Note: This page covers information specific to Pennsylvania. 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 Pennsylvania state courts. This right is rooted in the commmonlaw, see Publicker Industries, Inc. v. Cohen, 733 F.2d 1059, 1066 (3d Cir. 1983), and starting January 1, 2009, will be codified in the newly revised Right-To-Know Law. Refer to the section on Access to Public Records in Pennsylvania to better understand what types of records you can access and the mechanisms for doing so under the new law.
Despite the presumption of openness, your right of access is not absolute. 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). Refer to the Pennsylvania judiciary's website to find the locations, phone numbers, and websites for the state's courts.
Alternatively, you may be able to access court records online. Some Pennsylvania state court records are online, although this access is by no means comprehensive. For example, docket sheets and court calendars and Supreme Court and appellate opinions are available online, while filed court documents (e.g., motions and briefs) are not usually accessible over the internet. 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.
At the courthouse 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, among other items found in a case file. However, there are records that are highly sensitive in nature which you will not be able to access, such as those involving divorce cases, adoption proceedings, and juvenile proceedings. Beyond that, a court may seal a record or records when good cause exists. Good cause exists where disclosure will result in clearly defined and serious injury to the party requesting closure. For example, in a criminal case, a court will seal the necessary records if it determines that disclosure would threaten the defendant's right to a fair trial, or jeopardize the safety of informants or the integrity of an ongoing investigation.
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 closing court records, you should get legal assistance to determine how best to proceed.