Looking up the past
April 16, 2007 2:18 PM   Subscribe

How do I get records of a trial from 43 years ago?

When I was 8 I was involved in a traumatic event. There was a trial. I had to testify. I want to see the transcripts and records from that trial. How do I go about doing that? This happened in Duluth, Minnesota in 1963. We were all living on an air force base when this happened, but it was handled by the civilian courts. I don't have specific dates, just the general year. I don't remember the name of the man who was prosecuted. For the court transcripts, I can only say it was this year, and my last name, which might be listed in an index somewhere or might not. Where do I start? Who do I ask?

Also, I was wondering if there were any newspaper stories about it. It involved more children besides myself, so I was thinking it might have made the news. How would I find this out? Would a small town paper like Duluth's keep archives that go back that far?

Any help you can give will be greatly appreciated.
posted by generic230 to Law & Government (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If this was a federal case, the National Archives Great Lakes region should have a record of it.
posted by grateful at 2:32 PM on April 16, 2007

If you contact the court registry there, they probably have all that stuff on computer and you can search by your name and the year. That should turn up the case info. Then you can find out if there were any transcripts. Again, the registry can help you. For the decision(s), a database like Quicklaw. We have a free one in Canada, CanLII, but that's not going to help you. Probably there are free databases for the US too, though. The state or regional court may have a web page where decisions, even old ones, are available, once you have the name. If you were an 8 year old victim, your name may be protected and only initials there, making searching more difficult. Start with the registry.
posted by Listener at 2:33 PM on April 16, 2007

Would a small town paper like Duluth's keep archives that go back that far?

They probably keep a morgue, and if it doesn't go back that far, a local library or history collection might.
posted by grouse at 3:42 PM on April 16, 2007

I have a sister in Duluth so if you need a person in the area she may be able to help. Email's in profile.
posted by adamwolf at 3:48 PM on April 16, 2007

they probably have all that stuff on computer and you can search by your name and the year.

I doubt it. Portland, Ore., doesn't have stuff on computer going back that far, so I wouldn't expect Duluth to.

If you call the local newspaper, ask to talk to the librarian. Odds are good that they have microfilm and indexes that go back that far, and there might be a "crimes" or "courts" file that includes this crime. Once you have the names of the people involved, you'll want to request the information from the courthouse.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 4:13 PM on April 16, 2007

First step: Call (or email) the St. Louis County Law Library. They probably do not have these records, but they can tell you who will.

There will almost certainly be some microfiching involved. Maybe they charge for the service, or you can do it yourself if you're ever in Duluth again.
posted by Brian James at 4:30 PM on April 16, 2007

If it was tried in the trial court of Minnesota, you need to call the clerk of the court of the county in which it was tried. No-one other than the clerk of the court in which it was tried can get you a record. The clerk will be able to tell you what you can get, how, and what it will cost.

Be aware proceedings are not automatically transcribed. If no transcripts were made at the time, you will probably be unable to get them.

(Computerized? 50 year old court records? Ha! Most state courts still don't have electronic filing, which means nothing is a computer record beyond the docket sheets)
posted by crush-onastick at 4:56 PM on April 16, 2007

Best answer: I do not know much about the court records part of your question, but there are almost certainly newspapers available from this time period. If they are not held by the local paper, you can also check with the Duluth Public Library. The index in that link does not include articles from 1943, but it's entirely possible that they are in the library's collection and simply are not indexed. The reference librarian would be able to give you information about the library's holdings, or refer you to someone there who could help.

The statewide Minnesota Historical Society (in St. Paul) has "the largest single collection of Minnesota newspapers. Dates range from 1849 to the present day." Here's some information about their search services and fees. They do have some Duluth papers; if the trial was big enough, it also might have been reported in the Minneapolis and St. Paul papers.
posted by Siobhan at 5:59 PM on April 16, 2007

(sorry, that should read 1963, obviously -- but the info about the link is the same.)
posted by Siobhan at 6:11 PM on April 16, 2007

Best answer: Crush on a stick's got it. The clerk of court will be your friend. First, you need to find out which courts try which cases. From the traumatic nature of the case and the involvement of children, I would suspect that the case would be in a court of general jurisdiction--that is a court able to try felonies. Looking at the Judicial system website we see there is only one court of general jurisdiction--the district courts. Duluth is in the Sixth Judicial District. Call (218) 726-2460 tomorrow and ask to speak with the clerk or archivist.

When you get a hold of the clerk of court, give him the year and tell him or her it was a criminal case. These can be easily found because the state is a party. Since your case had a trial, notoriety and children involved, one can expect that there was a lot of motion practice and the file will be thick. Tell him or her to go for the thickest one first. It will likely be your case. Look for an exhibit of an investigative report drafted by police officers introduced as evidence. That report will likely contain all of the facts that will be at the center of the case. There will probably be no transcript in the file.

If possible put your request in writing and send it snail mail. They will take that more seriously than a phone call or an E-mail

Also, I would expect that a case that involved children as victims would be more likely to be swept under the rug and not in the papers or historic records.

Likely the best source of information on the case will be your own relatives. Search them out and ask them what happened, especially if they happened to live in Duluth at the time.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:53 PM on April 16, 2007

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