Public Information & Outreach
Article III of the United States Constitution establishes the judicial branch as one of the three separate and distinct branches of the federal government. The other two are the legislative and executive branches.
The Founding Fathers of the nation considered an independent federal judiciary essential to ensure fairness and equal justice for all citizens of the United States. With certain very limited exceptions, each step of the federal judicial process is open to the public.
An individual who wishes to observe a court in session may go to the federal courthouse, check the court calendar, and watch a proceeding. The court calendar for the District of New Hampshire is available online here. Court dockets and most case files are available online through the Public Access to Court Electronic Records system (known as "PACER"), at www.pacer.gov.
The right of public access to court proceedings is partly derived from the Constitution and partly from court tradition. By conducting their judicial work in public view, judges enhance public confidence in the courts, and they allow citizens to learn how our judicial system operates.
In a few situations the public may not have full access to court records and court proceedings. In a high-profile trial, for example, there may not be enough space in the courtroom to accommodate everyone who would like to observe. Access to the courtroom also may be restricted for security or privacy reasons, such as the protection of a juvenile or a confidential informant.
Finally, certain documents may be placed under seal by the judge, meaning that they are not available to the public. Examples of sealed information include confidential business records, certain law enforcement reports, and juvenile records.