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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 maybe 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.
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:
If you have trouble accessing the records you need, contact the Coalition for help.
Virginia has strict laws protecting criminal records. However, they do have a special online portal called 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):
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:
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 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:
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.
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:
The state of Virginia has more than 100 exceptions to the FOIA law. Some of the most common from their statute are: