What are Virginia Public Records, and How are They Created?
According to the Governor of Virginia, "The Act, § 2.2-3700, et. seq. of the Code of Virginia, guarantees citizens of the Commonwealth and representatives of the media with circulation in the Commonwealth, access to public records held by public bodies, public officials, and public employees. The purpose of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is to promote an increased awareness by the public of governmental activities. FOIA requires that the law be interpreted liberally, in favor of access, and that any exclusion allowing public records to be withheld must be interpreted narrowly."
Government entities such as the Governor's office, Secretary of State, the Attorney General as well as law enforcement, the courts, local and state offices all create, store, maintain, and share public records. Some examples might be arrest records, criminal records, and vital records.
"A public record is any writing or recording – regardless of whether it is a paper record, an electronic file, an audio or video recording, or any other format – that is prepared or owned by, or in the possession of a public body or its officers, employees or agents in the transaction of public business. All public records are presumed to be open, and may be withheld only if a specific, statutory exclusion applies."
The Library of Virginia is the government agency in charge of historical public records. They store and preserve records going back to 1865. Many of them are kept on microfilm, but they also have an extensive online library of things such as probate records, military records, vital records (birth, death, marriage, and divorce certificates), land deeds, county records, and more.
How to Access Virginia Public Records?
The Virginia Coalition for Open Government guides citizens on how to make a public records request. They cite sections of the FOIA law and provide helpful suggestions for obtaining the records you need. The general instructions are:
- Determine which agency you need the records from.
- Contact the agency through email, in person, or in writing. You do not need to reference FOIA laws when asking for copies.
- Be as specific as possible when requesting records.
- The government agency has five days to respond to your request.
- You may need to pay a fee for the copies requested.
If you have trouble accessing the records you need, contact the Coalition for help.
Different Types of Public Records in Virginia
Virginia Criminal Records
Virginia has strict laws protecting criminal records. However, they do have a special online portal called the The Central Criminal Records Exchange (CCRE) that was established in 1966. This service allows all forms of law enforcement to exchange criminal records. With an account and State Police approval, certain companies and individuals can gain access to these records for the purposes of employment screening, licensing, and other reasons. Some records, such as expunged and juvenile records, will not be included in the results. You can also consult the courts or the Department of Corrections for criminal records for convicted offenders.
Some common types of criminal records in Virginia include (but are not limited to):
- Felony and Misdemeanor Records - some common misdemeanors in Virginia are DWI, reckless driving, shoplifting, property damage, and driving without a valid license. Some popular felonies in Virginia are embezzlement, arson, manslaughter, and extortion.
- Virginia Inmate Locator - both jails and prisons keep inmate records, and those too are public records. The Virginia Department of Corrections has an online search tool you can use to locate criminals and their records.
- Police Records - local police can provide copies of incident reports, police reports, sometimes mugshots, and even crime scene photos upon request.
Virginia Court Records
Court records in Virginia are created, stored, and managed by the Virginia Judicial System. They have an extensive website with a few different ways to search for and review court records from Supreme Court cases, the Court of Appeals, and Circuit and District Courts. You have to pay a fee for copies of court records. If you don't want to use the online system, you can also visit the courthouse in person to request court records.
Some types of court records in Virginia include:
- Civil Court Records - domestic relations cases such as divorces, marriages, paternity lawsuits, custody and child support cases, estates, conservatorships, wills, civil lawsuits, and small claims lawsuits.
- Criminal Court Records - criminal filings for misdemeanors, felonies, and other citations. These may include things like trial paperwork, sentencing, prison transfers, and evidence related to the court case.
- Financial Court Records - bankruptcies, liens, tax issues, company stock filings, and corporate financial reports.
- Other Court Records - such as bench warrants, arrest warrants, judgments, traffic tickets, and other traffic violations, worker's compensation cases, and name changes.
The court system in Virginia consists of four very simple levels. The top-level is the Supreme Court, then the Court of Appeals, then Circuit Court and District Court.
Virginia Arrest Records
Virginia arrest records are highly regulated, but if you are approved by the State Police, you can access arrest records through the online portal they set up. Otherwise, you may have to contact local police, review court records, or consult the Department of Corrections to find arrest records in Virginia.
Some different types of arrests records in Virginia are:
- Drug charges.
- Misrepresenting the age of a minor.
- Sexual abuse.
- Booking details like fingerprints and mugshots.
- Arrest warrants granted by a judge.
- Bench warrants for not appearing in court.
- Crime scene photos.
- Witness statements.
- Property crimes and accompanying paperwork.
- Vehicle records if one was used during the crime.
Virginia Vital Records
Virginia's Department of Health is the agency in charge of preserving all vital records for the state. They keep birth, death, marriage, and divorce records. You may request copies in person, through the mail, and online.
Other Public Records in Virginia
Along with criminal, court, arrest, and vital records, other types of public records you can find in the state of Virginia include, but are not limited to:
- Government budgets and annual reports.
- Driving records (without personally identifiable information).
- Home addresses.
- Maps, books, and tapes.
- State health and wellness statistics.
- Air and water quality (pollution reports).
- Property records, real estate deals, and land deeds.
- Home phone numbers.
- Police and accident reports.
- Liens & tax issues.
- Company incorporation records.
- Library Research.
- Personnel records for state agencies.
- Permits, licenses, and certifications.
- Government employee salaries.
- * 911 time response logs.
- Grant applications.
- Contracts involving government agencies.
- Settlement agreements.
- Agency decisions.
- Name, title, and salary of public employees and officials.
What Information is Not Public Record in Virginia?
The state of Virginia has more than 100 exceptions to the FOIA law. Some of the most common from their statute are:
- "Personnel information concerning identifiable individuals, except that access, shall not be denied to the person who is the subject thereof. Any person who is the subject of such information and who is 18 years of age or older may waive, in writing, the protections afforded by this subdivision. If the protections are so waived, such information shall be disclosed.
- Written advice of legal counsel to state, regional or local public bodies or the officers or employees of such public bodies, and any other information protected by the attorney-client privilege.
- Legal memoranda and other work product compiled specifically for use in litigation or for use in an active administrative investigation concerning a matter that is properly the subject of a closed meeting under § 2.2-3711.
- Any test or examination used, administered or prepared by any public body for purposes of evaluation of (i) any student or any student's performance, (ii) any employee or employment seeker's qualifications or aptitude for employment, retention, or promotion, or (iii) qualifications for any license or certificate issued by a public body.
- Records recorded in or compiled exclusively for use in closed meetings lawfully held pursuant to § 2.2-3711 . However, no record that is otherwise open to inspection under this chapter shall be deemed exempt by virtue of the fact that it has been reviewed or discussed in a closed meeting.
- Vendor proprietary information software that may be in the public records of a public body. For the purpose of this subdivision, "vendor proprietary information software" means computer programs acquired from a vendor for purposes of processing data for agencies or political subdivisions of the Commonwealth.
- Computer software developed by or for a state agency, public institution of higher education in the Commonwealth, or political subdivision of the Commonwealth.
- Appraisals and cost estimates of real property subject to a proposed purchase, sale, or lease, prior to the completion of such purchase, sale, or lease.
- Information concerning reserves established in specific claims administered by the Department of the Treasury through its Division of Risk Management as provided in Article 5 (§ 2.2-1832 et seq.) of Chapter 18, or by any county, city, or town; and investigative notes, correspondence and information furnished in confidence with respect to an investigation of a claim or a potential claim against a public body's insurance policy or self-insurance plan. However, nothing in this subdivision shall prevent the disclosure of information taken from inactive reports upon expiration of the period of limitations for the filing of a civil suit.
- Personal contact information furnished to a public body for the purpose of receiving electronic mail from the public body, provided that the electronic mail recipient has requested that the public body not disclose such information. However, access shall not be denied to the person who is the subject of the record.
- Communications and materials required to be kept confidential pursuant to § 2.2-4119 of the Virginia Administrative Dispute Resolution Act (§ 2.2-4115 et seq.).
- Information relating to the negotiation and award of a specific contract where competition or bargaining is involved and where the release of such information would adversely affect the bargaining position or negotiating strategy of the public body. Such information shall not be withheld after the public body has made a decision to award or not to award the contract. In the case of procurement transactions conducted pursuant to the Virginia Public Procurement Act (§ 2.2-4300 et seq.), the provisions of this subdivision shall not apply, and any release of information relating to such transactions shall be governed by the Virginia Public Procurement Act.
- Account numbers or routing information for any credit card, debit card, or other account with a financial institution of any person or public body. However, access shall not be denied to the person who is the subject of the information. For the purposes of this subdivision, "financial institution" means any organization authorized to do business under state or federal laws relating to financial institutions, including, without limitation, banks and trust companies, savings banks, savings and loan companies or associations, and credit unions."