Question: How do I access case documents from a federal court case, for free?
Answer: There are three methods that are free, but two of them have limited free access – there are free-use PACER terminals available for in-person use at the courts, PACER is also available separately online, and RECAP is a sharing program developed to allow for-pay users of PACER to share their purchases with the rest of the Internet through a sharing network. RECAP documents are available free only when someone else has paid for the PACER access fee.
The cheapest option is in-person access – the federal courts generally have a free access terminal (or a set of them) where the general public can walk in and access the documents. For Metro Atlanta area citizens, the Richard B. Russell federal building, located at 75 Spring Street, in Atlanta, GA, is one of these locations. There is no page limit restriction that I know of to access documents in-person, but the security screening is a headache – you must bring a valid current ID to get past the security desk if you are going to the federal courthouse in-person. And cameras are confiscated temporarily to prevent any pictures or film footage from being taken in the building.
The PACER system free materials limit is $15 per quarter (3 months). The downside to PACER is that the costs add up very quickly if you are doing legal research. For more information on PACER’s fee schedule, see the Fee Schedule released 4/1/2013.
RECAP the law (https://www.recapthelaw.org) is a program that was developed for people to enable documents purchased from PACER to be “freed” to the general public. Here is where you can search the archive: http://archive.recapthelaw.org/