Note: This page covers information specific to the District of Columbia. For general information concerning access to and use of court records see the Access to Courts and Court Records section of this guide.
You have a right to inspect and copy most records and documents filed in D.C. courts. However, your right of access is not absolute, and a court may seal records under certain circumstances. If you are interested in obtaining court records, you should go to the courthouse where the case is taking place and request the records in writing from the clerk of the court (there will usually be a request form). See the information page on District of Columbia Courts website for locations, phone numbers, websites, and other information about courts operating in the District. Alternatively, you may be able to access court records online. For more information, please consult the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press's state-by-state guide to access to court records and proceedings.
As a general matter, you may access docket information, the pleadings and motions of the parties to a lawsuit, decisions and orders of the court, evidence introduced in court by either side, and transcripts of hearings. On the other hand, you generally cannot access juvenile court records. In addition, you do not have a right to access documents and materials exchanged between parties to a civil lawsuit in pretrial discovery but never filed with the court or introduced into evidence. Moreover, the court has discretion to seal records that contain trade secrets, national security information, and information the disclosure of which would invade someone's privacy or promote libel or scandal. Beyond that, the court may seal documents when doing so is necessary to ensure a defendant's right to a fair trial, to obtain the cooperation of witnesses and other sources of information, and to protect parties or witnesses who have acted in reliance on confidentiality. In each case, the court must determine that the specific interests favoring secrecy outweigh the public interest in access.
A court must issue an order to seal documents. If you are denied access to court records, ask the clerk for the order sealing the documents. If such an order exists, you may consider moving to intervene in the case to challenge the court's decision. If you wish to challenge an order sealing court records, you should get legal assistance to determine how best to proceed.