Washington Court Records
Washington Court Records refer to the legal documents, proceedings, and information generated or recorded by courts in the state.
These records play an important role in ensuring transparency, accountability, and access to information in the legal system and are an essential resource for anyone interested in the law or the workings of the court system.
Furthermore, court records are essential for individuals involved in court cases or legal disputes. These records can help individuals understand their legal rights and obligations and the legal arguments and decisions that may affect them.
Court records in Washington may contain a wide range of information related to court cases and legal proceedings. The specific information contained in these records can vary depending on the type of case and the stage of the legal process. Some pieces of information or materials that these records may have are as follows:
- Case filings or copies of the initial documents filed with the court, such as complaints, petitions, and motions
- Court orders and rulings, which can provide important information about the decisions made by judges in a particular case
- Transcripts of court proceedings, such as hearings or trials
- Judgments and decrees, which are the final orders issued by the court in a particular case
- Dockets and calendars, which provide information about upcoming court hearings and other important dates related to a specific case
- Other case-related documents, such as exhibits, affidavits, and other supporting materials
The Washington State Public Records Act (PRA) is the primary law governing the public's right to access court and other government records in Washington State.
Under the PRA, all records generated or maintained by the Washington State Court System are generally public records and must be available for public view and duplication upon request unless an exemption applies.
Which Washington Courts Maintain Publicly Accessible Records?
Most public documents in Washington State are in the following Trial Courts:
Washington Superior Courts
The Washington Superior Courts have comprehensive jurisdiction over all criminal and civil cases unless restricted by statute or awarded exclusively to another court. Superior Court will likely hear a matter if no other court has jurisdiction over it.
These courts have original authority over the following:
- Felony criminal cases
- Misdemeanors not tried by the District Court or the Municipal Court
- Insolvency proceedings
- Actions for unlawful entrance and detention
- Abatement or prevention of a nuisance
- Probate matters
- Any other cases not assigned primarily to another court
Moreover, Superior Courts may handle issues involving naturalization, habeas corpus, mandamus, and quo warranto.
In civil matters, Superior Courts can hear the following:
- A dispute about the ownership or title of real property
- An issue about the legitimacy of any tax
- Municipal fines
- Any other matters involving debts, damages, or property beyond the district court's jurisdictional boundaries
Several Superior Courts have a distinct Family Court department with authority over the following:
- Child custody
- Custodial interference
- Child support
- Child visitation
- Parenting plans
- Distribution of marital property
- Other domestic relations cases
Some Family Court divisions also handle divorce or dissolution proceedings and juvenile problems that intersect with other family-related matters.
Except for those having a mixed Family and Juvenile Court department, all Superior Courts have a juvenile division with exclusive jurisdiction over the majority of juvenile matters, including but not limited to the following:
- Juvenile delinquency
- Child dependency
- Parental rights termination
- Foster care
Family Courts and Juvenile Courts have concurrent jurisdiction over certain situations.
Washington District Courts
Some civil, criminal, and traffic proceedings fall within the limited jurisdiction of the Washington District Courts.
With limited criminal jurisdiction, a District Court can only hear the following cases:
- Plain and gross misdemeanors
- Preliminary hearings
- Traffic infractions
In an "interlocal agreement" with a city that does not have its own Municipal Court, District Courts may additionally have jurisdiction over breaches of municipal ordinances.
Regarding civil jurisdiction, a District Court can hear the following matters:
- Disputes involving amounts less than $100,000
- Contract disputes, including the recovery of money, damages to a person, damages to personal property, and damages to real property
- Actions that incur a penalty
- Personal property fraud cases
If a civil action requires third-party jurisdiction or exceeds District Court authority, it may be forwarded to Superior Court.
Every District Court has a Small Claims division with authority over small claims civil disputes.
Moreover, District Courts can consider matters involving protection orders for domestic abuse, civil protection orders, name changes, car impoundment, and cases assigned by another court.
Washington Municipal Courts
The jurisdiction of a Municipal Court in Washington is confined to infractions of local regulations and the enforcement or recovery of licensing penalties or forfeitures imposed by these ordinances.
Some Municipal Courts may conduct preliminary hearings, set bail, and accept personal recognizance for warrants issued by another District or Municipal Court.
Several municipalities do not run a Municipal Court but instead engage in an "interlocal agreement" with their county, wherein the county's District Court hears municipal proceedings.
Washington Traffic Violations Bureaus
Washington Traffic Violations Bureaus are municipal agencies authorized by District or Municipal Courts to hear the court's traffic matters. These Bureaus handle petitions for mitigation hearings, fine payments, bail, disputed hearings, and deferrals. Only the authorized District or Municipal Court can hold hearings and deferrals.
Washington Toll Courts
Washington Toll Courts handle cases related to unpaid tolls on highways and bridges in the state. These courts are part of the Washington State Court System. They are responsible for resolving disputes between toll agencies and drivers who have failed to pay tolls or fees associated with using toll facilities.
What are the Common Public Court Records in Washington?
The following are some of the most prevalent types of court documents accessible to the public in Washington:
Washington Civil and Small Claims Records
Washington Civil Records are documents and information related to civil court cases in the state. Civil court cases are legal disputes between individuals or entities, such as businesses or organizations, that do not involve criminal charges. In Washington, the District Courts have jurisdiction over civil matters involving claims of less than $100,000.
Civil court cases include lawsuits for breach of contract, personal injury, property damage, and family law matters such as divorce or child custody.
On the other hand, Washington Small Claims Records are documents and information related to cases heard in Small Claims Courts. A Washington Small Claims Court is a division of a District Court that handles disputes involving relatively small amounts of money, typically up to $10,000 in Washington State.
Cases handled by the Small Claims Court include disputes between landlords and tenants over security deposits, fraudulent checks, vehicle accidents, the acquisition of faulty items, and neighbor conflicts, among others. But, the Washington court for small claims cannot hear cases involving the recovery of property or equitable remedies.
Individuals, corporations, and businesses may bring a small claims action in the District Court of their home county. Interested parties must complete a Notice of Small Claim form acquired from their District Court clerk.
Both Washington Civil and Small Claims Records typically include the court filings, documents, and orders related to a case, as well as transcripts of hearings and trials. They may also include information on the parties involved in the case, such as their names, addresses, and contact information.
To access these records, contact or visit the District Court or Small Claims Court that filed the case or where the claim occurred.
Washington Criminal Records
One of the most requested Washington Court Records is criminal records. In Washington, criminal records refer to a collection of information about a person's past criminal activity. These records are maintained by state courts and various law enforcement agencies, including the Washington State Patrol (WSP), the Department of Corrections, and local police departments.
Criminal records in Washington may include information such as arrests, convictions, and sentencing. They may also include details about the type of crime committed, the offense's date and location, and any imposed penalties or fines.
Washington employers may review criminal records as part of a background check, but they cannot discriminate against job applicants based solely on their criminal history.
WSP offers Washington Access to Criminal History (WATCH), where employers can do a background check online and get the results immediately.
Interested parties may also get these records by requesting a conviction Criminal History Record Information (CHRI) through the mail or in person. Requestors must complete a Request for Conviction Criminal History Form and pay the applicable fees.
Mail-in requests must be sent to the Identification and Background Check Section of WSP, while requestors must visit the Olympia office at 106 11th Ave SW Suite 1300, Olympia, WA 98501 for walk-in requests.
In addition to conviction CHRI, interested parties may also request and obtain non-conviction CHRI, although only arrests of less than one-year-old with dispositions are available.
Washington Traffic Records
Washington Traffic Records refer to the public records related to the driving history of licensed drivers and the registration and ownership of vehicles.
These records typically include information such as the driver's license status, driving record, traffic violations, accidents, convictions, deferred prosecutions, and any restrictions or endorsements on the license. They also include information about the vehicle, such as the make, model, year, and ownership history.
Some of the most common traffic violations in Washington Traffic Records are as follows:
- Failing to stop at a red light
- Reckless driving
- Driving under the influence (DUI)
- Driving with a suspended or revoked license
- Operating a vehicle without proper insurance coverage
- Texting while driving
- Illegal turns
Access to traffic records in Washington is typically provided through the Washington State Department of Licensing (DOL). To generate and preserve these records, DOL collaborates with other organizations, such as the Traffic Safety Commission and the traffic courts (Municipal and District Courts) in the state.
The DOL's License eXpress (LX) portal lets users see their traffic records online. This method is the quickest and most convenient; record-holders may access their information within 24 hours after payment.
Alternatively, DOL has an address for those who want to get their traffic records via mail. In this method, a requestor must download, complete, and send a request form along with the applicable fee. The mailing address is written on the form.
The last option is to visit the nearest DOL office. You can use the DOL's locations directory to locate the closest DOL office.
Washington Probate Records
Washington Probate Records refer to legal documents for administrating a deceased person's estate.
In Washington, probate records are typically handled by the Superior Court in the county where the deceased person lived. The court oversees the state probate process, which involves validating the decedent's will (if there is one), appointing an executor or personal representative to administer the estate, and distributing the assets to the beneficiaries.
Probate records in Washington often have the following information:
- Name of the decedent
- Date and place of death
- Will and testament, if any, and the name of the executor
- List of heirs, beneficiaries, and their relationship to the deceased
- Inventory of assets, including real estate, personal property, and financial accounts
- Debts owed by the decedent
- Names of creditors and the amounts owed to each
- Court orders related to the distribution of assets
- Disposition of any outstanding legal matters or claims against the estate
To access probate records in Washington, you must contact the Superior Court Clerk's office in the county where the decedent lived. You can typically find contact information for the Clerk's office on the county's website.
Some counties may provide access to probate records online through their website. In other cases, you may need to personally visit the Clerk's office to view or obtain copies of probate records.
Washington Family Records
Washington Family Records refer to court documents and information related to cases involving family law matters such as divorce, child custody, child support, paternity, adoption, and domestic violence.
These records may include court documents such as pleadings, motions, orders, and judgments, as well as transcripts of court hearings and any other official court-related communications. They may also contain the parties' personal information, such as names, dates of birth, addresses, and Social Security numbers.
The Superior Court generally maintains family records in Washington in the county where the case occurred. To access these records, you must contact the county's Superior Court clerk's office that filed the lawsuit.
In some cases, you may access these records online through the Washington State Digital Archives. However, access to certain types of information may be restricted or require additional fees or permissions.
Washington Bankruptcy Records
Bankruptcy records are not technically part of the trial court system in the state, but they are one of the most requested Washington Court Records. Generally, bankruptcy cases in Washington are handled by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, a federal court system separate from the state court system.
Washington Bankruptcy Records refer to legal documents and information related to an individual or business's bankruptcy filing in the state. Bankruptcy is a lawful process that allows individuals and companies who cannot pay their debts to get a fresh start financially by either reorganizing or having their debts discharged.
The most common bankruptcy filings in Washington are Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcies.
Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Washington involves liquidating the filer's non-exempt assets to pay off their debts. The filer's debts are discharged in this bankruptcy filing, meaning they are no longer responsible for paying them.
On the other hand, Washington Chapter 13 bankruptcy involves reorganizing the filer's debts into a manageable repayment plan that typically lasts between three and five years. The filer makes monthly payments to a bankruptcy trustee, who distributes the funds to the filer's creditors.
Bankruptcy records in Washington contain various information about the filer and their bankruptcy case. These records typically include the following:
- The filer's name, address, phone number, and other identifying information
- Information about the filer's income, assets, debts, and expenses
- Bankruptcy petition
- A list of filer's creditors
- Court documents such as motions, orders, and other filings related to the bankruptcy case
- Trustee reports
- Discharge order
How To Obtain Bankruptcy Records in Washington?
Depending on where the bankruptcy filing occurred, you can obtain bankruptcy records in Washington from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Washington or the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Washington.
In all forms, bankruptcy records are accessible straight from the courts. Anyone interested in obtaining physical copies of court documents may visit the courts in person, access case information online, or send a written request by mail.
You can also visit the public terminals in the court clerk's office during business hours to access bankruptcy case information electronically.
There may be fees associated with obtaining bankruptcy records, such as a copying or search fee. Be sure to check with the court about any applicable fees and how to pay them.
If you don't know or are unsure about the court that filed the bankruptcy case, you can search using the federal court's Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system. In this tool, you must create an account and pay a fee to access bankruptcy records.
Does Washington Have a Case Search?
The Washington State Courts website has an online Case Number/Case Name Search tool for cases filed in Washington's Municipal, District, Superior, and Appellate Courts (Supreme Court and Court of Appeals). The tool's search results may direct you to the entire or official Washington Court Records.
Aside from that, Washington has the Odyssey Portal for online access to court documents, specifically from Superior Courts. In 2008, the Administrative Office of the Courts of Washington launched this portal as an official Superior Courts Management System.
Requesters may utilize the portal as registered or unregistered users. However, Odyssey Portal non-registered users may only view non-confidential case information. Documents are available exclusively to registered users; non-registered users may contact the County Clerk's office to receive copies.
To get court records without registering, users may use the Smart Search function on the site and follow the instructions provided.
If the needed court records are not accessible via the Case Number/Case Name Search tool or the Odyssey Portal, contact or visit the Court Clerks. On the Washington State Courts website, the Court Directory provides various courts' locations and phone numbers.
The processes for seeing or duplicating a court record may differ between courts. Therefore, you must contact the in-charge Court Clerk to acquire court-specific information on accessing court documents.
Counties in Washington
- Grays Harbor
- Pend Oreille
- San Juan
- Walla Walla
Courts in Washington
List of Content
- Which Washington Courts Maintain Publicly Accessible Records?
- What are the Common Public Court Records in Washington?
- Does Washington Have a Case Search?