Note: This page covers information specific to North Carolina. 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 North Carolina state courts. However, your right of access is not absolute, and a court may limit access to 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 list of courthouses by county on the North Carolina Court System website for directions and telephone numbers for the state courts operating in North Carolina. Information for the state's Court of Appeals and Supreme Court are available on their sites. 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.
Under N.C. Const. art. I, § 18, there is a qualified right of public access to court records, at least in civil cases. See Virmani v. Presbyterian Health Servs. Corp., 515 S.E.2d 675, 693 (N.C. 1999). North Carolina law provides a right of access to all court records, both civil and criminal, in both the general public records law, N.C. Gen. Stat. § 132-1, and a specific statute about court records, N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7A-109(a). The court records statute requires that all records be open to public inspection, except as prohibited by law. Some court records are specifically named in another statue as being public unless sealed by the court: "arrest and search warrants that have been returned by law enforcement agencies, indictments, criminal summons, and nontestimonial identification orders." N.C. Gen. Stat. § 132-1.4(k). You will likely not have access to certain documents, however, such as civil commitment materials, juvenile delinquency records, and information from child abuse or neglect cases.
A court may deny access to records "when its use is required in the interest of the proper and fair administration of justice or where, for reasons of public policy, the openness ordinarily required of our government will be more harmful than beneficial." Virmani v. Presbyterian Health Servs. Corp., 515 S.E.2d 675, 685 (N.C. 1999). If you wish to challenge an order closing court records, you should get legal assistance to determine how best to proceed. North Carolina law explicitly grants you the ability to assert your right of access to records from a civil proceeding and to immediately appeal if your request is denied. See N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1-72.1.