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So Many Court Records, So Little Time

How long does a case record stay available to the public? You can probably say it lasts for years, but don’t count on a fixed number.

Some court records remain permanent in their original form (mostly referring to paper files), others are transferred to the database, while a select few are purged from the inventory. It depends on a number of factors such as the nature of the case, the year of publication, and whether or not the court has any special instructions for its long-term handling.

In this case, most non-electronic criminal case files stay in their original form. These include case files published before or in 1969, felony case files published in 1970 or later that were terminated due to completion of probation, and other case files determined to have historical value. Otherwise, disposal of court files will follow the 20-year transfer plan to the Federal Records Center (FRC).

For non-electronic civil cases, however, the transfer plan is shorter—15 years—and the original copy is kept. Court regulations separate civil cases that can be kept and copied to the FRC and those that must be destroyed by their nature. For example, personal injury case files can follow the 15-year plan, but labor-related litigation files must be purged 15 years after the case’s closure.

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