Rhode Island Civil Court Records
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What are Rhode Island Civil Court Records
Rhode Island Civil Court Records refer to all official documents and court information produced during civil court proceedings. These records include depositions, motions, court actions, court decrees, judgements and settlements. In the state of Rhode Island, the Public Records Act ensures that civil court records can be accessed and copied by members of the public to promote transparency. Interested members of the public may find Rhode Island civil court records in the jurisdiction where the case was heard. They can also be accessed electronically through the official website of the Rhode Island Judiciary.
Access to Civil Court Records
All Civil Court records are open to residents of Rhode Island and members of the general public. The exceptions to this exist where:
- there is a matter of confidentiality and/or
- where a judge declares certain portions of the records sealed.
In such cases other aspects of the records are still accessible by anyone who wishes to pull up the records. Usually requesters must come forward with the appropriate case details.
Contents of a Civil Court Record
Depending on the nature of the case, the contents of the records may differ. However here are documents you may find in the records:
- Judgment file
- Amended complaint or a substituted compliant
- Cross complaints and third party complaints
- Executions issued and return
- Order of notice and appearances
- Memorandum of decision
The Rhode Island Civil Court Structure
The Supreme Court in Rhode Island is the highest legal power in the state. It has the power to check all decisions and judgements made by the lower Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court is the court of last resort in the state and is presided over by one chief justice and four justices.
The Court of Appeals acts as the intermediate between the Supreme Court and five Superior or trial courts spread across the five counties in the state.
The Superior Court is the court of general jurisdiction for civil matters in Rhode Island.
The types of civil cases handled by the Superior include:
- Plenary cases such as contracts and property cases.
- Civil Tort cases for wrongful acts resulting in some form of damage or injury.
- Mental Health cases.
- Protective Orders and other civil Miscellaneous cases.
Obtaining Civil Court Records in Rhode Island
There are a number of ways members of the general public can access or obtain civil court records in the state. The State’s Judicial Portal provides an extensive database that can be accessed remotely with the right information.
Generally these records can be accessed through:
- The State’s Judicial Online Portal
- A request in person
- A request by mail.
Accessing Records In Person:
Members of the public can visit the courthouse where the case was tried or heard and request access to the records.
To request access to the records, the following steps are to be taken:
- Locate the appropriate Court.
The court where the civil case was tried must be correctly identified. Each court keeps a record of cases filed or handled. Accessing certain specific records may only be possible at the court where they were filed.
- Case Information
It is necessary for requesters to provide information regarding the case so as to simplify the search process. This information can include the names of parties, bio data, case file number or docket number, legal counsel information of the parties and any general information about the case.
- Visit the Appropriate Courthouse
With the case information, requesters can visit the appropriate courthouse and approach the clerk of court with the request to access and copy the records. A request form will be provided to fill in personal information and information as regards the records in order to obtain them.
- Pay fee to copy the records
While access to the records at the courthouse is generally free, a small fee is charged to copy the court records. Each court has its own fee structure for copies of case files.
Access of Records via Mail
The court records can also be requested via US Mail. This method requires a written letter of request to the office of the clerk of court. Requesters are also required to send along with the letter the following information:
- Personal information of the requester
- A copy of a government-issued photo ID
- Case information regarding the court records
- The Names of the parties involved
- The names of the legal counsels of the parties involved.
A fee may also be charged for copying the files. The court is required to respond within 10 business days.
Access of records Through the Online Portal
In the state of Rhode Island, the Judicial Portal provides electronic access to court records. Members of the public can easily search and request for the court records using the portal. Apart from sealed documents, these records can be accessed by visiting the public eAccess database.
There is also provision for the records to be electronically accessed at the courthouse. Each court is required to provide public access terminals at the office of the clerk of court.
Are all Rhode Island Civil Court Records Public?
The Rhode Island Access to Public Records Act, ARPA was passed in 1979 and ensures that the residents of Rhode Island and members of the general public can access all civil court records. The exceptions to this Act are in the cases of:
- Parts of documents or whole documents sealed by decree of a Judge
- Confidential cases such as Juvenile Records, patient-client confidential information etc.
Can I Access Sealed Civil Court Records?
Sealed Civil court records cannot be accessed by members of the general public. In some cases sealed court records may become accessible once the time limit on the sealing expires.
Also the sealing can be challenged where the order to seal impacts on the requester. A formal appeal is to be made to the appellate court within 72 hours of its issuance. It is also possible to access sealed records if the requester has a court order authorizing him to access the records.
Are Juvenile Civil Records Open to the Public?
Generally, Juvenile records are not open to the general public. Most Juvenile records are permanently sealed or expunged and as such do not exist for public scrutiny and access.
What Records are Automatically Sealed by Rhode Island?
In the state of Rhode Island, certain records are automatically sealed off from public access without the decree of a judge. This is due to the confidential nature of the records in question.
Some examples of such records include:
- Mental health and medical records
- Identities of victims of assault/abuse
- Juvenile Records
Are Trial Transcripts Open to the Public?
A trial transcripts usually contains written records of proceedings, judgements, testimonies and depositions in a court trial or hearing. This makes it accessible to members of the public. Members of the public can have access to these records and obtain copies usually at a fee to the office of the clerk of court to print the trial records.