What are Virginia Criminal Court Records?
Virginia criminal court records refer to records generated during a criminal court proceeding. These include arrest records, dockets, warrants, wiretaps, discovery materials, and other materials. In compliance with state laws, members of the public may access criminal court records except for confidential ones such as juvenile records, and others ruled by the law or sealed records.
Understanding the Virginia Criminal Court System
Virginia’s court structure consists of four levels, namely:
- Supreme Court
- Court of Appeals
- Circuit Courts
- District Courts
The Virginia Supreme Court hears appeals of criminal cases decided in the state’s lower courts involving the death penalty. The Court of Appeals reviews the final decisions made by the Circuit courts in Virginia. Aside from the above cases, aggrieved parties can appeal decisions made by the Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court to make the final decision. However, the state’s federal district courts have limited jurisdiction over federal crimes committed in the state.
Virginia Circuit Courts have the jurisdiction to hear the following types of criminal cases: felonies, juvenile felonies, and misdemeanor offenses. They also hear appeals of cases decided at the state’s general District Courts. A Virginia Circuit Court hears all felony cases punishable by over one year in jail. Misdemeanor cases decided in the state’s General District Court may be appealed to the Circuit Court.
Virginia General District Courts hear criminal cases such as misdemeanors and violations of city/county codes. These courts can punish offenders with up to a year in jail and a maximum fine of $2,500.
In Virginia, General District Courts also hear first-time cases of felonies and decide whether they should be transferred to grand juries or dismissed. Virginia grand juries may indict defendants or transfer their cases to the Circuit Courts for trial. Felony cases are punishable by imprisonment of more than a year.
What’s included in a Virginia Criminal Court Record?
What one can find in criminal court records varies as each case file is unique. But in general, you can find documents like:
- Arrest warrant
- Uniform Arrest report
- Judgment/ indictment
- Appellate records
- Jury verdicts
- Inmate records or conviction information (especially if it demonstrates the character of the defendant)
The audio recordings of appellate records are on the Supreme Court of Virginia website. Recordings since January 7, 2014, are available. In the case trial records, the public can access trial exhibits only after it is published to the jury. Trial exhibits include audiotape recordings, photographs, mental health reports, autopsy reports, etc.
The public has the right to access records unless there are exceptions that the Virginia Supreme Court will notify the public of so they can be aware.
Obtaining Virginia Criminal Court Records
There are three known ways to get criminal court records in Virginia. They are:
- Requests through mail
Individuals can choose only to view court records. But if they would prefer to keep a copy, then a small fee will be required. Those requesting online or through the mail will inevitably pay a fee.
Have the following information beforehand to save yourself of manually searching for the records:
· Full names of parties involved in the lawsuit
· Location of the court where the case was filed/ or appealed
· Name of judges
· Name of attorneys
· Docket numbers
· Date of case or appeals
· Citation of the original case (if any)
How Do I Access Virginia Criminal Court Records in Person?
Individuals looking to obtain criminal court records in person will have to visit the court where the case was heard or is being heard. To find the address of various courts in Virginia, visit the State’s Judiciary website. Information about the location and phone numbers of the courts is displayed on the site.
The Clerk of the Court will provide such an individual with a request form which he or she will write to request the records. Criminal court records accessible includes docket information, decisions of the court, issued orders, transcripts of the hearing, court evidence, pleadings and motions, unsealed mental health evaluations, and other documents associated with a case file.
Some inaccessible documents are written notes by the court personnel, trial exhibits, or other materials not filed with the court.
How Do I Find Virginia Criminal Court Records by Mail?
To obtain criminal court records in Washington by mail, visit the court’s website to get their information. There might be a requirement to fill a request form and send it to them. Visit Virginia’s Judicial System’s website to get links to the various courts.
How to Find Virginia Criminal Court Records Online?
The Judicial System website of Virginia has a Case Status and Information section where individuals can access criminal court records from the various courts online. Here cases can be searched using a name, case number or hearing date depending on the courts.
For the Supreme and Appeals Court, individuals are requested to enter the name (last and first), case type, lower tribunal, and tribunal case.
For the Circuit court, information such as the name, case number, and hearing date will be requested. Also, since there are various circuit courts in the state, it is necessary to search by using the specific court.
However, there is also the Virginia Judiciary Online Case Information System 2.0, where anyone can perform a statewide search for criminal and traffic case information from some selected Circuit courts and General District court.
Virginia criminal court records can also be accessed online through the Reporters Committee website. Here one can get information on how to obtain criminal court records and proceedings. Use the menu on the left side of the site for navigating to preferred resources.
Publicly available records are accessible from some third-party websites. These websites offer the benefit of not being limited by geographical record availability and can often serve as a starting point when researching specific or multiple records. To find a record using the search engines on these sites, interested parties must provide:
- The name of someone involved providing it is a not a juvenile
- The assumed location of the record in question such as a city, county, or state name
Third party sites are not government sponsored websites, and record availability may differ from official channels.
Are all Virginia Criminal Court Records Public?
Save for a few exceptions; every criminal court record is open for public inspection. The clerk of any circuit court in the state of Virginia is mandated to allow public access to criminal court records that are not sealed.
Some records that are not made public are:
· Juvenile criminal court records
· Criminal court records connected with an ongoing investigation
· Criminal court records that could reveal a witness identity
· Identity of some sexual assault victims
Can I Access Sealed Virginia Criminal Court Records?
Criminal court records in Virginia are only sealed before a defendant is convicted or was not convicted. Defendants can request the court to seal the records if he or she thinks that disclosing it to the public will affect their chances of a free trial. Criminal court records can also get sealed if the suspect did not get convicted during a trial.
Individuals denied access to criminal court records on the premise that they have been sealed should request to see the order the court issued to seal the documents. The clerk of the court has this order.
If the criminal court records have indeed been sealed and it is essential to view them, interested parties can challenge the sealing of the record(s). They can request a writ of mandamus from the circuit or general district court. A writ of mandamus is an order from a higher court to a lower court instructing them to do something. If the instruction is honored, the interested parties can then access the criminal court records.
Are Virginia Juvenile Criminal Records Open to the Public?
Juvenile criminal court records are not open to the public, although there is one exception. Juveniles fourteen years or older who have committed a crime that would have been seen as a felony if committed by an adult will have their records accessible by the public. Records involving motor vehicle violations by juveniles are also made public.
What Records are Automatically Sealed by Virginia Statute?
Juvenile criminal court records in Virginia are automatically sealed and therefore, inaccessible by the public as long as it doesn’t involve violent felonies or motor vehicle violations.
Also, juveniles from 19 years old who have a criminal court record of minor offenses for five years can have them automatically deleted. If it were a motor violation, they’d have to wait until they are 29 years old.
However, if the juvenile was found innocent during the proceeding, they can request for expungement of records without having to wait until they are 19 or 29 years. Note that criminal court records can only get destroyed once.