West Virginia Criminal Court Records
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What are West Virginia Criminal Court Records?
West Virginia criminal court records refer to any writing generated during criminal court proceedings. They typically include witness testimonies, deposition tapes, sworn affidavits, plaintiff and/or defendant information, trial transcripts and records of court actions, motions filed and judgments. These records are maintained by the West Virginia judiciary and can be accessed, inspected and copied by interested members of the public, except where otherwise stated by statutory law.
Understanding the West Virginia Criminal Court System
The West Virginia state court system is divided into two groups, the Supreme Court of Appeals and the Lower Courts. These lower courts consist of Circuit Courts, Family Courts and Magistrate Courts, spread out across the state. However, the state’s federal district courts operate somewhat independently—they exercise limited jurisdiction over selected federal crimes in the state. In detail, the West Virginia judiciary can be broken down as follows:
Supreme Court of Appeals
The West Virginia state court system consists of a single appellate court. This court consists of five justices who hear appeals from cases that were heard in the state’s circuit courts, appeals from administrative agencies and appeals from family courts in situations where both parties agree not to appeal directly to the circuit court. The Supreme Court of Appeals also has exclusive jurisdiction over worker’s compensation appeals as well as original jurisdiction in proceedings involving, but not limited to, habeas corpus and certiorari.
The court reaches decisions by listening to oral arguments presented by attorneys and reviewing these attorneys’ briefs, the court does not interview witnesses, and there is no jury or new testimony presented during court proceedings. However, the oral arguments presented by attorneys are open to the public. The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals is the state’s highest court and is a court of last resort, as such, its decisions are considered final and may only be reversed by the Supreme Court of the United States. The Supreme Court of Appeals also has administrative and regulatory duties that constitutionally empower it to create and enforce rules governing the state of West Virginia’s judicial practices and procedures.
The West Virginia judiciary is divided into thirty-one (31) circuits, with at least one courthouse located in each of the state’s counties. The Circuit Courts are the state’s only general jurisdiction trial courts of record and have jurisdiction over all criminal cases and civil cases filed in the state. The Circuits Courts also hear appeals from the other lower courts and administrative agencies, except for cases that are under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Appeals, and they receive recommended orders from judicial officers who hear mental hygiene and juvenile matters.
The Magistrate Courts have limited jurisdiction over certain types of criminal and civil matters. Their jurisdiction includes misdemeanor cases, conducting preliminary examinations in felony cases, selected misdemeanors or civil cases involving less than $10,000. Magistrate Courts can also issue arrest and search warrants, record affidavits and complaints, set bail and make decisions concerning proposed plea agreements as well as decisions concerning the collection of cash bonds, fines, and other court costs/levies. In addition to this, Magistrate Courts can also issue emergency protective orders in domestic violence cases.
What’s included in a West Virginia Criminal Court Record?
Court records generally tend to contain similar information. This information may vary depending on the type of court where the case was handled as well as the type of case heard. Generally, West Virginia criminal court records contain information such as the court case ID, defendant and/or plaintiff information, docket number, actions taken on the case, supporting evidence, including relevant inmate record information, judge and attorney information, hearing dates, times and locations as well as the present status of the case.
Obtaining West Virginia Criminal Court Records
The West Virginia State Code Chapter 29B guarantees interested members of the public with access to state public records. Pursuant to this law, any interested parties who wish to inspect and/or obtain copies of criminal court records may do by any of the following means:
- Inspecting and/or obtaining records in-person
- Sending verbal and/or written requests to the appropriate record custodian
- Accessing records online
- Utilizing a third-party aggregate site
How Do I Access West Virginia Criminal Court Records in Person?
Interested parties can obtain criminal court records in person by following several general steps.
Identify The Right Court
Interested parties who wish to access records of criminal cases have to identify the particular court where the case in question was filed/heard. To aid members of the public with this step, the West Virginia judiciary provides a court information directory that provides contact details for all courthouses as well as the courthouse officials in the state. West Virginia Circuit Courts have general jurisdiction over criminal cases in the state. The state supports 31 circuits and at least one courthouse is located in each of the state’s counties. In addition to this, the other lower courts also have limited jurisdiction over criminal cases in the state.
Gather Case Information
Interested members of the public who wish to access criminal court records are required to provide the record custodian with any relevant information necessary to expedite record searches. Some of the information required may include the names of the defendant, victim and/or witness name(s), the date the original charge(s) was filed as well as the case file number of the record. However, it should be noted this information may vary as required by the court where these records are located.
Visit the Court Record Custodian
Criminal court records for the West Virginia judiciary are usually maintained by each county’s circuit clerk. After the right court has been identified by interested parties, the next step in accessing court records in person is visiting the office of the county circuit clerk and making a request to inspect and/or copy the required records. Contact details for these circuit clerks can be gleaned from the court information directory provided in the ‘Identify the Right Court’ section above.
Provide Identification and Pay Any Required Fees
After the records and the record custodian have been located, interested parties who wish to obtain copies of criminal court records may be required to provide a form of identification, usually a government-issued photo ID and pay any applicable fees, which is usually calculated by the type of record being requested, the number of copies required and the storage medium the record is being copied to. These fees may vary depending on the court.
Additionally, publicly available records are accessible from some third-party websites. These websites offer the benefit of not being limited by geographical record availability and can often serve as a starting point when researching a specific or multiple records. To find a record using the search engines on these sites, interested parties must provide:
- The name of someone involved providing it is a not a juvenile
- The assumed location of the record in question such as a city, county, or state name
Third-party sites are not government-sponsored websites, and record availability may differ from official channels.
How Do I Find West Virginia Criminal Court Records by Mail?
Members of the public who wish to obtain copies of criminal court records by mail must first establish that this option is available at the court where the records are located. Generally, the requirements for obtaining court records by mail include sending a written request for these documents to the record custodian. This request should contain as many details of the criminal court case as possible, such as the names of the plaintiff(s) and the defendant(s), the type of case and the date the case was filed. The request should also include details of the requestor and should be sent along with a self-addressed envelope and any required payment (payment is usually made via money orders or checks made out to either the court or the office of the record custodian. Most courts do not accept cash for requests made via mail). It should be noted that these requirements may vary and so interested parties are advised to contact the record custodian for any other additional requirements.
How to Find West Virginia Criminal Court Records Online?
The West Virginia judiciary does not maintain an official centralized database through which interested members of the public may access criminal court records online. However, these records may be accessed via a number of unofficial third-party websites.
Members of the public who wish to obtain criminal court records from the state of West Virginia but are not able to do so either in person or via mail may also wish to utilize a third party aggregate site. These third-party websites provide requestors with the advantage of accessibility from remote locations, and if permitted by statutory law, can obtain and deliver copies of these records to interested parties. To search for records on these sites, interested parties will be required to provide the name of a party involved in the criminal case and the location of the record in question, such as a city, county or municipal.
However, it is important to note that these third-party sites are not government-sponsored websites and as such record availability may differ from official channels.
Are all West Virginia Criminal Court Records Public?
According to West Virginia State Code Chapter 29B, public records are defined as any writing containing information prepared or received by a public body, the content or context of which relates to the conduct of the public’s business. Criminal court records are considered public records and, except where otherwise stated by West Virginia law, are subject to inspection by members of the public.
How do I find West Virginia Public Records for Free?
Interested parties who wish to inspect public records for free may do so by contacting the appropriate record custodian. Interested parties can also access some of these records in person by utilizing the self-service terminals located at the offices of the circuit clerks across the state. It should be noted that fees may be charged for extensive record searches as well as for obtaining copies of these records.
Can I Access Sealed West Virginia Criminal Court Records?
Under West Virginia state law, sealed criminal court records can only be accessed by eligible interested parties. In most cases, eligible parties include but are not limited to, authorized members of a law enforcement agency, officers of the court and members of the public with a court order authorizing the unsealing of the record.
Are all Juvenile Criminal Court Records open to the Public?
In accordance with West Virginia State Code Chapter 49 Article 5, juvenile court records are considered confidential and thus not open to the public. However, this law makes provision for certain situations where these records may be disclosed such as, but not limited to, cases in which a juvenile has been charged with an offense which involves violence against another person, possession of a deadly weapon and/or possession and delivery of a controlled substance.
What Records are Automatically Sealed by West Virginia Statute?
Pursuant to West Virginia State Code Chapter 49 Article 5, records of juvenile proceedings are automatically sealed either one year after the juvenile’s eighteenth birthday or one year after the personal or juvenile jurisdiction of the court is terminated, depending on which event comes later. Once these records are sealed, they may only be opened by a circuit court order. In addition to this, some records are also deemed confidential and thus, cannot be disclosed to members of the public who do not have adequate authorization. Some of these records include:
- Information of a personal nature, disclosure of which would constitute an unreasonable invasion of privacy
- Trade secrets
- Test questions and any other examination data used in the administration of a licensing, employment and academic examinations
Are Trial Transcripts Open to the Public?
Trial transcripts are considered public records and copies of these records may be obtained by contacting the court reporter in the court where the case was heard. However, in most cases, copies of trial transcripts can only be obtained by requestors who were party to the proceeding. Interested parties who wish to access transcripts for a proceeding they weren’t party to may be required to obtain a court order before being able to access these records.