A Journalist’s Guide to the Federal Courts
Federal judges and the journalists who cover them share an important goal: They want the public to receive accurate and understandable information about the federal courts and their work.
The media perform an important and constitutionally protected role by informing and educating the public. The media also serve a time-honored role as the public’s watchdog over government institutions, including the courts. Likewise, courts uphold many of the legal protections that enable journalists to perform their jobs. A Journalist’s Guide to the Federal Courts is intended to assist reporters who cover appellate, district, and bankruptcy courts – the cases, the people, and the process. It also offers basic information for journalists writing about the federal court system as a whole. The guide does not discuss the Supreme Court of the United States. Go to the Supreme Court website for helpful resources.
The Guide is intended to help working reporters perform their professional duties; it is not a comprehensive overview of the federal courts. Find additional online resources about the federal Judiciary.
The Guide does not constitute a statement of Judicial Conference policy and is not binding on any federal court or its judges or employees. Individual courts have varied approaches to media relations. Journalists should familiarize themselves with the customs, practices, and rules of the courts they cover.
In addition to this Guide, you may consult uscourts.gov and the Office of Public Affairs at the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, (202) 502-2600. Search for specific court location and website information using the Court Locator.
Use the links below or on the right-hand sidebar to access specific sections of the Guide.
Federal Court: Media Basics
Media Access in Brief
Recording and Broadcasting
Clerk of Court’s Office
Other District Court Personnel
Accessing Court Documents
Sealed Documents and Closed Hearings
Reporting on Criminal Cases
Investigations and Related Documents
Grand Juries and Indictments
Felony Preliminary Proceedings
Criminal Complaints and Informations
Covering Criminal Trials
Exhibits, Transcripts, and Courtroom Audio
Motion to Acquit
Jury Instructions, Deliberations, and the Verdict
Death Penalty Sentencing
Covering Civil Cases
Filing the Complaint
The Plaintiff’s Claim
The Defendant’s Answer
Ending a Case Without a Trial
Appellate Courts and Cases
Appellate Court Sources and Resources
The Appeals Process
Appeals Raising Constitutional Issues
Death Penalty Appeals
Bankruptcy Courts and Cases
Accessing Bankruptcy Records
Judges and Judicial Administration
Federal Court Organization
Circuit Judicial Councils
Judicial Disciplinary Process
Other Judiciary Entities
Criminal Justice Act Defense System (Court-Appointed Counsel)
Who Provides Court-Appointed Counsel
How CJA Cases Are Funded
The CJA and Death-Penalty Cases
Probation and Pretrial Services Officers
Central Violations Bureau