West Virginia Court Records
Instant Access to State, County and Municipal Records
Are West Virginia Court Records Public?
Provided they are not exempt from public disclosure, West Virginia court records are public and may be accessed by citizens and other members of the public. The West Virginia State open record law, the West Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), stipulates that all government records are public. Irrespective of their physical forms, most documents generated by government bodies while performing their official duties can be inspected or copied by interested individuals or entities. The West Virginia FOIA covers the Judicial, Executive, and Legislative branches of the state.
The custodians of public records in West Virginia are required to make them available to requestors within five business days of application. In West Virginia, requesters do not need to state the reason for applying to view or copy public records, including court records. Records exempt from the West Virginia FOIA include exam data, trade secrets, archaeological sites, law enforcement records (internal), and any information that may violate personal privacy. Should a record custodian deny a public record request in West Virginia, a requestor may not b able to appeal formally. Requesters may, however, approach the supervisor of public records to prevail on record custodian to make requested records available to them. Since a supervisor of public records cannot enforce a custodian to honor a public record request, aggrieved requestors may seek relief in a court.
How Do I Find Court Records in West Virginia?
The first step to take when trying to obtain court records in West Virginia is to find out the local courthouse where the case was held. Currently, there are no online pools of court records in West Virginia. Interested persons may look up the West Virginia Judiciary website to locate the specific court keeping their records of interest and then inquire about how to obtain them. Individuals may call the court ahead of their visit to confirm the availability of records and other things involved to enable them to inspect or copy records.
The West Virginia Judiciary Branch provides a county map with detailed information of courts by county on its website. Once a requester has identified the level of court keeping their record of interest, the next vital step is to find out in which of the counties the case was heard. The county map provides the contact information for each court type, including physical addresses and court judges' names. Most court records in West Virginia contain documents regarding criminal and civil court cases tried within the boundaries of the state. They keep all information on such trials from the beginning to the end, including the court decision. People seek to obtain court records in West Virginia for varying purposes but are not mandated to state their reasons for seeking them per the West Virginia Freedom of Information Act. The West Virginia State Law Library provides an online search platform where individuals can access the state's judiciary law-related information. It is a depository library with government documents, which are mostly in print and electronic formats. Documents and information here are, however, limited.
Requesters who do not wish to appear at the courthouse to obtain copies of West Virginia court records may do so by phone or via mail. To request by phone, they should contact the clerk of the court and provide the case number or case name of interest. The clerk's office will then notify the requestors of the cost of the request and advise the means of payment. To obtain copies of West Virginia court records by mail, interested persons should forward their written request to the appropriate courthouse and county. Some courts may also have specialized forms for each request. Such requests should contain in the minimum, the following information:
- Requestors' names
- Requestors' addresses
- Case numbers or names, or any other details that will facilitate easy retrieval
- Requestors' daytime telephone number
- Proof of payment (the amount should be confirmed from the clerk's office before ordering a court record)
Generally, most documents in West Virginia court records will include case files, court transcripts, jury records, witness testimony and documentation, dockets, and sentencing or judgment.
Considered open to citizens of the United States, public records are available through both traditional, government sources, and through third-party websites and organizations. In many cases, third-party websites make the search easier as they are not limited geographically or by technological limitations. They are considered a good place to start when looking for a specific record or multiple records. In order to gain access to these records, interested parties must typically provide:
- The name of the person listed in the record. Juveniles are typically exempt from this search method.
- The last known or assumed location of the person listed in the record. This includes cities, counties, and states.
While third-party sites offer such services, they are not government-sponsored entities, and record availability may vary on these sites when compared to government sources.
How Do West Virginia Courts Work?
The West Virginia court system consists of four different levels, each serving varying purposes in the state. At the first and lowest level are the West Virginia Municipal Courts, followed by the Magistrate and Family Courts at the second level. The West Virginia Circuit Courts sit on the third level, while at the fourth and topmost level is the Supreme Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court of Appeals is the only appellate court in the state.
The West Virginia Municipal Court's primary responsibility is to handle cases regarding city ordinance violations. Any municipality may provide by ordinance for the establishment and management of a municipality and election or appointment of an officer to serve as the Municipal Court judge. They may also provide by law that in the absence of the Municipal Court judge, other officials designated by ordinance or the municipal court clerk may act as the Municipal Court judge. Only defendants who are charged with offenses for which detention in jail may be imposed are entitled to jury trials in this court.
The Magistrate Court is a court of limited jurisdiction. It hears misdemeanor and civil cases of $10,000 or less. The court also conducts preliminary investigations in felony matters and ensures the application of state laws, court procedures, and municipal laws. There are 158 Magistrates in West Virginia, with at least two in every county and ten in the most populous county. The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia has an administrative supervisory role over the Magistrate Court. In criminal cases, the Magistrate Court issues and records arrest warrants, affidavits, and search warrants. Each Magistrate in West Virginia is selected through a non-partisan election and serves a four-year term.
The state's Family Court is on the same level as the Magistrate Court, and it is also a limited jurisdiction court. The court comprises 47 judges who spread across the 27 Family Court circuits. Each of the judges serves an eight-year term and. They are elected in partisan elections. Cases involving paternity, divorce, grandparent visitation, separate maintenance, and parental responsibilities assignment are heard by the West Virginia Family Court. The court also hears family support proceedings, save neglect proceedings, and those related to child abuse.
Another trial court in West Virginia is the Circuit Court. It is the only general jurisdiction court of record. The West Virginia Circuit Court hears appeals from the Municipal Court, Magistrate Court, and the state's administrative agencies. They may also review the decision of the Family Court unless all parties in a case decide and agree to appeal directly to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. Additionally, all civil cases in equity, all felonies and misdemeanors, proceedings in habeas corpus, quo warranto, mandamus, and all civil cases at law over $7,500 are under the jurisdiction of the West Virginia Circuit Court. The 55 counties in the state are composed of 31 circuits, and each county has a courthouse where the circuit judge sits. There are 75 circuit judges distributed among these circuits.
Five justices elected in non-partisan elections sit on the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia for 12-year terms, each. The court is the court of last resort in the state with original jurisdiction in proceedings involving mandamus, habeas corpus, and certiorari. It hears appeals of decisions made in the Circuit Courts and criminal convictions declared on appeal from the Magistrate Court. There are no juries, witnesses, or testimonies during hearings, and attorneys are the ones that make oral arguments in this court.
What are Civil Court and Small Claims in West Virginia?
The West Virginia Magistrate Court hears small claims cases as well as other civil legal matters. The most a plaintiff can ask for in a West Virginia small claims case is $5,000. Although most states in America do not allow attorneys to represent parties in small claims, legal representation is permitted in a West Virginia small claims proceeding. Any disinterested adults can file small claims in West Virginia, and defendants have 20 days to appear or file written responses. They have up to 30 days if the service is made by their attorneys. Either party to a West Virginia small claims case may request a jury trial once the claimed amount is more than $20 or involves ownership of real estate.
Plaintiffs may sue defendants in West Virginia small claims cases where they live or where the offense happened. For non-resident defendants, plaintiffs can file claims where they (plaintiffs) reside or where the defendants can be found. If the small claims involve properties, plaintiffs may file the cases in the same locations as the properties. In West Virginia, small claims cases are appealable. Either party can initiate an appeal as a new trial to the West Virginia Circuit Court within 20 days after the Magistrate Court decision or denial of further legal action.
What are Appeals and Court Limits in West Virginia?
The process through which a party to a court case can challenge a lower court decision is called an appeal. Usually, they are initiated by persons who are dissatisfied with the rulings of a court. The appeal process in West Virginia is uncomplicated since there is no intermediate appellate court. Currently, the only appellate court in the state is the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, and it is the busiest in the United States. It reviews some Family Court decisions and provides an initial appellate review of the Circuit Court ruling. The court also examines decisions from the state's Workers' Compensation Board.
West Virginia Circuit Court's decisions, appellate review of administrative agencies, and lower courts can only be appealed directly to the Supreme Court of Appeals. The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals is the highest in the state, and as such, its decisions can only be appealed to the United States Supreme Court. The United States Supreme Court has discretionary appellate review and may refuse to hear an appeal. Consequently, the West Virginia Supreme Court's judgment is final and binding on most cases filed within the state's court system.
Rule 13B of the Rules of Appellate Procedure explains the process for appealing a Family Court final order directly to the Supreme Court of Appeals. It also provides the method of transferring a Family Court appeal in the West Virginia Circuit Court to the Supreme Court of Appeals. The parties to a case have only 14 days after the judgment of the Family Court to file with the Circuit Court a quick notice of intent to appeal directly to the Supreme Court of Appeals. If only one of them (parties) files a notification, the appeal filed will be regarded as an appeal to the Circuit Court. The West Virginia Supreme Court believes that appellate review is unwarranted, provided the lower courts allowed due process while handling cases. The practice of appellate jurisdiction by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals is discretionary because an appellate review is not absolute.
How Do I Find My Case Number in West Virginia?
A case number is a unique reference that differentiates a court case from another, and it is allocated by a court staff when filing a suit. Typically, court cases identify the filing year, the case type, the filing judiciary staff, and may sometimes include the court type. Currently, the West Virginia Judiciary Branch does not have any online database of court records or cases. Persons who want to obtain their case numbers may engage the clerk of the courthouse where such cases were filed and reside. They will be required to provide accurate information to foster easy retrieval. Typically, requestors' full names and a few other details about the cases should be enough to find their case numbers. Interested persons can fetch each courthouse contact information from the county map provided on the West Virginia Judiciary website or appear in-person to retrieve case numbers.
Can You Look Up Court Cases in West Virginia?
Yes, but through conventional means. The West Virginia court system currently does not operate any online pool of court records. Records of criminal and civil cases are kept at the courthouses hearing such records. They may include paper documents or electronic files. Interested individuals can look up court cases in West Virginia by either calling the court where they are being heard or visit them. All the West Virginia State courts have their addresses and contact information on the county map provided on the Judiciary Branch website. Persons interested in looking up court cases in the state should select a county on the map to obtain the court of record contact information. The easiest way to look up court cases at the courthouse is to provide the case number. The case or party names, among other search parameters, are other retrieval parameters to look up court cases in West Virginia..
Does West Virginia Hold Remote Trials?
Yes, they do. To curb the spread of coronavirus in West Virginia, the state's Supreme Court of Appeals issued a guide for court operations. Although certain court proceedings are being held subject to compliance with COVID-19 protection protocols, the Supreme Court of Appeals discourages local courts from having in-person proceedings. Instead, it advocates using video or teleconferences in hearing trials to mitigate the risks associated with holding in-court hearings.
The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals also encourages local courts in Green counties to move jury trials to alternative locations big enough to permit social distancing. They must enforce participants to wear masks in such meetings. Courts in hot spot counties are encouraged to hold hearings remotely or impose additional precautions if they must have trials in the court.
Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams are the major video conferencing software used by West Virginia Courts for remote trials. Usually, the court will communicate which to adopt in a particular hearing to all participants. The parties to a case that will be remotely held are encouraged to have the presiding judge's office phone number for contact should there be technical issues during the trial. The West Virginia Judiciary provides a Microsoft Teams guide and a quick guide on Skype for Business to help participants in a remote court trial.
What is the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia?
The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia is the state's court of last resort. It is the only appellate court in the state. Consequently, decisions made in this court are usually final and binding. It interprets the law and West Virginia Constitution. The Supreme Court of Appeals has original jurisdiction of proceedings in habeas corpus, prohibition, mandamus, and certiorari. It also has appellate authority in civil cases at law where the contention exceeds $300 in amount or value, excluding interest and costs. The court hears appeals of judgment over cases decided in the Circuit Court, Magistrate Court(criminal convictions), and the state's administrative agencies.
The five justices sitting on the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia are elected in nonpartisan elections to 12-year terms. One of them, chosen by the members of the court, serves as the Chief Justice for one year in office. One of the criteria for selecting justices of this court is they must have practiced law for a minimum of ten years. The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia has two terms each year. The period between each session is known as sine dine, a Latin word for "without delay." The first, which ends in June, begins on the second Tuesday in January. The second term starts on the first Wednesday in September and terminates in November. The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia was established in 1872.
West Virginia Circuit Court
The West Virginia Circuit Court is one that is a trial court of general jurisdiction. It receives appeals from the Municipal Court, Magistrate Court, and some West Virginia administrative agencies (it does not take workers' compensation appeals). Appeals of the Circuit Court decisions are heard at the Supreme Court of Appeals. The West Virginia Circuit Court has jurisdiction over all felonies and misdemeanors, all civil cases in equity, and all civil cases at law over $7,500. It may hear appeals of Family Court rulings unless all parties in a case consent to file their request directly to the Supreme Court of Appeals. The court also holds exclusive hearings for mental health issues, probation cases, and estate matters. There are 75 Circuit Court judges distributed among the 31 circuits across the 55 counties in the state. These judges are elected in nonpartisan elections to eight-year terms and must reside in the territory where they serve.
West Virginia Family Court
Established by a constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2000, the West Virginia Family Court handles domestic relations matters. It is a trial court. The court hears cases involving paternity issues, divorce, separate maintenance, and grandparent visitation. It also hears family support proceedings and holds final hearings in domestic violence civil cases. West Virginia is divided into 27 Family Court circuits with 47 judges serving in these courts. The Family Court judges are elected in nonpartisan elections to eight-years tenure and are required to reside in their circuit. The West Virginia Family Court started operations on January 1, 2002.
West Virginia Magistrate Court
The West Virginia Magistrate Court is a trial court of limited jurisdiction. In West Virginia, it is commonly referred to as the people's court because it is where most legal matters are heard. The Magistrate Court hears small claims cases not exceeding $5,000 in dispute, civil cases of $10,000 or less, misdemeanor cases, and conducts preliminary reviews in felony cases. There is usually a minimum of two magistrates in every county, while the most populous, Kanawha County, has ten magistrates. West Virginia has a total of 158 magistrates spread across its 55 counties. The magistrates oversee the application and implementation of court procedures, state laws, and municipal laws. The Magistrate Court issues and records affidavits, search warrants, arrest warrants, and equally set bail. Decisions of the Magistrate Court may be appealed to the West Virginia Circuit Court. The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia has an administrative supervisory function on the Magistrate Court.
West Virginia Municipal Court
The West Virginia Municipal Court handles cases regarding city ordinance violations. Municipal Courts are locally managed. Any municipality may provide by law for the creation and management of a municipality and election or appointment of an officer to serve as the Municipal Court judge. They may also provide by law that in the absence of the Municipal Court judge, other officials designated by ordinance or the municipal court clerk may act as the Municipal Court judge.