What is an Illinois Criminal Record?
Criminal court records consist of the case documents and information generated or processed during criminal court proceedings. It includes record sheets, complaints, orders, pleadings, calendars, indexes, and other case information. Court records may also include all documents, letters, reports, forms and recorded information generated during the course of a criminal trial, except where prevented by law or court order.
Criminal court records are considered public records and can, therefore, be viewed, inspected or accessed upon request, in compliance with the Illinois Freedom of Information Act. Official court records are held and maintained by the court’s clerk office, as well as online through official and third-party sources.
What is Contained in an Illinois Criminal Court Record?
The content of an Illinois criminal court record varies depending on the type of case and how far in the judicial process the case has gone. Most records generally contain:
- Filed documents: This includes orders, papers, documents and pleadings
- Name of the plaintiff and defendant
- Type of case
- Name of the presiding judge
- Case number
- Date of differ events
- Objections by any named party in relation to the proceeding
- Notation of each trial proceeding
Are all Illinois Criminal Court Records Open to the Public?
Yes. Most Illinois criminal court records fall under the umbrella of public record, as do most past and present inmate records. This means they can be accessed by members of the public. Interested parties can inspect or view records by contacting the court record custodian. Members of the public can look up events for specific court dates by checking the docket entries or review the details of a criminal case by reading documents included in the court file. That said, not all criminal records are open to the public. Some records may be sealed or protected from public view by a court order.
Can I Get Criminal Records for Free Online?
Free online criminal court records may be available from some counties. Circuit courts in select counties may provide criminal court information at no cost via an online public search platform. However, most record custodians require that requesters pay a nominal fee for making copies of the available record. Interested parties can find and view records by entering in a case number or any other case-related detail, such as the name of the parties involved and the names of the attorney on record.
Note: Electronic records may take a while to update new changes in the case file. They may also provide only brief summaries of the physical records filed and maintained with the clerk of the court.
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 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.
Understanding the Illinois Criminal Court System
The state of Illinois operates with a unified court system that is divided across three main levels: circuit, the court of appeal and the Supreme Court. Access to Illinois criminal court records varies across each of these levels.
- Supreme Court: Made up of 7 justices, the Illinois Supreme Court has discretionary jurisdiction over different matters, including cases of state revenue, prohibition, and mandamus. It may also serve as the direct court of appeal for felony criminal cases where a death sentence has been imposed by a lower court. Records of cases filed at this level are maintained by the Supreme court clerk.
- Appellate Court: Divided into five districts, the Illinois Appellate Court oversees matters of right as well as appeals originating from the lower (circuit) court. It’s divided into five judicial districts, with more than 50 judges spread across the state. Records of cases filed at this level are maintained by the Appellate court clerk.
- Circuit Courts: The main trial court of the state, Illinois circuit courts have original jurisdiction over civil and criminal cases. There are 23 circuit courts in the state. 18 circuits serve two or more counties per circuit, while six serve a single county (McHenry, Lake, Kane, Will, Cook, and DuPage). Records of criminal cases filed at this level are maintained by the clerk of the circuit court.
Obtaining Criminal Court Records
How Do I Find a Criminal Court Record in Person?
Step 1. Collect Important Information
To find criminal records, requesters will need to have information that can assist with the search, such as the case number, the name of the parties on record, the filing date, and the presiding judge. It’s also important that interested parties correctly identify the court where the case was filed.
Step 2. Visit the Courthouse
Once the court location has been confirmed, requesters can search for court records by submitting a request to the clerk of court or record custodian for the court. Some courts provide request forms to simplify this process. Using a known case number provides the quickest path to obtaining records. If a case number isn’t available, most court clerks also have computers that can be used to search for cases by name.
Note: Members of the public may be able to find a case number prior to their visit by searching online docket files or the court’s online case index (if available).
Step 3. Obtain Copies of Records
Most courts have computer terminals that members of the public can use to view records. Individuals who wish to obtain actual copies will be required to pay a fee for this service.
How Do I Find Criminal Court Records Online?
Members of the public can search for criminal court records online by visiting the court clerk’s website and conducting a search using a known case number, defendant name, or filing date. However, not all courts provide records online. Access to online criminal court records will depend on the court and the year when the case was filed. Older records are less likely to be available as computerized records.
While the platforms used by courts might vary, most online search systems generally provide filters that allow users to search for criminal court records by:
- Case Number: This option provides the quickest way of finding a record
- Filing Date: Users can specify a date range
- Case Type: Requesters can specify if the case was a misdemeanor or felony
- Case Status: Users can choose between open, reopened and closed cases
Depending on the county, circuit courts may provide only one option while others may offer several search criteria. Most courts limit the number of records available via a broad search to a fixed number. Some of the county circuit courts that provide online access to criminal court records in Illinois include:
- Kankakee County Circuit Court
- Kendall County Circuit Court
- Lake County Circuit Court
- LaSalle County Circuit Court
- Lee County Circuit Court
- Macon County Circuit Court
- Madison County Circuit Court
- McHenry County Circuit Court
- McLean County Circuit Court
- Peoria County Circuit Court
- Sangamon County Circuit Court
- St. Clair County Circuit Court
- Will County Circuit Court
- Tazewell County Circuit Court
Understanding Case Numbers
Illinois court case number consists of three major parts:
- The last two digits indicating the year when the case was filed
- The code letters which indicate the type of case
- The number of the case for its specific category
How Do I Obtain Criminal Court Records by Mail?
Some circuit courts provide the option of receiving criminal court records by mail. Members of the public can identify which by visiting the website of the custodian court. The clerk of court generally provides the mailing address and specific steps required for obtaining records by mail. Some courts may provide a downloadable form to expedite the process.
How Do I Find Cook County Criminal Court Records?
Records of cases filed at the Cook County Circuit Court can only be obtained by visiting the courthouse. Members of the public can view or inspect records by submitting a request to the Cook County circuit clerk’s office.
Note: Cook County Circuit Court is divided into five districts, in Daley Center, Maywood, Bridgeview, Markham, Rolling Meadows, and Skokie. Individuals who went to court across multiple districts may need to contact the different courts to obtain court records.
Are all Illinois Criminal Court Records Available Online?
Not all Illinois criminal court records are available online. In compliance with the state’s record-keeping laws, the clerk of the court may restrict access to some records. Some of the information that may be protected from public view includes criminal records that contain:
- Proprietary business information such as business tax returns, trade secrets or customer lists
- Names, telephone numbers or addresses or potential jurors in a criminal case
- Financial information that provides account number on specific assets, the digits of a social security number or the P. I.N number of named parties
- Information that may constitute patented or copyrighted material
- Juvenile information
Can Members of the Public See an Expunged Juvenile Record?
Once a record is expunged, the subject’s name is removed from all indexes and physical copies of the record are destroyed. However, certain government agencies may still be able to view an expunged file, even after it’s been erased from public view. These include
- The military
- Department of Correction
- Law Enforcement Agencies
How Do I Find Federal Court Records?
Records of criminal cases filed in federal district courts within Illinois can be accessed using a public terminal located at the custodian clerk’s office. Records can also be obtained using the court’s Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) platform. Interested parties will need to have an account to use this service. The PACER portal can be used to search through district, appellate and bankruptcy case records. It also includes a case locator tool that residents can use for nationwide searches.
Note: Older court records filed or created before 1999 may be unavailable online. Most of these records are maintained in physical form (paper) and can only be accessed by contacting the court where the case was filed.
The state of Illinois has three district courts located in the state of Illinois:
- Northern District of Illinois
- Central District of Illinois
- Southern District of Illinois
Are Trial Transcripts Open to the Public?
Trial transcripts are generally open to the public. However, there are several exceptions to this rule. Transcripts of juvenile criminal cases may be closed to public view. A court may also restrict access to court transcripts if it decides that the confidentiality of the record outweighs that of public interest.
How do I Obtain Illinois Court Transcripts?
Members of the public can obtain copies of court transcripts for cases filed at the circuit court by placing an order with the official court reporter(s) tasked with covering the proceedings. Depending on the court, orders may be placed in person over the phone, or online. Requesters can find the right reporter by contacting the court reporter supervisor. Submitted requests will be expected to include relevant information that can facilitate the search, such as:
- The name of the presiding judge
- The date of the case hearing
- Case number
- Courtroom number
Request forms may also require a return address, the name of the ordering party as well as the requester’s contact details. Most court reporters require that payment be made before a request is processed.
Obtaining Federal Court Transcripts
Copies of transcripts for federal crime cases filed at the federal court can be obtained by placing a transcript to the court reporters at the respective district. Court transcripts aren’t free. Federal courts have set fees for different types of requests, including expedited transcripts, ordinary transcripts, 14-day transcripts, and hourly transcripts.