West Virginia Public Records
The broadness of West Virginia’s open public records laws ensures that virtually nothing is kept out of public view. It is based on the belief that public servants shouldn’t decide what people should and shouldn’t know and that is quoted in its statute.
The state’s open records law covers the executive, judicial and legislative branches and exemptions are incredibly specific. It also has a strict-five day response time for requests. However, the appeals process is lacking.
Understanding each state’s open records laws can be confusing. That is why we put together a state-by-state guide to help those seeking information through the process. Below are some things to understand about West Virginia’s Freedom of Information laws.
Table of Contents
- 1 What does the West Virginia public records law say?
- 2 How can a person access public records in West Virginia?
- 3 West Virginia criminal records
- 4 West Virginia inmate records
- 5 West Virginia court records
- 6 West Virginia vital records
- 7 Frequently asked questions about West Virginia records
What does the West Virginia public records law say?
Those seeking information in West Virginia don’t have to be residents of the state as there is no citizenship requirement. There are also no required statements of purpose or restrictions on obtaining information.
The West Virginia Freedom of Information Act applies to all “public bodies” and state agencies, which includes all three branches of government. Government agencies must respond within a strict five-day time frame. The only exception is if the entity can argue that it isn’t a “public body.”
You can make your request in person, but the Attorney General for the state recommends making your request in writing to “avoid misunderstandings regarding the timing and scope of the request and to ensure that the information sought is stated with “reasonable specificity.”
However, there is no formal appeals process should an agency deny your request. There is a public records custodian called the Supervisor of Public Records and that office takes appeals. While they can tell an agency to comply, there are no enforcement teeth so requesters seeking relief may find they need to take the matter to court.
To learn more about West Virginia codes, visit WestVirginia.gov.
How can a person access public records in West Virginia?
Some records are available online while others require a formal request. If a request is necessary, it can be delivered by mail, email, or by phone to the record-holding department.
Every department is different, so expect some variation to the rules if you’re accessing records from multiple places. This can be done by email, mail or by phone depending on the department where the request is submitted. In general, a public records request should include:
- Your name and contact information, including an email, phone number, and mailing address
- The name of the document you want access to with as much detail as possible
- A specific time period that you’d like to receive the materials by
- How to deliver the documents, whether by email or mail
Due to COVID-19, some public offices may have limited hours of operation. As a result, online requests are best, but if you want to go in person you should call ahead.
West Virginia criminal records
Criminal records are documents that cover every instance a person has an encounter with law enforcement that results in an arrest or charges. Typically, they include a list of misdemeanors and felonies where the person is charged. Most of those wanting to see criminal records are employers doing background checks. However, someone seeking out a business partner, volunteers for a charity, or domestic help such as a babysitter may also want to see someone’s criminal record. A criminal background check may also be required for certain housing, licensing and certification in certain professions.
What’s on a criminal record?
Criminal records contain information regarding a person’s interaction with law enforcement and the courts. Details are pulled from local police departments, local criminal courts and the state prison system. While every state can have different things on a criminal record, there are typically five things on a person’s criminal record:
- Personal information like their name, birthday and nationality
- A mugshot
- A full set of fingerprints
- Distinguishing features such as tattoos
- A list of all offenses, both misdemeanors and felonies, with details of crimes.
Where can a person find West Virginia criminal records?
In West Virginia, the Criminal Identification Bureau under the West Virginia State Police can provide criminal background checks upon approval of the Superintendent. This is done through a third party vendor. The West Virginia Health and Human Services Bureau of Children and Families does criminal background checks specifically for families that include caretakers, babysitters, adoptive parents and other family cases.
This includes fingerprints, photographs, records and other information to any private or public agency, person, firm, association, corporation or other organization. However, a requester must have a written authorization from the person whose records you are obtaining.
Other limitations include:
- No family, civil or federal cases are included
- It doesn’t include non-criminal cases or misdemeanor cases.
- It doesn’t include youth offender cases
- Criminal cases transferred or removed to family court as not included.
West Virginia inmate records
Sometimes, employers or others want to look at inmate records to get more information about a person’s criminal history. Inmate records can provide a wealth of information about a case, including the charges, the sentence and when the person was released from incarceration. Crime victims may also do inmate checks to see when a felon will be released or when they might be up for parole in order to make their petitions known to officials.
What’s on an inmate record?
West Virginia is similar to other states in what it has on an inmate record. Once a requester gets an inmate record, they will have the following information:
- Basic personal information like the name, a birthdate and the gender
- A mug shot and inmate location
- An inmate registration number and jail transfer information
- Custody status
Where can a person find West Virginia inmate records?
Those wishing to obtain inmate records should visit the West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority (RJA) website. Once there, look for offender search. You will need some basic information such as a name or identification number to complete your search.
West Virginia court records
Court records have some of the most thorough information of all public records. Most files are quite thick as they contain all documents relating to civil or criminal court cases from the initiation until the end. There could be several reasons someone would want to look at a file from the court system, including to verify information on potential businesses or business partners, employers looking at job candidates, and for purposes of prenuptial agreements or adoptions.
What’s on a court record?
Court records include all aspects of a specific court case beginning with the initial arrest or civil court filing. They can also include:
- Court transcripts
- Case files
- Court minutes
- Court orders
- Sentencing or judgement
- Jury records
- Witness documentation.
Where can a person find West Virginia court records?
To find court records in West Virginia, requesters must begin their search on the West Virginia Judiciary Administrative Office of the Courts website. From there, you may go look up the local or circuit courts where the case was held. You will need to call the court, and possibly visit, to obtain court files as there is no online database in the State of West Virginia. Requesters should go to the clerk’s office or ask to speak with the county clerk.
The only online search is through the West Virginia State Law Library, but it is incredibly limited.
West Virginia vital records
Vital records are some of the most requested items in any of the states and West Virginia is no different. These are official records of life events such as birth records, marriage certificates, divorce records and death certificates. People need these types of records for all kinds of things from school admittance, to participating in school athletics, to getting a driver’s license or settling a relative’s estate.
What information is needed to request a vital record?
States have established new protocols for obtaining vital records to address privacy concerns. Anyone requesting a vital record must submit the approximate date and place of the event, the full name of the person, including maiden names and a case file number for divorce record or a license number for marriage records.
Where can a person find West Virginia vital records?
- Resource: West Virginia Vital Registration Office
While there are numerous ways to look at these records online, the only way to get certified copies of any vital records, like birth certificates or death records, is through the West Virginia Vital Registration Office, which is under the West Virginia Department of Health.
This office is headed by the State Registrar, who is the custodian of vital records. Specifically, those seeking vital records need to talk to someone in customer service and submit a request there as that department is the one who makes the certified copies of all vital records.
Frequently asked questions about West Virginia records
To make sure requesters get all of their questions answered, here’s a helpful list of commonly asked questions.
Can a request be submitted by non-residents of the state?
Yes, anyone in the United States can request public documents even if you aren’t a resident of West Virginia.
Is there a records custodian in West Virginia?
Yes, there is a designated records custodian called the Supervisor of Public Records.
What exemptions exist?
There are no exemptions unless an agency can prove they aren’t a public entity.
How long does that state have to respond?
Public entities have five days to respond.
Is there an appeals process in place?
Appeals are sent to the Supervisor of Public Records and the SPR could order the agency with the records to comply. The SPR could send the appeal to the state Attorney General if the agency continues to refuse. The appeal could also be sent to the local district attorney.
What fees are associated with requesting public records?
Fees are issued but strictly cover copying the documents and do not include, search, labor or processing time. Each public body may set its own copying fees as long as they are “reasonably calculated to reimburse it for its actual cost of making reproduction of records,” according to the law.