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Virginia Court Records

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Are Virginia Records Public?

Records generated and maintained by public bodies and their officers and employees are usually considered public records. Under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, the people of the Commonwealth are ensured ready access to such public records. The Freedom of Information Act(FOIA) defines public records as “all writings and recordings that consist of letters, words or numbers set down by handwriting, typewriting, printing, photostatting, photography or other forms of data compilation regardless of physical form or characteristics, prepared or owned by, or in possession of a public body or its officers in the transaction of public business”.

Records can be obtained by submitting public records requests to any legislative body or agency of the Commonwealth, including boards, bureaus, commissions, districts, or any agency wholly or principally supported by public funds. 

Who Can Access Virginia Public Records?

According to the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, public records are accessible to citizens and the media in the Commonwealth. The law specifically states that during office hours, access to public records in Virginia is available to the following:

  • Citizens of the Commonwealth
  • Representatives of newspapers and magazines with circulation in the Commonwealth
  • Representatives of radio and television stations broadcasting in or into the Commonwealth

The law also limits the rights of any person incarcerated in local, state, or federal correctional facilities to request public records. Custodians may require requesters to prove their eligibility to access public records by providing valid identity cards or documents. Standardized public record request forms used by agencies also have a section for requesters to sign affirming their eligibility.

Do I Need to State My Purpose and Use When Requesting Public Records in Virginia?

No, applicants for public records in Virginia do not need to state a use or purpose during their request. Although stating a use or purpose may provide some clarity and may help expedite a request in some cases, it is not mandated by law to do so. As the aim of the act is to provide citizens of the Commonwealth with ready access to such records in the name of transparency, the purpose of the request is irrelevant. Some legitimate reasons for requesting public records include market research, property valuation, personal information research, and legal proceedings.

What Records are Public in Virginia?

A large variety of records created and maintained by public bodies in Virginia can be classified as public records. Except when specified by the Freedom of Information Act, these records may be inspected and copied by any members of the Commonwealth. Elected FOIA officers and custodians are on hand in public bodies to respond to public record requests. Examples of public records in Virginia include vital records such as birth and death records, criminal records, court records, inmate records, and land records.

Virginia Public Court Records

Records generated and maintained concerning court proceedings in Virginia are generally considered court records. In Virginia, Court Clerks of the various circuit and district courts are generally responsible for maintaining court records within their jurisdiction. These records can generally be requested by contacting these clerks or accessing the court’s online record database. Court records in Virginia consist of various information, including case filings, orders, depositions, testimonies, affidavits, transcripts, complaints, summons, and judgments. Requesters are generally allowed to request most types of court records except those exempt by law, such as any record covered by attorney-client privilege.

Virginia Public Criminal Records

Criminal records in Virginia refer to the records created during criminal investigations and cases by law enforcement and other criminal justice agencies. Most of these records are considered public records except records of cases involving minors, domestic and sexual abuse, and mental health. A criminal record in Virginia will generally contain information such as warrants, arrest records, court dockets, booking information, charges, and other case information.

To obtain criminal records in Virginia, citizens must contact the state police or local law enforcement, and jails act as custodians for criminal records. The Virginia State Police maintains a central criminal record repository referred to as the Central Criminal Records Exchange. Circuit courts in Virginia also provide access to some criminal records such as filing, charges, judgments, and sentencing records. Requesters must include information sufficient enough for the records to be located, such as the individual's name, case number, or inmate ID number.

Virginia State Police 

Administrative Headquarters

7700 Midlothian Turnpike

North Chesterfield, VA 23235

Phone: (804) 674-2000

Fax: (804) 674-2936

Other Office Locations

Virginia Public Arrest Records

Arrest records in Virginia are generally records of an individual’s arrests and include details of the crimes they were arrested for. In Virginia, these records are usually available from local law enforcement, such as sheriff’s offices and other criminal justice agencies. To obtain copies of arrest records, requesters must provide accurate details for the record custodian to perform a search. This information will include the individual’s name, inmate ID, arresting agency, arrest location, and the date of the arrest.

Virginia Public Bankruptcy Records

Virginia public bankruptcy records are simply any records or documentation generated by bankruptcy proceedings within its boundaries. Usually, these bankruptcy records will contain documents such as bankruptcy petitions, statements, trustee reports, payment schedules, creditor lists, as well as court judgments and filings. To look up an individual’s bankruptcy records in Virginia, requests must contact the local bankruptcy court and provide information for a record search. Such information should include the individual's name or a case number.

United States Bankruptcy Court

West District of Virginia

 

Roanoke

210 Church Ave.

Room 200

Roanoke, VA 24011

Phone: (540) 857-2391

 

Lynchburg

1101 Court St.

Room 166

Lynchburg, VA 24504

Phone: (434) 845-0317

 

Harrisonburg

116 N. Main St.

Room 223

Harrisonburg, VA 22802

Phone: (540) 434-8327

 

United States Bankruptcy Court

East District of Virginia

 

Alexandria

200 S. Washington St.

Alexandria, VA 22314-5405

Clerk’s Office Main Line: (703) 258-1200

Voice Case Information System (VCIS): (866) 222-8029

 

Newport News

2400 West Avenue

Newport News, VA 23607

Clerk’s Office Main Line: (757) 222-7500

Voice Case Information System (VCIS): (866) 222-8029

 

Norfolk

600 Granby Street

4th Floor

Norfolk, VA 23510

Clerk’s Office Main Line: (757) 222-7500

Voice Case Information System (VCIS): (866) 222-8029

 

Richmond

701 East Broad Street, 

Suite 4000

Richmond, VA 23219

Clerk’s Office Main Line: (804) 916-2400

Voice Case Information System (VCIS): (866) 222-8029

Virginia Public Birth Records

Birth records in Virginia contain a lot of information about the registrant, including:

  • The registrants name
  • Sex of the child
  • Date of birth
  • Place of birth
  • Name of the parents
  • The maiden name of the mother
  • Address of the parents

Virginia birth records are maintained by the Office of Vital Records of the Virginia Department of Health. Birth records in Virginia remain confidential till 100 years after the birth. Before the time limit, they can only be accessed by immediate family members namely the registrant, their parents, grandparents, and siblings. To obtain the birth records in Virginia the request must provide valid information for the search such as the registrant’s name, date of birth, and place of birth. All requesters will also be required to provide valid identification and pay the required fees.

Virginia Department of Health

Office of Vital Records

2001 Maywill Street

Suite 101 

Richmond, VA 23230

Phone: (804)662-6200

Virginia Public Death Records

Death records in Virginia contain information about the deceased, such as the name, age, and date of birth, sex, race, place of death, deceased address, marital status, and names of parents. In Virginia, death records are maintained by the Office of Vital Records under the state Department of Health. To obtain death records in Virginia, requesters must submit a record request to the custodian with information such as the name of the deceased, place, and date of the event. Accurate information will aid in a successful request. Death records in Virginia will only become public records 25 years after the event. Before then the record can only be accessed by the immediate family of the deceased. Public records requests must also include valid identification and all required fees.

Virginia Public Marriage Records 

Virginia marriage records contain varying information about the event, including the following:

  • The names of the couple
  • The wife's maiden name
  • The race or ethnicity of the couple
  • Ages of the couple at the time
  • Date of the marriage
  • Location of the marriage
  • Name and title of the officiant
  • Names of witnesses to the marriage
  • Address of the couple at the time of the marriage

Marriage records in Virginia are vital records and are maintained on the state level by the Office of Vital Records. To obtain a Virginia marriage record, requesters must provide public record requests along with valid identification and record fees. Requests should provide sufficient information for a search, such as the names of the couple, the date, and the location of the marriage.

Marriage records in Virginia become public records 25 years after the event. Before that time limit only immediate family and the registrants are authorized to access these records.

Virginia Public Divorce Records

Divorce records in Virginia are maintained by the state Office of Vital Records. Records are available from 1958 to date and contain information and documentation concerning divorce cases within the state. This includes the names of the couple getting divorced, the county where the divorce was heard, the date of the divorce, and the complainant. To obtain Virginia divorce records, requests must be submitted containing enough of the above information for the record to be located. The request must also include the name and address of the request and details of how the record will be returned. Divorce records in Virginia are private and only become public information 25 years after the event, till then, only immediate family and legal representatives are authorized to access such records.

Virginia Public Inmate Records

Virginia inmate records are generally considered public information available to all qualified requesters under the law. These records can be obtained by contacting the correct custodian agency and providing information for a search, such as an inmate's name, location, and ID number. In Virginia, inmate records are maintained on the state level by the Virginia Department of Corrections and its offices and facilities. Inmate records would contain information about an inmate, such as their physical appearance, their full name, charges, sentencing information, current location, and inmate number.  Basic information about an inmate may be public, but information such as disciplinary records and medical information may be considered confidential and protected by law.

Virginia Department of Corrections

6900 Atmore Dr,

Richmond, VA 23225

Phone: (804) 674-3000

Mail address

P.O. Box 26963

Richmond,  VA  23261

Virginia Public Sex Offender Information

Sex offender information in Virginia is available via the Virginia Sex Offender Registry maintained by the Virginia State Police. The registry was created to provide the public with easy access to publicly available data on persons convicted of such offenses. Citizens of the Commonwealth may look up information about offenders in their area via the search page on the 

registry website. The information on the registry is meant to aid the public in taking precautionary measures. Use of the registry information for purposes of harassment, abuse, or intimidation of registrants is strictly prohibited and considered a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Virginia Public Property Records

Virginia’s public property records generally detail information on lands,  homes, and other commercial properties. It includes property deeds, titles, mortgages, leases, maps, tax assessments, etc.  In Virginia, these records are available via several local agencies, such as The Real Estate Department of the Commissioners of Revenue. This agency works hand in hand with the public and the counties’ Clerks of the Circuit Court to maintain property records in the state. To request property records, requesters must contact their local custodian with enough details of the required record to facilitate an effective search. As information handled by the agencies may vary, it is advised to contact them in advance of a record request.

What is Exempted Under the Virginia Public Records Act?

In Virginia, a record exempt under the law is excluded from the mandatory public disclosure provisions of the law. Unless disclosure is specifically prohibited by law, custodians may disclose excluded information at their discretion. Examples of records excluded under Virginia Code Ann. § 2.2-3705.1 to 3705.7 include the following:

  • Personnel information concerning identifiable individuals. Persons over 18 years can waive this protection and allow the records to be accessed.
  • Written advice of legal counsel to state, local, or regional public bodies and any other information under attorney-client privilege
  • Any computer software created for or by a state agency, political subdivision, or public institution of higher education of the Commonwealth.
  • Any appraisals and cost estimates of any real property about to be bought, sold, or leased before the completion of the transaction
  • Account numbers or routing information for any credit card, debit card, or other account with a financial institution of any person or public body
  • Medical records 
  • Information provided in confidence and related to an investigation by the Attorney General.
  • Confidential information, including victim identity, provided to or obtained by staff in a rape crisis center or a program for battered spouses.
  • Any records specifically excluded by state or federal laws

Any person denied a public records request may try to enforce their rights by filing a petition for mandamus or injunction, supported by an affidavit showing good cause.

How Do I Find Public Records in Virginia?

Qualified citizens in the Commonwealth of Virginia can request public records by following a few general steps.

Step 1: Find the correct agency and FOIA officer

To request public records in Virginia, requesters must identify the agency that maintains the records and the office to which the request should be directed. To illustrate, The Office of Vital Records issues birth and death records, while sex offender records can be found via the state sex offender registry.

Step 2: Collect sufficient data to identify the record during a record search

In general, records requests must be submitted with enough information for the custodian to search for and locate the required record. To ensure this, requesters must provide the custodian with up-to-date and accurate information to aid in the search. If, for instance, the requester is requesting a divorce record, they would provide in the request the names of the couple, the date, and the location of the divorce case.

Step 3: Contact the agency/custodian, submit the request, and pay the required fees

Once the first two steps are complete, the next is to make your request. Submit your prepared request to the custodian so they can begin their search. Most agencies provide multiple options for public record requests, such as:

  • Walk-in requests at the government agency’s local office
  • Online requests on the agency’s website or online database
  • Mailed requests and telephone requests to the records department of the local agency

Walk-in requests at the office usually have the best response times, while mailed requests have longer processing times. Requesters will usually need to pay some sort of fee if physical copies of the record are needed. Depending on the size of the fee, Virginia public record law allows agencies to request payment for copies of the record before completing the request.

 Can I Find Free Public Records in Virginia Using Third-Party Sites?

Requesters in Virginia can take advantage of the convenience of third-party websites to locate public records. Such websites gather and compile public records using various government databases as sources. However, it should be noted that these records are not endorsed or vetted by any actual government agency. Therefore, these records may not always be the most accurate or up-to-date information available. When using a third-party website, it is important to provide accurate information to increase the chances of a valid record search.

How Much Do Public Records Cost in Virginia?

According to the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, public bodies may charge requests for records provided during public records requests. The charges must be reasonable and not exceed the actual cost of accessing, duplicating, supplying, or searching for the requested records. The public body is also required to notify the requester in writing that there will be charges for searching for the record and if the requester would require an estimate in advance of supplying the record. The request will be considered withdrawn if no reply is received 30 days after sending the estimate.

For paper copies of records, district court clerks in Virginia are allowed to charge $1 for the first two pages and $0.50 for each extra page. Vital records such as birth and death records, on the other hand, are charged at a standard fee of $12 per copy. 

Virginia allows waivers on public record fees if the requester can show that disclosure of the requested information is in the best interest of the public.

What Happens if I Am Refused a Public Records Request?

When a public records request is denied in Virginia, it may be for several reasons, including the following:

  • The record falls under the exclusions in the Freedom of Information Act
  • The request was inaccurate or did not contain enough information for a search
  • The requester did not pay the fees required for requested copies of the record
  • The record requested is nonexistent
  • It is not possible to provide the records in the allotted time of 5 working days and more time is required. 

Any person denied the rights and privileges conferred by the Freedom of Information Act may file a petition for mandamus or injunction. The petition must be supported with an affidavit showing good cause, showing why the denial should be reversed. The case can be brought before the general district or circuit court, where the principal office of the body is located.

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Virginia Public Records