What are West Virginia Public Records, and How are They Created?
West Virginia's Freedom of Information Act is the law regarding public records access. The scope of what the law covers says "The Act applies to all State, county and municipal officers, governing bodies, agencies, departments, boards and commissions, and any other bodies created or primarily funded by State or local authority, unless their enabling statute specifically exempts them from its provisions. The records covered by the Act include virtually all documents and information retained by a public body, regardless of their form." Agencies have the right to charge fees when producing copies of public records.
The Secretary of State has set up a database where you can search public records that pertain to the Secretary of State. For any other requests, you should contact the agency directly.
Government bodies like the Secretary of State, Mayor's Office, Attorney General's Office, law enforcement, the courts, and other local and state agencies create public records. Most of them also store them, maintain them, and share them with other agencies and the public upon request.
"Public record includes any writing containing information prepared or received by a public body, the content or context of which, judged either by content or context, relates to the conduct of the public's business."
The West Virginia State Archives is the agency in charge of keeping and maintaining all historical public records. They can assist with genealogy research and help in locating public records. They have vast collections, including city directories, civil war records, maps, newspapers, photographs, government publications, yearbooks, and vital records.
How to Access West Virginia Public Records?
When requesting public records in West Virginia, you have to contact the agency where the records reside. Follow these general guidelines:
- Locate the custodian of the records you need.
- Contact the agency and make a formal request (they prefer in writing).
- Pay any applicable fees.
- The agency has five days to respond to your public records request.
- Await their response.
If the agency rejects your request, you can appeal to the courts under the West Virginia Freedom of Information Act laws.
Different Types of Public Records in West Virginia
West Virginia Criminal Records
West Virginia's Criminal Identification Bureau "may furnish, with approval of the Superintendent, fingerprints, photographs, records or other information to any private or public agency, person, firm association, corporation or other organization, other than a law enforcement or governmental agency as to which provisions of subsection (c) of this section shall govern and control, but all requests under the provisions of this subsection (d) for such fingerprints, photographs, records or other information must be accompanied by a written authorization signed and acknowledged by the person whose fingerprints, photographs, records or other information." Expunged records will not be included.
Some common types of criminal records in West Virginia include (but are not limited to):
- Felony and Misdemeanor Records - some common misdemeanors in West Virginia are DUI, assault and battery, domestic violence, drug possession, and weapons crimes. Some popular felonies in West Virginia include the cultivation or sale of marijuana, child pornography, and murder.
- Jail and Inmate Records - both jails and prisons keep inmate records, and those too are public records. The West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation 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.
West Virginia Court Records
Court records in West Virginia are handled by the West Virginia Judiciary. Their website includes a map where you can click an area and find courts from those areas. They don't have all the files located online, so you have to visit the courthouse in person to request them. They do, however, have tons of forms in PFD format that you can download and use to file cases or request further information.
Some types of court records in West 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 West Virginia consists of three levels starting with the Supreme Court, then Circuit Court, the Magistrate Court, Family Court, and Municipal Court.
West Virginia Arrest Records
The West Virginia State Police and the Criminal Identification Bureau provide West Virginia arrest records and criminal histories to the public, agencies, firms, and other government agencies. They produce these records upon request when accompanied by written authorization by the subject of the inquiry. Expunged records will not be included in the report.
Some different types of arrests records in West Virginia are:
- Drug charges.
- Shopping cart theft.
- 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.
West Virginia Vital Records
The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources is the government agency in charge of vital records. If you need a copy of a birth, death, marriage, or divorce certificate, they are the ones to contact. You may request vital records by mail, in person, or by phone/internet/fax. Each certified copy costs $12. This agency uses the VitalChek system.
Other Public Records in West Virginia
Along with criminal, court, arrest, and vital records, other types of public records you can find in the state of West 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).
- WV 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 West Virginia?
West Virginia's Freedom of Information Act includes a lot of exemptions from public records. Some of them are:
- "(1) Trade secrets, as used in this section, which may include, but are not limited to, any formula, plan pattern, process, tool, mechanism, compound, procedure, production data or compilation of information which is not patented which is known only to certain individuals within a commercial concern who are using it to fabricate, produce or compound an article or trade or service or to locate minerals or other substances, having commercial value, and which gives its users an opportunity to obtain the business advantage over competitors;
- (2) Information of a personal nature such as that kept in a personal, medical or similar file if the public disclosure thereof would constitute an unreasonable invasion of privacy unless the public interest by clear and convincing evidence requires disclosure in the particular instance: Provided, That nothing in this article shall be construed as precluding an individual from inspecting or copying his or her own personal, medical or similar file;
- (3) Test questions, scoring keys, and other examination data used to administer a licensing examination, examination for employment or academic examination;
- (4) Records of law-enforcement agencies that deal with the detection and investigation of crime and the internal records and notations of such law-enforcement agencies which are maintained for internal use in matters relating to law enforcement;
- (5) Information specifically exempted from disclosure by statute;
- (6) Records, archives, documents or manuscripts describing the location of undeveloped historic, prehistoric, archaeological, paleontological and battlefield sites or constituting gifts to any public body upon which the donor has attached restrictions on usage or the handling of which could irreparably damage such record, archive, document or manuscript;
- (7) Information contained in or related to examination, operating or condition reports prepared by, or on behalf of, or for the use of any agency responsible for the regulation or supervision of financial institutions, except those reports which are by law required to be published in newspapers;
- (8) Internal memoranda or letters received or prepared by any public body;
- (9) Records assembled, prepared, or maintained to prevent, mitigate or respond to terrorist acts or the threat of terrorist acts, the public disclosure of which threaten the public safety or the public health;
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- (10) Those portions of records containing specific or unique vulnerability assessments or specific or unique response plans, data, databases, and inventories of goods or materials collected or assembled to respond to terrorist acts; and communication codes or deployment plans of law enforcement or emergency response personnel;
- (11) Specific intelligence information and specific investigative records dealing with terrorist acts or the threat of a terrorist act shared by and between federal and international law enforcement agencies, state and local law enforcement, and other agencies within the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety;
- (12) National security records classified under the federal executive order and not subject to public disclosure under federal law that is shared by federal agencies and other records related to national security briefings to assist state and local government with domestic preparedness for acts of terrorism;
- (13) Computing, telecommunications, and network security records, passwords, security codes or programs used to respond to or plan against acts of terrorism which may be the subject of a terrorist act;
- (14) Security or disaster recovery plans, risk assessments, tests or the results of those tests."