Note: This page covers information specific to New York. 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 many records and documents filed in New York courts. However, your right of access is not absolute. New York statutes and court rules exempt certain categories of information from disclosure, and a court may limit access to court records in certain situations. 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). State websites provide locations and phone numbers for the Trial Courts, the Supreme Court Appellate Division, and the Court of Appeals (the state's highest court). 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.
There is a strong presumption of open access to court records in New York. See New York Jud. Law 255 to 255-B (select individual sections). However, there are numerous exceptions to this presumption. For example, you will likely not be able to access family court records, certain matrimonial records, criminal records when the defendant is found not guilty, adoption records, and civil commitment records. A recent report by the Commission on Public Access to Court Records contains some more examples.
A court may also seal its records upon finding there is good cause to do so. See 22 NYCRR § 216.1 (search for "sealing of court records"). Courts generally first require the person seeking to seal the records to demonstrate good cause to seal the record exists, and then balance that reason for closure against the public's interest in access. While this rule only directly applies to civil cases, criminal courts sometimes use it for guidance.
To obtain access to a sealed record, you can make a motion to vacate the sealing order. See In re Crain Communications, Inc. v. Hughes, 539 N.E.2d 1099, 1100 (N.Y. 1989). You may also make a direct appeal if the trial judge failed to give a reason for sealing the records. See In re Conservatorship of Brownstone, 594 N.Y.S.2d 31, 32 (App. Div. 1993). If you wish to challenge an order sealing court records, you should get legal assistance to determine how best to proceed.