What are public records?
Public records are documents held by the government that members the general public has the right to access and view. They may exist as tangible paper copies of records held by in a government repository or as electronic records within an online database.
Common types of public records include criminal records, court records, and vital records such as birth and death certificates. Public records can be accessed by the general public by making a public records request to the appropriate government agency.
Which federal law deals with public records in the United States?
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) of 1967 is the major federal law regarding public records in the United States. The FOIA requires federal government agencies to release documents to the public when they make a records request, as long as the record in question doesn’t fall under one of nine exemptions outlined in the law. However, most people do not take advantage of the FOIA, and most record requests are made by businesses, law firms, and professionals.
Generally, if public records are to be used for a commercial purpose, the requester of the record must notify the agency of their intent while submitting the request.
What is West Virginia’s public records law?
The West Virginia Freedom of Information Act is a set of laws that guarantees the public the right to access public records held by government agencies in the state. The laws define public records as any document held or produced by a government agency with information relating to the public’s business.
Under the West Virginia FOIA, anyone can make a public records request without declaring a statement of purpose, and no restrictions are set on the use of public records in the state. Government agencies are given a time limit of 5 business days to respond to a records request.
Examples of West Virginia public records
West Virginia public records include, but are not limited to:
- Criminal records
- Court case information
- Meeting transcripts
- Licensing records
- Business records
- Historical records
- Government contracts
- Voting records
The following are NOT public records in West Virginia:
- Birth certificates
- Death certificates
- Marriage records
- Divorce records
- Library records
- Medical records
- Student transcripts
- Social welfare information
- Sealed records
- Tax returns
- Unpublished research and commercial data
Where can I access West Virginia public records?
- WV Secretary of State Business Entity Search – Search the SOS database for a West Virginia business to learn its initial filing date, entity type, principal address, officers, and more. You can also download copies of filings the business has made with the WV SOS Office.
- Public Service Commission of West Virginia: Web Docket – Search a database of court documents dating back to January 1, 2000. There’s also an archive of earlier court documents available for viewing.
- West Virginia Judiciary: Supreme Court Opinions – A directory of West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals opinions in PDF form organized by date.
- West Virginia Judiciary: Court Information by County – An interactive map that gives you the contact information of every county circuit court in West Virginia. If a court document cannot be found online, the next step is to contact the court clerk of the county where the case originated and make a public records request.
- West Virginia State Police: Criminal Records – Information on how to perform a criminal background check in West Virginia. Individuals are required to have their fingerprints taken at an IdentoGO site in order to proceed with a check.
- West Virginia Archives and History – The West Virginia State Archives maintains the state’s largest collection of historical public records, genealogical records, photographs, maps, and other invaluable historical artifacts. Many documents are available online in digital form.
Sex Offender Information
- West Virginia State Police: Sex Offender Registry – The state sex offender registry is open to members of the public and can be searched by name, location, or email/internet name.
- West Virginia Department of Health & Human Resources: Vital Records – West Virginia is a “closed records state” regarding vital records, but authorized persons (immediate family members, grandchildren, subjects of the record, legal representatives) are able to order certified copies birth, death, and marriage records from the Vital Registration Office, or the approved 3rd party vendor, VitalChek.