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What are Arkansas Criminal Court Records?
Arkansas criminal court records consist of information and records created, collected, or maintained by the court in connection with a criminal proceeding. It includes data, documents, orders, judgment, decrees, or any other materials maintained by the clerk of court.
Understanding the Arkansas Criminal Court System
The court system in Arkansas is divided into different levels, including the Arkansas Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, and the Circuit Court. The Circuit Court is further divided into the State and Local District Court. Each court has jurisdiction over different cases.
Arkansas Supreme Court
The Supreme Court in Arkansas is the highest in the state. The court helps review decisions and give opinions on appeal cases coming from the lower court. It is the court of last resort, which means that whatever decision it takes on cases are final. The court has seven judges, all elected through a nonpartisan election. They must be at least 30 years, have practiced law for eight years, and citizens of the United States. The judges must have also resided in Arkansas for over two years.
Court of Appeal
The intermediate appellate court of Arkansas was created much later in 1978 to reduce the burden of the Supreme Court, which had handled appeal cases transferred by the Circuit Court. The Court of Appeals can review decisions from the lower courts as directed by the Supreme Court. Most times, opinions made in the court are final, but there are exceptional cases where the Supreme Court will have to do reviews. The Court of Appeals has 12 Justices who are elected to serve for eight staggered year terms.
The courts of general jurisdiction, Arkansas Circuit Court has five divisions, which are the civil, criminal, juvenile, domestic relations, and probate division. They help in managing the caseload of the court. Even with the divisions, the judges still hear all cases assigned to the court. For civil cases, the Circuit Court decides claims of over $25,000.
The Arkansas District Court is divided into two: the state and local district court. They are called courts of limited jurisdiction because there is a limit on the cases heard in the courts.
What’s included in a Criminal Court Record?
The contents of criminal court records in Arkansas depends on how the case ends. Sometimes the case might go as far as sentencing, and other times, it ends with a bargain plea. All criminal court records will contain the preliminary charge against the accused. If a court proceeding occurs, then a transcript of the first hearing and motions will be collected and entered into the record.
When a defendant pleads guilty and opts for a plea bargain, the record will contain the charges and agreement settlement. But if the court tries the defendant, information such as exhibits and evidence will be entered into the record. And if a judgment is passed, the file may contain the decision of the jury, sentencing transcripts, and other relevant details.
Obtaining Criminal Court Records
There are various reasons why a person might need to access a criminal court record. It may be an interest in one of the parties involved in a criminal case, publishing purposes, historical research, or general interest of how courts function. Access criminal court records in Arkansas can be possible through a visit to the court, sending an email to request copies of the record, or searching for them online.
How Do I Access Arkansas Criminal Court Records in Person?
To access Arkansas criminal court records in person, interested parties will need to know the name of the court where the case was filed to locate it. Obtaining public records may involve several steps.
Before visiting the court, interested parties will need to gather sufficient information about the case as it will help in locating the records. Essential information includes case number, names of the parties, attorneys, or presiding judge associated with the case. The case number (or docket or index number as the case may be) is the most crucial information.
At the court, locate the clerk of the court's office, which is where the case records are filed. The clerk might be available to help search for the records. If not, the assistant clerks will do the job. Remember to state the type needed, which is the criminal record.
Although the court allows the public to inspect public case files, documents, and other related filed information, it doesn't permit requesters to remove records from the court. Individuals interested in taking records will have to request copies. They will then be granted access to a photocopier where they can reproduce it. However, it does come with a fee.
How Do I Find Arkansas Criminal Court Records by Mail?
Send a letter to the clerk of court’s office where the case was filed requesting copies of the record. Use the court directory of Arkansas to find the mailing address. Should there be a need to contact them on the phone, their telephone numbers are also on the list.
How to Find Arkansas Criminal Court Records Online?
The State of Arkansas maintains an online case information system that members of the public can use to search for records. Records can be searched using the name of the person, case type, or date search. Users can search for docket filings using dates. Not all courts have entered their case information on this website. There is a list of courts that have theirs available. Some courts only have limited details on cases. They only supply information on the case ID, description, charges, disposition, judgments, and basic case info. Opinions from the Court of Appeals of Arkansas are also accessible online.
Additionally, 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.
Are all Arkansas Criminal Court Records Public?
The public does not have an absolute right to access criminal court records. Criminal court records disclosed to the public include arrest records (except juvenile arrests), jail log, shift sheet, docket sheets, warrants, wiretaps, pretrial and trial records, and other related materials. Some records are accessible while others are confidential because the trial court has issued a protection order for it. If a document is confidential, the clerk removes it from other files, but there will be an indication to the public, also stating reasons for its removal.
Records can become confidential due to the state’s statute, or through the application of sealing or expungement by the defendant. The sealing of records in Arkansas means erasing some contents of a document or not disclosing the existence of the record to the public. Here the court will indicate that the contents were removed. While the public can’t access sealed records, individuals seeking to obtain such files can write a request to the court to open it, provided they can prove that the need to access it, is greater than the need to keep it closed. Other people that may be granted automatic access to sealed records in Arkansas include:
- Employers in the law enforcement agencies
- Daycare, nursing home, or teaching employers
- Prosecuting attorney
- Defendant attorney
- Arkansas Crime Information Center (ACIC)
Expunged records are hidden from the public’s eyes. People who are in prison can also have access to their records provided they cannot obtain it from the lawyer representing them. But they will have to file a motion with the court where they are keeping the records. For the court’s approval, there has to be a compelling need to access the record. And if the prisoner has no money to pay for the records, and can prove it, the public will be payable.
Can I Access Sealed Criminal Court Records?
Individuals can contest court orders on sealed records if the need for opening them is greater than the defendant’s need for privacy. To access criminal court records in Arkansas, request for a hearing from the court in charge of maintaining the records. If approved, the court will grant access to the sealed records.
What Records are Automatically Sealed by Arkansas Statute?
Juvenile records in Arkansas are automatically sealed, except when it has to do with juvenile adjudication whereby a minor committed an offense in which he or she would have faced trial as an adult. However, records of juvenile delinquency cases that are still on appeal are automatically sealed.
Are Juvenile Criminal Records Open to the Public?
Information regarding the arrest and detention of a juvenile is not open for public inspection unless the circuit court writes an order to permit it. Also, ongoing appeal cases of delinquency are not accessible by the public. Delinquency adjudication for offenses in which the minor would have been tried as an adult is open to the public and cannot be sealed by the juvenile until ten years after the final adjudication of delinquency. Other offenses can be sealed anytime as long as the minor is up to 21 years.
Are Trial Transcripts Open to the Public?
The court has the discretion to grant official trial transcripts to those requesting it. The court reporter of the Judge whom the case got assigned to will prepare the transcript after informing interested parties of the fee and how to make payment.
How Do I Obtain Federal Criminal Court Records Online?
Individuals searching for federal criminal court records online can obtain copies using the Public Access to Electronic Court Records (PACER) platform. PACER is an electronic filing system that contains case information and dockets of many federal courts in the United States. Interested parties will need to register on the site to use it. Documents accessible on PACER includes:
- The name of the parties, attorneys, judges, and all those that participated in the case
- Nature of suit, causative factors, and all other information related to the case
List of all the case events entered into the docket
- Document images
- Claims registry
- New cases listing
- Opinions of the appellate court
- Case status
- Judgment Status
Every page of the document requested on PACER has a fee attached to it. Find out more about this on the website. Aside from PACER, records of the United States District Courts in Arkansas are also found in the National Archives at Fort Worth.