Are Georgia Court Records Public?
The Georgia Open Records Act of 1959 authorizes the public to access most court records in courthouses across the state. The general public’s right of access does not apply to every court record, as access to certain documents may be restricted due to the sensitive nature of the records’ contents. Records of juvenile proceedings are considered confidential and are sealed from public view. However, the public may access a few records of some juvenile court proceedings, such as child support hearings and proceedings involving juveniles charged with felonies. Sealed court records are not entirely inaccessible, as they can still be accessed by authorized persons, including parties involved in the cases recorded and other persons authorized by the court.
How Do I Find Court Records in Georgia?
The first step to take when trying to obtain court records in Georgia is to determine the courthouse where the case was filed or heard. Typically, the courthouse where a case is filed maintains the case’s official records and provides access to these records in hard copy or electronic format upon request. The two ways to access court records in Georgia include:
- In-person request at the courthouse
- Online request
In-person request at the courthouse
Visit the courthouse where the case was filed and complete any required form or request the records in writing from the court’s clerk’s office. Specify the court records being requested and give the required details that will facilitate the record search. The E-Access Court Records portal on the Georgia Courts’ website provides access to the addresses, contact information, and website of all Courts in the state. Each court provides specific details on how to access its records and the required fees. Court record requesters may also contact the court clerk where the case was filed for more information and inquiries.
With online requests, requesters can conveniently search from computers, tablets, and smartphones with stable internet connection. On the E-Access Court Records portal, requesters can access court records online by clicking on their specific courts and following the directions provided. However, a requester must register an account to access the records on the site. The information required to register an account includes the user’s first and last name, email address, and password. An online search can be performed with either the case number or the name of a party to the record.
Considered open to citizens of the United States, public records are available through 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 compared to government sources.
How Do Georgia Courts Work?
Georgia has two appellate courts in the state, including the state Supreme Court and Courts of Appeals. These courts hear appeals within their jurisdictions. Specifically, the Supreme Court is the court of last resort in the state regarding Georgia’s constitution. In contrast, the Courts of Appeals hears appeals from the Trial Courts and exercises both appellate and certiorari jurisdiction over cases not reserved for the Georgia Supreme Court. Cases from the Courts of Appeals may sometimes be further reviewed in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has nine justices chosen in non-partisan elections. The Courts of Appeals has 15 members, serving in five divisions across Georgia.
Below Georgia’s Courts of Appeals are the Superior Courts, also known as the trial courts of general jurisdiction. Georgia Superior Courts have jurisdiction over civil and criminal cases, including a wide range of cases. The courts are sectioned into ten Judicial Districts and 49 Judicial Circuits, with each county having its own Superior Court with varying numbers of judges, depending on the judicial circuits.
The lowest level of courts in Georgia are the five classes of trial courts with limited jurisdiction. They include Magistrate, Probate, Juvenile, State, and Municipal courts.
What Are Civil Court and Small Claims in Georgia?
Georgia Magistrate Courts preside over most civil cases in the state because the state does not have a central Civil Court system. However, Augusta-Richmond and Macon-Bibb Counties have Civil Courts presiding over civil cases within these counties. These Georgia small claims courts hear civil disputes involving amounts not more than $15,000. The parties involved are authorized to argue their cases themselves, instead of hiring attorneys during civil court case hearings. Examples of these civil cases include county ordinance violations, landlord/tenant cases, bad checks, etc.
Under Article III, section 5-254 of the Code of Ordinances, the Civil Court arm of the Macon-Bibb Civil and Magistrate Court has authority concurrent with the Superior Court to preside over civil proceedings and handle civil cases involving amounts not more than $25,000 in disputes. This contrasts with the Magistrate Court arm, which presides over civil disputes involving amounts not more than $15,000. The Civil Court arm of the Macon-Bibb Civil and Magistrate Court also presides over all suits, warrants, and proceedings to evict intruders and to remove tenants holding over.
What Are Appeals and Court Limits in Georgia?
An appeal involves reviewing a lower court’s rulings to ascertain the case’s eligibility for appeal and determine if any mistakes were made during the court’s proceedings. In appeal proceedings, parties are not allowed to give testimonies before the Court of Appeals or bring forth new evidence that was not earlier introduced in the trial court. The Court of Appeals presides over appeals based only on the trial court record, the parties’ briefs, the law, and, in some cases, the parties’ oral arguments. Appeals may be taken to the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court of Georgia from the judgments and rulings of the state’s superior courts, the constitutional city courts, and other lower courts.
The appeal procedure begins with the appealing party determining the type of appeal to file and which of the state’s appellate courts to file the appeal in (Georgia’s Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court). There are three types of appeals in Georgia: direct appeals, discretionary applications appeals, and interlocutory applications appeals.
In a Direct Appeal, the party must first file the notice of appeal with the trial court clerk that made the order being appealed. The notice of appeal must be filed within 30 days (or seven days in a dispossessory action) from the date when the trial court rendered its order. OCGA § 5-6-34 (a) specifies directly appealable rulings, some of which include:
- Hearing in a criminal case involving a capital offense for which death penalty is sought;
- Appeals involving non-monetary judgments in child custody cases;
- All final judgments, where the case is no longer pending, except as provided in Code Section 5-6-35;
- All rulings or orders directing that an accounting be had;
- All rulings involving applications for discharge in contempt and bail trover cases;
- All orders or judgments permitting or denying applications for receivers or interlocutory or final injunctions;
- All judgments or orders granting or denying applications for attachments against fraudulent debtors
Appellants must specify in the notice of appeal the parts of the trial court records that should be omitted from the copies that the trial court will serve the Court of Appeals before the trial court clerk sends them. Appellants must also specify whether any transcripts should be included and pay fees to trial courts before the appeals are transmitted.
The Court of Appeals Clerk’s Office sends a docketing notice to the appellant(s) and appellee(s) after receiving all of the designated documents from the trial court and giving the appeal case a case number. The case is then assigned to a panel of three judges. The appellant is mandated to file a brief within 40 days of the docketing date or 20 days of the Appellant’s brief filing date. The appellant may also request an extension of time to file the brief.
What Are Georgia Judgment Records?
Georgia judgment records are official documents created when a court issues a decree or order, i.e., a judgment, after a trial or examining the facts of a case. A judgment becomes binding when the court clerk enters it into the court record, typically signifying the end of most cases. The Georgia Open Records Act makes judgment records from state cases open to the public, and the Freedom of Information Act does the same to cases tried and closed in federal courts.
In any way, persons who wish to obtain judgment records must first determine the court that handled the case. In most cases, the court is located in the defendant's county of residence or where the dispute or crime happened. Next, the requester must possess the details to facilitate a search for the judgment records, including the case number and parties' names. Armed with this information, the requester may visit the clerk's office during regular business hours and submit a request for the judgment record. The clerk will charge an administrative fee to cover the labor cost of retrieving the document and making copies. Additional fees apply if the requester wants the documents certified. Most courts accept payment by cash, money order, certified check, and credit card payments for in-person requests. Cash is not acceptable for mail-in requests.
Besides visiting the court and sending a mail-in request, an interested person may also remotely obtain judgment records in Georgia. This method involves visiting the court portal and submitting an online request using the case number and litigants' names as search parameters. Ultimately, persons who obtain Georgia judgment records can expect to see the names of the persons involved in the case, the judge's name, and the judgment per charge or dispute.
Discretionary and Interlocutory Applications
A discretionary application is accepted only if a reversible error appears to exist, or the Court wants to establish a precedent for this case. On the other hand, an interlocutory application is granted only if:
- The matter to be decided is likely to end the case.
- The order to be considered on appeal appears incorrect and will possibly cause a significant error at trial.
- The order will negatively affect the appealing party’s rights up to the entry of final judgment, in which case the appeal will be expedited, or the Court wants to establish a precedent for this kind of case.
Applicants are mandated to file a notice of appeal within ten days of the Court accepting the application. However, if the Court disapproves the application, the applicant may file a motion to petition the Georgia Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari within ten days.
Refer to the Citizen’s Guide to Filing Appeals in the Court of Appeals of Georgia for more information on the appellate procedure in Georgia.
What are Georgia Bankruptcy Records?
Georgia bankruptcy records refer to records of people or companies who filed for bankruptcy in Georgia. These records often contain specific details of the parties or entities filing for bankruptcy. Bankruptcy can only be filed in two courts in Georgia:
- The United States Bankruptcy Court, Northern District of Georgia
- The United States Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of Georgia.
The Northern district has offices in Atlanta, Gainesville, Newnan and Rome. The Southern District of Georgia has offices in Augusta, Brunswick, Dublin, Savannah, Statesboro, and Waycross. The documents usually requested when filing for bankruptcy in Georgia are:
- Identification documents: driver’s license or social security card.
- Asset list: bank statements, real estate deeds, insurance policies, vehicle titles, and any business they may have investments in.
- Income: tax return copies from 2 previous years and pay slips from six months to the present.
- Debt: recent credit report, outstanding bills such as utilities, credit card statements, ongoing legal proceedings (document of foreclosure, debt collection) and judicial liens, creditors’ list, their addresses, and amount owed.
Bankruptcy records typically feature information regarding the financials of the petitioner, court proceedings, and judgments. These documents and related recordings such as Georgia liens, writs, and contracts can be accessed by interested and eligible persons per state law.
How Do I Find My Case Number in Georgia?
Case numbers are uniquely assigned sets of numbers allocated to individual court cases to easily search and access case information. A more specific search result is provided with a case number search as opposed to when searching for court records with a party’s name. The search results presented in a name search are usually lengthy as the search portal shuffles and presents the case information of persons with similar names.
To obtain the case number, conduct an online name search with the record’s subject’s full name. On the E-Access Court Records portal, requesters can access court records online by clicking on their specific courts and following the directives available. Interested persons can also visit the courthouses where cases were filed to find their case numbers.
Can You Look up Court Cases in Georgia?
Yes, individuals can look up court cases available to the public in Georgia, although certain cases with confidential information are sealed from public view. Individuals can access court cases via the online search tool on the courthouse’s website of the court where the case was filed. They can also visit courthouses in person to look up accessible court records.
Does Georgia Hold Remote Trials?
Georgia courts hold remote trials using a special program, with lawsuits and other mandatory documents presented electronically. These remote trials are an initiative to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice, Harold Melton, issued an order to suspend non-essential court functions, extending the statewide judicial emergency to hold remote trials. Contact your local court to confirm if they hold remote trials and also the necessary procedure.
What is the Georgia Supreme Court?
The Georgia Supreme Court is the highest court in the state’s unified judicial system, and as such, it has the final say in matters regarding the state’s constitutional law. The court has appellate jurisdiction over cases within its jurisdiction, including appellate cases that are outside the jurisdiction of the state’s Courts of Appeals. The Supreme Court superintends over the admission of attorneys to practice in Georgia. The Georgia Office of Bar Admissions serves as the Administrative Office for the board to determine the fitness of bar applicants and the board of bar examiners.
The Georgia Supreme Court has exclusive jurisdiction over questions of constitutional matters, title to land, alimony, divorce, the validity of and construction of wills, habeas corpus, convictions of capital felonies, equity, and election contests.
What Are Georgia Courts of Appeals?
Georgia’s Courts of Appeals are the intermediate appellate courts in the state that review rulings from the trial courts in civil and criminal cases not under the state’s Supreme Court’s exclusive jurisdiction. It has jurisdiction to try criminal cases involving armed robbery, kidnapping, and rape provided the lower court did not impose a death penalty. Other cases that the court has jurisdiction over include divorce and alimony cases, cases involving title to land, wills and equity cases (except those relating to trials where a sentence of death is involved), and cases involving extraordinary remedies.
Georgia has five judicial divisions with three judges, including a Chief Judge presiding over each division, making 15 judges in total, elected in a nonpartisan system election. The Chief Judge assigns the Court of Appeals judges to the respective divisions and distributes the cases among the divisions to balance the work as far as is practicable.
What Are Georgia Superior Courts?
Superior Courts in Georgia are referred to as the courts of general jurisdiction. These courts hear civil and criminal cases such as civil law actions, misdemeanors, title to land, equity, felonies, and other cases. All Superior Courts in the state have Family Court divisions, with jurisdiction over divorce and family-related issues such as cases involving domestic violence, divorce, child abuse, legitimacy, child support, custody, and paternity.
What Are Georgia Trial Courts?
At the base level of Georgia’s judicial system are the trial courts of limited jurisdiction, including the Magistrate, Probate, Juvenile, State, and Municipal Courts. These courts are majorly sponsored by county and city governments and preside over cases that arise within their geographical boundaries, such as traffic cases, civil disputes, small claims, certain misdemeanors, and minor infractions.
The Georgia Magistrate Court is a small claims court. It is a trial court that presides over a restricted number of criminal and civil cases. It also performs specific functions, some of which include:
- Hearing charges for the violation of county ordinances and the penal regulations of state authorities
- Punishing contempt of court by imprisonment, not exceeding ten days or by a fine not exceeding $200, or both
- Administering oaths which the law does not require to be administered by another officer
- Hearing trials of civil claims where the value of the property does not exceed $15,000
- Granting bail in all cases where the law does not exclusively dedicate the granting of bail to another court or officer
- Handing out subpoenas to constrain witnesses to attend the Magistrate court
- Conducting trials and sentence misdemeanor violations related to the issuance of bad checks
- Issue subpoenas to enforce the production of documentary evidence in the Magistrate court
The Magistrate Court is a summary court; hence, it does not conduct elaborate proceedings. Instead, the trials are relatively brief.
The Probate Courts in Georgia were set up to facilitate the speedy resolution of disputes and prosecutions within the State. In accordance with Article VI of the Georgia Constitution, the Georgia Probate Court has exclusive jurisdiction over the following including:
- Appointment of guardians
- Involuntary hospitalizations
- Administration of estates
- Issuance of pistol licenses
- Probate of wills
- Marriage licenses
Furthermore, Article VI, Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OCGA), provides that some State Probate Courts may perform some functions concurrent with the Superior Courts. Some of these functions include:
- Approval of settlement agreement
- Appointments of new trustees
- Motions of DNA testing
- Declaratory Judgement
- Adjudication of petition
In Georgia, the Juvenile Courts are the trial courts that preside over cases involving children below 18 years old, who are charged with delinquent acts, status offenses, and traffic offenses. Under the law, a delinquent act is an offense that is considered a crime if perpetrated by a person who is of legal age. In contrast, a status offense is an act that is not considered a crime if committed by an adult. Also, the state’s Juvenile Court may maintain jurisdiction over youths sentenced by the court as juveniles until they reach the age of 21. In a case where the youth commits another offense after turning 17, the case will be presided over by an adult court.
The Georgia Juvenile Court has exclusive original jurisdiction over cases involving children that:
- Commit juvenile traffic offenses
- Are alleged to be delinquent, unruly, underprivileged, or require treatment due to mental illness or retardation
- Are put on probation or under the supervision of the court
- Have remained in foster care even after reaching the age of 18 when the case relates to the child's foster care status
- Obtained independent living services from the Department of Family and Children Services after reaching the age of 18 when the case is about the child's independent living plan
- Require comprehensive services plans
The Juvenile Court also has jurisdiction over proceedings aimed at obtaining judicial consent for the child for employment, marriage, or enrollment in armed services if the law requires such consent. It also holds hearings for emancipation, for a qualified person to become a permanent guardian, to terminate a legal parent-child relationship or the rights of a child's biological father who is not the child's legal father under the law.
Georgia State Courts
The Georgia State Courts were established as trial courts with limited jurisdiction in accordance with Article VI, Section 1 of the Georgia Constitution. The geographical jurisdiction does not exceed a specific county’s borders, and it only hears cases within the county where the State Court is located. Georgia State Courts’ handle family law matters, personal assaults, issues from contractual arrangements, offenses that result in fines or imprisonment of not exceeding 20 days, and cases of persons in possession of marijuana (one ounce or less)
The Georgia Municipal Court is a trial court with limited jurisdiction. The court hears cases relating to traffic infractions, certain criminal misdemeanor cases, and minor civil cases. It is authorized to preside over Municipal ordinance violations, handle preliminary hearings for specific criminal cases, conduct hearings for misdemeanors, issue criminal warrants, and adjudicate traffic infractions. The Superior Courts in Georgia handle appeals from Municipal Courts.