. Justices of the Supreme Court may be removed at the recommendation of the Nominating Commission or through impeachment by a two-thirds vote of the Florida House of Representatives and conviction by a two-thirds vote of the Florida State Senate.
Florida District Courts of Appeal
Until 1957, all appeals were heard in the Supreme Court. As the state's population grew, the Supreme Court's caseload increased rapidly. The establishment of a district-court system to provide intermediate appellate courts was Florida's response to help lessen the caseload and provide a more rapid resolution to appellate cases in the state.
Florida's five District Courts of Appeal (DCAs) do not hold trials. They solely handle appeals from the County and Circuit Courts and the majority of the administrative law appeals from actions by the executive branch. Many of the appeals of the decisions of the County and Circuit Courts go to the District Courts of Appeal, where three-judge panels review the facts and circumstances surrounding a case from the trial courts and correct any harmful errors that may have occurred, such as situations where constitutional rights were violated during trials.
As of January 1, 2020, the DCAs review appeals of county court decisions where the amount in controversy exceeds $15,000. By January 1, 2021, the DCAs will assume jurisdiction over criminal and most civil appeals from County Court decisions. Justices of the DCAs sit in Tallahassee, Lakeland, Miami, West Palm Beach and Daytona Beach. The divisions of the court are:
- First Appellate District: Alachua, Baker, Bay, Bradford, Calhoun, Clay, Columbia, Dixie, Duval, Escambia, Franklin, Gadsden, Gilchrist, Gulf, Hamilton, Holmes, Jackson, Lafayette, Leon, Liberty, Madison, Nassau, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, Suwannee, Taylor, Union, Wakulla, Walton, Washington.
- Second Appellate District: Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Hendry, Highlands, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Sarasota.
- Third Appellate District: Dade, Monroe.
- Fourth Appellate District: Broward, Indian River. Okeechobee, Palm Beach, St. Lucie, Martin.
- Fifth Appellate District: Brevard, Citrus, Flagler, Hernando, Lake, Marion, Orange, Osceola, Putnam, Seminole, St. Johns, Sumter, Volusia.
The DCAs are authorized to issue extraordinary writs of certiorari, prohibition, mandamus, quo warranto, and habeas corpus, and any other writs required to exercise their jurisdiction. Decisions of the DCAs are considered final appellate reviews of litigated cases. However, any party aggrieved by the decision of the District Court may seek another review in the Supreme Court and later in the United States Supreme Court. Both tribunals hold discretionary jurisdiction over such reviews and are under no compulsion to accept the requests. Typically, most are denied.
Under Florida statutes, District Courts of Appeal judges must meet the same criteria for appointment to office, and are subject to the same conditions and procedures for discipline and removal from offices, as Supreme Court justices. DCA judges serve six-year terms and may be retained via a merit retention vote of the electors in their district. A chief judge is selected in each District Court by the District Court judges to be responsible for the administrative duties of the court.
Florida Circuit Courts
Circuit Courts in Florida are general trial courts of general jurisdiction with one in each of the 20 geographic regions of the state. These courts hear the appeals of the decisions of the County Courts and handle cases that are not assigned to the County Courts by statute. Such cases include civil disputes involving more than $30,000 (increased from over $15,000 on January 1, 2020), all felony criminal cases, tax disputes, family law cases, estate disputes, and juvenile delinquency and dependency cases, mental health, probate, guardianships cases. Florida Circuit Courts are authorized to issue extraordinary writs necessary to the complete exercise of their jurisdiction.
Florida Circuit Courts are granted the power to issue the extraordinary writs of certiorari, prohibition, mandamus, quo warranto, and habeas corpus, and all other writs necessary to the complete exercise of their jurisdiction.
Florida County Courts
Florida County Courts are at the base of the state judicial hierarchy and are considered courts of limited jurisdiction. Sometimes called the people's courts, County Courts handle a huge portion of citizens' disputes, such as landlord-tenant disputes, misdemeanor criminal matters, violations of municipal and county ordinances, traffic offenses, and monetary disputes up to and including $30,000 (increased from up to and including $15,000 on January 1, 2020). Cases of simplified dissolution of marriages may also be heard by County Court judges. Cases that do not require juries are mostly tried in County Courts before single judges of County Courts. Each of Florida’s 67 counties has at least one county court judge.
Florida Problem-Solving Courts
Florida Problem-Solving Courts seek to address the fundamental causes of justice system involvement through a non-adversarial approach, multidisciplinary teams, and specialized dockets. Through evidence-based treatments, judicial supervision, and accountability, Florida Problem-Solving Courts aim to improve public safety, reduce recidivism, restore lives, and promote satisfaction and confidence with the justice system process.
Florida initiated the national problem-solving court gesture with its creation of the first drug court in the United States in Miami-Dade County in 1989. Subsequently, several other types of problem-solving courts dockets were implemented using the drug court blueprint. With largely similar defining elements, the other dockets were established to assist individuals with a range of problems, including drug addiction, domestic violence, mental illness, child abuse or neglect, and homelessness.
The locations of Florida's Problem-Solving Courts are published in a directory on the Florida Courts website.