Virginia Court Case Lookup
A Virginia court case is a dispute or conflict brought by two or more individuals or organizations to a court of law. To resolve any case brought before it, the court will hear testimony and evidence from the two sides and decide according to the law. The purpose of a court case lookup is to provide inquirers information regarding the details of a court case heard in the state.
Generally, Virginia courts hear two categories of cases: criminal and civil. A civil case involves two or more parties who have a non-criminal conflict with each other. Examples include family law, probate, divorce, and guardianship cases. On the other hand, a criminal case is a legal case initiated by the government against a person who breaks the law. Criminal cases can be felonies, misdemeanors, or infractions.
Every court case in Virginia has a plaintiff who files the case in court and a defendant who will stand trial for the allegation or claim.
Virginia has four levels of courts: a Supreme Court, a Court of Appeals, the Circuit Courts, and the General District Courts. Every county in Virginia has a General District Court, which has a Juvenile & Domestic Relations (J&DR) division.
The General District Courts preside over traffic cases, minor criminal offenses, and limited civil cases. The J&DR courts handle juvenile offenses and domestic relations cases. The Circuit Courts handle felonies, civil actions involving large monetary claims, and General District Court appeals. The Virginia Court of Appeals receives appeals of circuit court decisions and administrative matters. Finally, the Supreme Court of Virginia, the highest judicial body, presides over appeals from the lower courts. The court also manages the operation of the state’s judicial system.
Are Court Cases Public Record in Virginia?
Yes, according to Va. Code § 17.1-208, members of the public have access to copy and inspect court records and documents that are filed in the Virginia state courts or maintained by the clerk of the circuit court. However, this act applies with an exception or statutory presumption of openness to the public created by the Supreme Court of Virginia. In other words, an individual’s right of access to court records is not without restrictions as the court may decide to seal case records under sensitive legal conditions.
Criminal case records, for example are excluded from public records as disclosure of these records could result in interference with investigations, compromise the confidential right of a juvenile or reveal the identity of an anonymous witness or the identity of sexual assault victims per Va. Code § 2.2-3706. Additionally, a court may deny access to a court case record in a criminal case if it decides that disclosing such records will jeopardize the defendant's right to a fair trial. Records of a civil case may also be excluded from public access if the court decides that the parties involved demand the confidentiality of the case document.
Note: Court cases are only excluded from public access if the interest of confidentiality or privacy overpowers the legal right of the public to access the files.
How to Conduct a Virginia Court Case Lookup
Anyone interested in looking up Virginia Court cases should visit the court where the case is filed and submit an official request to look up the court cases in writing from the clerk of the court. Virginia's official judiciary website contains details of the county court address, phone numbers, and other necessary information that will aid court case lookup.
On the other hand, anyone can access these court records online. This includes court docket information, motions of the lawsuit parties, court orders, transcript of court hearings, and evidence presented in court. However, there is restricted access to certain documents that are related to a court case. For example, evidence that is discovered in the process of trial but not filed with the court, trial displays, and memos written by the judge or jury.
Virginia Supreme Court makes provision for a Judiciary Online Case Information System (OCIS). This online case information system is available 24/7 for free use by citizens. There is also a free provision of a Case Alert Subscription System (CASS) which updates subscribed users with court case events associated with cases in the Trial courts of Virginia.
The Virginia Circuit Court and the General District Court on the other hand maintain separate online case management systems for Circuit Courts in Virginia. One can find cases through name search, case number, and the hearing date.
Case Search by Name
The Case Details page contains details of the parties' names, court hearings, and deliberations of the case. If the case has more than one assigned case number, the requester may need to find the right case number.
Case search by Number
When searching for civil cases, it's important to use upper case CL before the ten-digit number. For example CL09000000-00. Likewise, a criminal case search is done with the upper case “CR” as in the example CR09000000-00 before the numbers. Case search by number provides the same access to the court case
Search by Hearing Date
One can also search court cases through “Hearing Date” on the calendar section of the case information system.
Note: Certain county Circuit Courts like Alexandria and Fairfax do not make use of this Case Management System.
Can I Get Virginia Court Case Documents Online?
Yes, members of the public have access to publicly available Virginia court case documents online (such as proceedings, orders, findings, and judgments) via the State Corporation Commission’s (SCC) docket search feature. Public case documents may be downloaded or printed at a fee. It is with mentioning that the online court case documents are unofficial and provided for public convenience alone.
Anyone who needs to obtain official copies of court case documents should contact the Document Control Center of the SCC Clerk’s Office via phone or in person. However, non-case documents are only available upon request, and as such, they are not available on the docket search except as provided by law.
How to Conduct a Virginia Court Search by Name
As earlier noted, Virginia District and Circuit courts make provision for an online judiciary case information system for its citizens. One can conduct a court search through case number, date of hearing, and case name. The case page provides information regarding the individual once the inquirer enters their first or last name. Most county clerks use designated case information systems like Montgomery county and New Kent county.
What is a Court Case Number?
A case number is a distinctive digit that the presiding court gives to a case for easy retrieval or tracking in court. Case numbers also make it relatively easy for inquirers to find where and when a case was filed. Circuit court clerks are usually helpful in giving case numbers to individuals who lost or need theirs. Case numbers are usually assigned by the presiding or jurisdiction court with a specific meaning behind the case numbers. Notwithstanding, the meanings are not important to people who are not directly involved in the court case.
How to Conduct a Case Number Search in Virginia
Searching for a case number by address follows the due process as a case-by-name search. The state judiciary has a system in place to help citizens enjoy easy access to their court records.
This can be done in person or through the online directory. The first is to find the location of the county’s District Court on the official website of the Virginia Courts or the County Court’s website, for example, Minnesota Judicial Branch has details of their contact information for members of the public.
People who prefer a physical visit to The courthouse will be required to fill out a form and submit it to the District Court clerk. Before submitting the form, check to be sure that all details are accurate to have a seamless search process. Alternatively, one can use the public self-service if the court has one, for a nominal fee.
Preferably, most inquirers use online access at their convenience.
Simply visit Virginia's Judicial System website to find all cases within the court’s jurisdiction. Specifically, one can use the Circuit Court Case Information page to conduct a name search for Circuit Court cases or use the General District Courts Automated Information System page for General District Court’s cases.
Here’s a quick way to use the websites:
- First, visit the preferred online directory
- Then, pick the locality of the court from the list, click begin
- Choose the case type and click continue
- Search for the case by name
- Log off when the search is completed
How to Remove Court Cases From Public Record in Virginia
For one’s records to be eligible for removal from public access, the records need to satisfy several claims according to Virginia's law for expungement, sealing, confidentiality, and destruction of court case records. Expunged records are not removed from public access, sealed records are put in a sealed envelope, unable to be opened except by court order while confidential records may not be physically sealed but are unavailable for inspection except to designated parties.
Expungement involves a process of removing one’s police and court records away from public view. This is especially for an individual who has been arrested and charged with a crime but was not convicted. Expungement, however, does not mean that the records are destroyed. The court still has access to view it and can grant permission to law enforcement offices if need be.
Anyone charged with the commission of a crime may file a petition to request expungement of the police records and the court records relating to the charge. If they satisfy these requirements:
- The individual is acquitted
- A nolle prosequi is taken
- The alleged charge is dismissed, (either by accord or satisfaction) pursuant to § 19.2-151.
- The individual receives an absolute pardon for the commission of a crime for which he has been unjustly convicted.
Persons who wish to expunge their civil or criminal case records must file a petition with the circuit court where the case was decided. The circuit court provides interested individuals with a petition for expungement pursuant to VA. CODE § 19.2-392.2.A. Expungement of criminal case records only applies to arrest, criminal charge, conviction, or civil offense of a person for a misdemeanor violation and marijuana offenses.
With a clean criminal record or a claim of a misdemeanor, it’s easier to get the judge’s approval on the petition. However, people who have several cases of felonies and convictions may have a difficult time getting their records expunged. Nonetheless, individuals who have never been convicted of a felony, in the last 10 to 20 years may petition to seal convictions or court case records.
Certain criminal and civil records in Virginia are ordered by court or statute to be sealed. Sealed records are not available to the public but can be made available only by court order. The Court may order these records, exhibits, and documents to remain sealed during the trial or pendency of the case. Unlike an expunged court case record, most sealed court records usually physically remain a part of the course file.
Per the Virginia statute, the following records either must be sealed when they are filed
with the Court or may be sealed by Order of the Court:
- Change of name
- Records of the judicial officer
- Criminal history records
- Juvenile court records
The Virginia Judiciary provides helpful guides and instructions for the petition for expungement filed in a circuit court and more details for sealing civil and criminal court records.
How to Check a Court Case Status in Virginia
Anyone who needs information regarding court case status (criminal or civil) in Virginia can do so through the online access tool of the Virginia Court, through the mail, or in person at the Circuit Court Clerk. However, court case status information for matters at the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court is not accessible online. The online case information system allows one to find information such as the name, date, and time for the case hearing. filed motions, final dispositions, or when the defendant has been served.
This is a quick method to check the court case status in Virginia:
- Select the case status at the top
- Click the presiding court where the case is filed
- Simply search the case by first and last name or case number.
Note: Recent cases may take a couple of weeks to reflect on the website.
How to Find Supreme Court Decisions in Virginia
The Supreme Court is installed with the legal right to render decisions, at its discretion by order or memorandum opinion. All orders and decisions (opinions) of the Court are preserved in the case record. Members of the public who need to find Supreme court decisions (opinions) have the legal right to inspect and receive them according to the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. Supreme Court decisions are published in separate Court of Virginia Reports.
According to the code of Virginia § 17.1-413, the court is expected to state in writing the reason for its decisions in ruling a certain case. However, not all Virginia Supreme Court Opinions are published to the general public for inspection subject to rules promulgated under § 17.1-403. Thus, there is the published opinions and unpublished court decisions. This means that certain non-published court decisions defined by the Supreme Court as having a precedential value within the court system shall be reported in a different Supreme Court of Virginia Reports same as published Supreme Court decisions. Searching for court opinions through the official Virginia Judiciary website is easy with the aid of the global site search tool. Simply use the site search button at the top of the page.
What Percentage of Court Cases Go to Trial in Virginia?
A court trial is one of the basic rights that all Virginians enjoy. Court cases can be tried by Jury or decided by the Judge depending on the type of case, whether criminal or civil. The Virginia courts do not publicly disclose the overall percentage of court cases that go to trial. Hence, it is difficult to determine the exact percentage of cases that end up at a court trial. However, However, considering the annual caseload statistics it can be considered that only a minimal percentage of court cases go to trial. Since court cases are expensive, parties may decide to resolve them without trial by coming to terms with a legal agreement or participating in the programs suggested by the law enforcement agency.
How Long Does a Court Case Last in Virginia?
Every court case in Virginia follows a due process for litigation and trial in court before a verdict is issued. This means that there is no defined time frame for court cases. Some cases last anywhere from 90 days to a year or two. Upon court order, parties are informed of scheduled dates of appearance in court. However, criminal cases in Virginia are often issued a constitutional right to a speedy trial. This means that the criminal court process can move fast.
There are a couple of reasons why a case may take long or be resolved faster in court. For example, misdemeanors are overseen by bench trial with the jury or a judge as the factfinder. In most cases, a felony trial starts with a jury selection process, here the prosecution and defense can question selected jurors to ensure the impartiality of the juror’s verdict.
The trial involved a series of examining and cross-examining of the party's argument and evidence. Then, the Judge or jury will be given ample time to render their verdict. In most cases, misdemeanors usually require 3-5 months from the time the individual is charged, to the time of trial. On the other hand, felonies may take 6 to 12 months and even more, that is from arrest to the date of final sentencing.
How to File a Case in Court in Virginia
Anyone who needs to file a case in court should do so at the designated court in charge of handling the specific case or sending mail. Civil cases for example are filed at the county’s District Court while criminal cases like felonies are filed in the county’s circuit court. Fairfax county takes in-person filings at the Civil Division Clerk's Office.
People who file any case type can do so alone as file their case as a Pro Se litigant or hire a legal attorney to guide them through the process of filing the case in court. This is to ensure that they get the right form and put in the right details for an accurate trial in court. The court clerk will issue the party otherwise known as the plaintiff with a court form to fill in details such as the name of the party or business that they are suing otherwise called the defendant, their current address, and the reason for the suit.
Some county like Fairfax County requires pro se filers or their attorney to email the Clerk’s office first or call the office to be assigned an available date and time for case filings. Documents that are filed without the approval of the Court Clerk may be returned. The Court Clerk will process case filings as soon as they are received.
It is important to note that court clerks do not provide legal advice. They may answer basic procedural questions like Where do I put a party’s name, but may not suggest what procedures to follow. The clerk takes filing fees at the time of filing.
Once the entire process of filing is completed, the plaintiff or their attorney will be given copies of the form ‘warrant’ and serve a summon to the defendant. Summons or court papers can be filed by the Deputy Sheriff or mailed to the party. More details on how to file a case in court can be found on the Virginia Court official website or the county court official website.
What Does It Mean if a Court Case Was Resolved Before the Trial Date?
Pretrial motions can resolve most cases without going to trial. Attorneys often take this route to save their clients the stress of trial or court fines, if possible. Thus they try to strike a bargain with the opposing party or the court to terminate the litigation and end the conflict before the trial date. Depending on the type of case, there are recommended steps to take for a clean resolution outside the court.
Defendants in a criminal case for example are often offered plea bargaining. Often, when the defendant is perceived guilty of an accused crime, the plaintiff or Government may offer them a plea bargain to avoid trial and reduce a possible huge sentence in court. However, this means that the defendant must only plead guilty and accept their offense in an open court if they truly committed the said crime.
Once, the individual pleads guilty, they will be sentenced by the presiding court judge. Once the defendant pleads not guilty, the case is resolved without trial but they need to prepare for a sentencing hearing in court. It is now up to the judge to decide if they deserve a reduced sentence or not.
Per § 16.1-309.11, a defendant may apply for a Youth Justice Diversion Program proposed by the Virginia Department of Corrections to give Juveniles, first-time offenders of minor crimes, and past offenders a second chance. However, the defendant may be eligible for a diversion program if they have not served probation, are juveniles, been convicted of firearms or related sex offenses, child abuse, or aggressive felony in the past ten years. Serious convictions like rape and homicide may disqualify them regardless of the age of the criminal behavior.
The main goal of resolving the case before the trial date is to reduce sentencing or avoid the burden of court trials. So, one can visit their County Courts or state Judiciary for possible options on how to resolve a case before trial.