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Are West Virginia Records Public?

Most West Virginia records generated or maintained by the government are considered public and available to the general public upon request. The West Virginia Freedom of Information Act describes a public record as any piece of writing that contains information prepared, used, or received by a public body as regards handling official business. According to the Act, "writing" may include books, letters, maps, papers, cards, photographs, tapes, recordings, or other information storing materials regardless of the size or form.

Interested individuals who wish to obtain public records in West Virginia can submit a record request at the appropriate public body. The West Virginia Freedom of Information Act mandates public bodies to attend to all public records requests regardless of their residential status. Examples of public records in West Virginia include:

  • West Virginia death records
  • West Virginia bankruptcy records
  • West Virginia birth records
  • West Virginia marriage records
  • West Virginia divorce records
  • West Virginia sex offender records
  • West Virginia public criminal records
  • West Virginia public property records
  • West Virginia public court records
  • West Virginia public arrest records
  • West Virginia public inmate records

However, a public record does not include recorded information about any public official's personal lives or activities.

Who Can Access West Virginia Public Records?

Any interested person can access West Virginia public records as established by the West Virginia Freedom of information Act. Requestors must contact the public body responsible for the information they seek and submit a record request before obtaining a copy of West Virginia public records. The Act permits public bodies to grant public access to both residents and non-residents of West Virginia. Also, the Act promotes open government that enables citizens to access documents and other pieces of information managed or produced by the government.

However, some documents are not available to the general public. A public body may restrict a document as permitted by law or court order. Such restricted documents are known as exemptions or exceptions. Examples of West Virginia public records exemptions may include documents that contain a person's medical history record, criminal history records, trade or business secret information, personnel information, and more.

Do I Need to State My Purpose and Use When Requesting Public Records in West Virginia?

The West Virginia Freedom of Information Act permits requesters to obtain public records without a statement of purpose or use of the documents. Also, a public record responsible for a particular record must respond to a public record request promptly. Interested persons who seek to access West Virginia public records must contact the public body in charge and submit a record request. In addition, interested persons who want to obtain a document must present their full name, contact details, and a comprehensive description of the desired public record.

Nevertheless, a public body may choose to deny a public record request as permitted under the West Virginia Freedom of Information Act. For example, a public body may deny a record request of documents that reveal trade secrets.

What is Exempted Under the West Virginia Freedom of Information Act?

Some West Virginia public records are not available to the general public. West Virginia's Freedom of Information Act permits public bodies to restrict such records as established in Section 29B-1-4. Documents that are restricted from public view are called exemptions. Some of the reasons a record may be exempted from West Virginia public records include:

  1. Private Information: The West Virginia Freedom of Information Act permits public bodies to exempt records that reveal private information about an individual. Such information may be regarded as an invasion of privacy. For instance, information that includes a person’s medical history or financial records may be restricted from public view. However, a piece of private information may be disclosed if it is in the public interest.
  2. Confidential or Privileged Information: A public body may exempt records that disclose information gathered through privileged means or in confidentiality. For instance, information gathered through attorney-client privilege may be exempted from West Virginia public records. Documents that reveal a trade secret may be restricted from public view. Most times, a trade secret may include any information, formula, process, tool, and more.
  3. Law Enforcement Investigation Files: A record may be exempted from West Virginia public records if it contains information about an active investigation. Also, the Act permits public bodies to restrict records that contain detection and investigation of crime as well as internal records of a law enforcement agency.
  4. Security Information: The West Virginia Freedom of Information Act allows public bodies to exempt records that contain security information. Such information may include investigation about terrorist acts or special intelligence on terrorism. Disclosing such records may result in a national threat or jeopardize the safety of the parties involved.

How Do I Find Public Records in West Virginia?

Requestors can find public records in West Virginia by reaching out to the public body in charge of the documents. Under the West Virginia Freedom of Information Act, public bodies are required to respond and provide access to their records as soon as a record request is received. The requirements to obtain public records may differ because there are several public bodies in West Virginia. Below are some of the basic steps to obtain West Virginia public records:

Know the Type of Information or Record

Requestors who wish to obtain West Virginia public records must identify the specifics of the document they seek. Is the record court record or property record? Also, interested persons are required to provide other relevant information that may facilitate the record search. Examples of such information required include case number, the filing date of the record, names of parties involved, case type, name of the requestor, and more. Note, most records requests are denied due to vague descriptions.

Contact the Public Body in Charge

Requestors must contact the public body in charge of the public record before they can obtain a West Virginia public record. Therefore, requestors must be able to identify the public body or department in charge of a record. For example, the West Virginia State Police maintains records of sex offenders in its jurisdiction, while the West Virginia Regional Jail & Correctional Facility Authority provides access to inmate records.

Create a Written Request

Requestors must submit a record request to obtain a West Virginia public record. Some public bodies provide access to request forms, while others may require a request in writing. A written request allows record custodians to track the requests with ease and avoid errors or mix up. Examples of some of the information required to create a written request include:

  • Full name of the requestor
  • Contact information of the requestor
  • The type of record
  • The period (date) of the record
  • A clear description of the record
  • Names of parties included in the record
  • The chosen mode of delivery for the record
  • Other relevant information to assist with the record search

Review and Submit the Request

Here, requestors may review the information they have provided and submit their record requests to the record custodian. Depending on the public body, requestors may obtain West Virginia public records in person, by fax, by mail, or online. Interested persons can access any public body’s contact details on their official website.

Using Third-Party Sites

Some public records may also be accessible from third-party websites. These non-government platforms come with intuitive tools that allow for expansive searches. Record seekers may either opt to use these tools to search for a specific record or multiple records. However, users must typically provide enough information to assist with the search such as:

  • The name of the subject involved in the record (subject must be older than 18 or not juvenile)
  • The address of the requestor
  • A case number or file number (if known)
  • The location of the document or person involved
  • The last known or current address of the registrant

Third-party sites are not sponsored by government agencies. Because of this, record availability and results may vary.

How Much Do Public Records Cost in West Virginia?

In West Virginia, the cost of a public record depends on the service rendered by a public body. There is no fixed cost for public records. West Virginia Freedom of Information Act permits public bodies to charge a reasonable fee that may cover the cost of responding to a record request. In line with Section 29B-1-3 of the West Virginia Code, a fee may contain the cost of copying, searching, and reviewing a record as well as the staff time involved.

How Do I Lookup Public Records for Free in West Virginia?

Requestors who often ask "where can I get public records for free" may achieve that by inspecting physical copies of a record or accessing the online version of the documents. However, looking up a public record for free in West Virginia will depend on the type of record and the public body in charge. Requestors who only wish to inspect physical copies of a document must contact the public body in charge. Such persons may be allowed to walk in and inspect their desired records during business hours.

As an alternative, interested persons who wish to obtain public records for free in West Virginia can search for online versions of the documents. In recent times, most public bodies maintain or provide online public access to their records. For example, the West Virginia State Police maintains and provides online public access to sex offender information. Residents or interested persons may access the online sex offender registry using last name, city, street name, county, and other search combinations.

What Happens if I Am Refused a Public Records Request?

The public body in charge of a record will respond to the requestor whose public record request is refused with a written statement. The response is usually within five business days of receiving the request. The written statement usually contains the reasons for denying the record request as provided by the West Virginia Code. Also, the response may include the requestor's right to institute proceedings for injunctive or declaratory relief. The proceedings must be at the circuit court in the county where the public record is kept.

How to Remove Names From Public Search Records?

Interested persons can remove their names from West Virginia public search records by enforcing a statute or court order. Applicants who wish to remove their names must ensure such record or crime is allowed under West Virginia expungement laws. The West Virginia expungement law allows convicted persons, non-convicted persons, and those pardoned to petition for expungement.

Expungement for Non-convicted Persons

An applicant with a criminal record but no conviction can expunge their records in West Virginia. Interested persons must file a petition at the circuit court in the district where the charges were filed. As established under section 61-11-25, such applicants are eligible for expungement if:

  • The charges against them were dismissed
  • They were not guilty of the charges filed against them

However, an applicant may not be eligible to expunge a criminal record if:

  • The charge they intend to expunge is a Driving under the influence (DUI) offense
  • The charges were dismissed based on a guilty plea to a different offense
  • They were not guilty due to mental illness, addiction, or mental handicap
  • They have been convicted of a felony

Expungement for Convicted Persons

Applicants who have been convicted of a crime in West Virginia may be eligible to expunge such records if they meet the requirements. Examples of offenses that may be allowed include misdemeanors, nonviolent felonies, and first-time drug possession offenses. Depending on the crime, applicants must observe certain waiting periods.

Expungement for Pardoned Persons

Applicants who have received a full and unconditional executive pardon may be eligible to expunge their criminal records. In addition, such applicants can only apply one year after the pardon and five years after completing their sentence. However, an applicant who was convicted for first-degree murder, treason, kidnapping, or a sex offense cannot expunge their record.

What is the Best Public Records Search Database?

Determining the best public records search database depends on the type of information and the public body in charge. For instance, the West Virginia State Police is responsible for gathering and providing access to sex offender records within its jurisdiction. Interested persons can access sex offender information without restriction through the online sex offender registry. Interested persons can also use an offender’s last name, street name, city, and county to access the online registry. Similarly, the West Virginia Regional Jail & Correctional Facility Authority maintains an online inmate search that allows access to inmate records within West Virginia. Interested persons can search the database using an inmate’s last name (at least the first three letters) and first name.

How Long Does It Take to Obtain a West Virginia Public Record?

In line with the West Virginia Code, Section 29B-1-3, public bodies must respond to public record requests within five business days of receiving the requests. However, this does not include Saturdays, Sundays, or legal holidays. Within five business days, a public body is expected to provide copies of the requested information. Also, a public body must advise the requestor on the best place and time to obtain the desired record.