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Federal courts experiment with access to criminal case files

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    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Secret Courts         May 10, 2002    

Federal courts experiment with access to criminal case files

  • Eleven federal courts this week began allowing Internet users to browse criminal court records as part of a pilot program devised by the Judicial Conference.

Eleven federal courts this week began offering Internet users access to criminal court files as part of a Judicial Conference of the United States-approved pilot program.

The pilot program for access to criminal court files, launched on May 7, follows a string of conference decisions involving online access to court records.

The Judicial Conference develops policy for all federal courts. The group, chaired by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, includes federal judges from all over the country and meets twice a year to consider issues facing the federal judiciary.

On Sept. 19, the Judicial Conference voted to permit electronic access to certain civil cases, making them available online to the same extent they are offline. At that time, the conference opted to refrain from allowing such access to criminal court records. But the judges promised to study the matter within two years.

The high interest in recent terrorism cases, such as the prosecution of Zacarias Moussaoui, sparked a change of heart in the conference. On March 13, the judges voted to allow online access to criminal case files in high-profile cases and to create a pilot program to examine the effects of improved electronic access on the federal court system.

The participating courts include the U.S. Court of Appeals in St. Louis (8th Cir.) and 10 district courts in Southern District of California, District of Columbia, Southern District of Florida, Southern District of Georgia, District of Idaho, Northern District of Illinois, District of Massachusetts, Northern District of Oklahoma, District of Utah and Southern District of West Virginia. Internet users will be able to access the records through the courts’ Public Access to Court Electronic Records system, or PACER, at seven cents a page, conference officials said in a statement.

PT

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