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Locate Court Documents with PACER and RECAP

March 21, 2012

By Ellen Qualey, Reference Librarian

Researching a case that is pending in federal court? Interesting in obtaining a brief and can’t find it on Westlaw or Lexis? Explore PACER, the Public Access to Court Electronic Records database. 

Provided by the United States Judiciary, PACER allows users to obtain case and docket information from federal appellate, district, and bankruptcy courts. Each court system maintains its own PACER database, with serving as the main gateway for these individual systems.

Anyone can register for a PACER account, but fees are charged for pages retrieved of search results or individual documents. While prices have recently increased to $0.08 per page, fees for documents are capped at $2.30 and charges less than $10.00 are waived per quarter by PACER.   Users who want to polish their research skills without incurring fees may explore this free PACER training site, and Penn Law students and faculty are welcome to contact a reference librarian for assistance with retrieving court documents.
Interested in access to court documents outside of PACER? Explore RECAP, a project from the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University. RECAP’s Firefox add-on allows you to locate free court documents by indicating when a document is available in RECAP’s database as you browse PACER. In addition to this add-on, RECAP’s  new archive provides an experimental search interface to locate these freely available court documents directly.
If you have questions about PACER or need assistance obtaining federal court documents, feel free to ask a reference librarian.