A docket number is a unique identifying code used for a legal case. When the case enters the legal system, a docket number will be assigned by the clerk of the court where it is filed, and the number will follow the case as it moves through the courts. Each court system has its own method for generating docket numbers and cases from different courts may have numbers of different lengths, with different inclusions, including alphanumeric codes. People familiar with the court system may be able to identify the court where a case was filed simply by looking at its docket number.
Most courts use a coding system for generating docket numbers, embedding information about the case in the number itself. Using numbers and letters, the court can indicate when the case was filed, note the location of the court where it was filed, and provide some information about the nature of the case. The case may also include codes like “crim.” or “civ.” to indicate whether it is a criminal or civil case. Along with the various identifiers used to provide information about the case, a unique number is assigned to differentiate it from other cases of a similar type filed at the same time.
All of the case paperwork is stamped with the docket number. Attorneys involved in the case need to know the number so they can look up materials related to the case. When the court schedule is made up, this number will be referenced on the schedule, and reports about the case entered into the court record will also make note of the docket number. People who want to cite the case in the future will also typically use this number to avoid confusion with similarly named cases.
Online legal databases provided for attorneys usually have a reference by docket number option, allowing people to enter a number and pull up all the materials related to the case. Likewise, archival records at courthouses and other legal facilities use these numbers as identifiers to find cases. If someone does not know the docket number, a court clerk or archivist may be able to assist with finding it for the purpose of pulling case records.
Cases may also be referred to by the parties involved, as in “Smith v Jones,” and some cases are given nicknames that may be familiar to members of the public, like the Scopes Monkey Trial in the United States.