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What are Court Transcripts?

Jessica Ellis
Updated May 16, 2024
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Court transcripts are written or recorded accounts of court proceedings. Typically created by a court reporter, court transcripts are meant to be a word-for-word record of every court proceeding that occurred during a given trial, including court proceeding, witness testimony, attorney arguments and questions, and verdicts. Court transcripts of a particular trial are usually publicly available by request for any interested party.

Before the advent of tape and digital recording devices, court transcripts were written by hand or typed. Court reporters, also called stenographers or transcriptionists, had to use a unique and often personalized form of shorthand to record words as quickly as possible. Since a court transcript is meant to be an exact replica of the court proceedings, speed and accuracy were vital skills needed by a court reporter.

Today, some court reporters use a specialized machine called a stenotype that has unusual keys. Instead of having one key per letter, the stenotype keyboard has keys linked to phonics; when a “chord” of keys is pressed together, it spells out a syllable or word in one movement, instead of only one letter. The stenotype allows skilled users to type more than 100 words per minute, far faster than with a regular keyboard.

Many courts now also allow the use of a digital recorder to create court transcripts. As long as it functions correctly, a recording device will accurately capture exactly what transpired during a court session, with no concerns about speed or accuracy. Even with a digital recorder, however, a court reporter must often certify and notarize that the recording is accurate and correct.

Court transcripts can often be requested by the public, but in some cases may not be available. Judges have the right to restrict access to court records on the grounds that privacy is in the best interest of the case. Records that might be restricted include family court proceedings such as custody hearings, trials that involve minors, and proceedings that require the release of trade secrets.

To request court transcripts, locate the case number and name of the primary attorneys involved. Many courthouse will have available records of all cases tried on site, so requests can be made in person if the trial was local. Since many courthouses and justice systems now operate websites, it's also possible to obtain records via an online request. Additionally, several databases of public records can provide requested records for a small fee.

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Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis , Writer
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for MyLawQuestions. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.

Discussion Comments

By anon350654 — On Oct 07, 2013

Even if you are able to request transcripts or audio recordings, the courts may doctor the recordings to hide the inappropriate actions of the judges and magistrates. To see more on this corrupt behavior committed by our honorable judiciary in Australia and internationally, there's a Facebook page that covers it.

By cardsfan27 — On Jan 06, 2012

@Emilski - You are absolutely correct. There is a reason why they do not allow people to look at the court transcripts for these cases and it is to protect the people involved in the cases and protect them from scrutiny of the public.

There are court transcripts that can usually be found such as the grand jury hearing, which I find to be more accessible than the court transcripts for the actual trial.

It is important to note these possibilities and for someone to do their homework with the trials as there is always a chance that they can run into a road block when they are doing research into court cases.

By Emilski — On Jan 05, 2012

@titans62 - You are absolutely correct when you say that it is an historians nightmare when the court transcripts are not available to the public and this is one of the few times where it does become a dead end for historians.

I will have to say though this does not happen terribly often for normal cases and that there are specific types of cases that do not allow for people to look at.

Most of these cases involve sex abuse as well as juvenile cases. Historians should know that there is a potential for this to occur with these types of cases and they should assume that it is a possibility that they cannot review it if they choose to look at these types of cases.

By titans62 — On Jan 05, 2012

@kentuckycat - That is very true. If the court transcripts are not available it does make it hard to figure out every little detail of the trial, but not all is lost if one wants to review the trial and study it.

If someone is studying a Supreme Court case one can look at the opinions of the judges that are available for everyone to see.

These types of decisions show what the judges have to say on the cases themselves and tell why they specifically made the decisions that they did.

However, these are not usually available for lower level court cases and that is when the court transcripts need to be reviewed, which if they are not made public it makes it very hard to look at the case and be able to write anything on it.

I consider this to be an historians nightmare if they are really wanting to review this case and write something on it.

By kentuckycat — On Jan 04, 2012

Court transcripts are incredibly useful pieces of information for historians writing something on the court case in particular.

Usually historians try and look for the court transcripts and hope that they are available for the public to see and if they are they are usually in good shape, because it may be the best evidence available for reviewing the case in a scholarly study.

However, it is unfortunate to say that many a times an historians research has been ruined or de-railed due to the unavailability of the court transcript and they are forced to look at other sources available that might not shed as much light on the case as a court transcript.

Jessica Ellis

Jessica Ellis


With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
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