As a nationwide company, our people are in courts literally all around the country every week. In my 17 years of doing this, there are only a few things of which I’m certain, and one is that every state, every county and almost every court in the nation seemingly has a different procedure. Some clerks are helpful, some are downright rude. Some offices are extremely organized and others are a total mess – it’s a wonder how they can find anything at all (they often can’t).
But in Connecticut, we are fortunate, for the most part, to have some very organized clerks’ offices with mostly very helpful clerks. Although general procedures are somewhat consistent statewide, there are many idiosyncrasies. I’m often asked what we can expect to find, so I thought I’d pen some thoughts for reference. Did you know, for example:
- In Connecticut, divorce case files are held at the court for 75 years…that’s a long time, but was enacted since people often need to provide proof of divorce throughout their lives, for a number of reasons.
- Routinely, only divorce files in which there was a dissolution are maintained – cases in which there was no judgment are destroyed, although the period of retention varies from court to court.
- In Connecticut, almost all divorce and civil case files are available for public review, for any reason, and by any person, mostly without providing any form of identity. The only exceptions are in cases where the judge has sealed the file. This is rare, but is routine in the case of celebrities, politicians or other prominent persons.
- Connecticut procedure is in stark contrast to New York, for example, where ALL family (including divorce) case files are sealed and not available for public review.
- Certain components of divorce files ARE sealed in Connecticut, primarily financial affidavits, although these are routinely unsealed after dissolution. Sealed documents in Connecticut case files are placed in bright blue folders and are usually attached to the inside front cover of the file. The clerks should remove them before handing you the file, but often do not. Don’t be tempted to take a peak though, they are sealed for a reason.
- For most civil cases in which there was a judgment or disposition, case files are maintained for several years (although retention dates vary between the courts and the nature of the case). However case files that are “Withdrawn” are destroyed one year after the date of withdrawal, almost without exception, statewide. Similarly, dormant (inactive) case files enter the Dormancy Program and are destroyed one year after the last activity, again, almost without exception.
- In Connecticut, criminal case files are handled quite differently. Soon after a disposition is entered, the case file is shipped to the Connecticut Records Center located at the Enfield Superior Court. Don’t even think of going to a court to review an old criminal case file, it will only be in Enfield, if anywhere. At Enfield, case files are maintained for defined periods and then destroyed as follows:
– Nolle/Dismissals are destroyed after 3 years
– Infractions are destroyed after 5 years
– Motor vehicle misdemeanors are destroyed after 10 years
– Criminal misdemeanors are destroyed after 10 years
– Criminal felonies are destroyed after 20 years or length of sentence, whichever is longer
– Youthful Offender cases are destroyed after 10 years
- When reviewing archived criminal case files, don’t expect to find much content. They are routinely stripped to bare bones for archiving and you often will not find police reports or details beyond the court docket. Police reports and police departments in general are a more complex subject…for another blog post maybe!
Connecticut is somewhat unique in the way it handles, maintains and destroys criminal and civil case files. We’re in the courts every week and we know the system – If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask me.