Are Virginia Court Records Public?
Yes. According to the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Virginia court records are public records that are accessible to anyone without having to present a statement of purpose. The Virginia FOIA is a set of laws established to guarantee public access to all public records of government bodies at all levels in the state. A public record is any writing or recording, regardless of nature, whether a paper record, an electronic file, an audio or video recording prepared, owned by, or in possession of a public body or its officers, employees, or agents in the transaction of public business.
Virginia does not restrict the use of public records after obtaining them but limits the right of incarcerated felons to request any record whatsoever. Note that entire records or portions of court records may be sealed from public access if they are considered confidential. For example, most juvenile court records are considered confidential in Virginia per Virginia Code § 16.1-305.
The Virginia FOIA was enacted in 1968 and has gone through several amendments. The 1999 General Assembly made significant changes to the FOIA in a bid to clarify previously ambiguous provisions. The 1999 amendments also restructured portions of the statute and took away some of the cumbersome languages of the FOIA.
Another round of amendments in 2004 made searching for exemptions to disclosure of records less tedious by reorganizing the 100-plus exemption list into structure heading and sections. In 2005, new rules were added to the FOIA, which permitted state agencies to meet electronically under very specific circumstances and procedures.
What Shows Up on a Virginia Court Records Search
Virginia court records are documents, including any records or papers connected to a hearing or case, which have been filed in a Virginia court and are kept by the clerk's office, according to the Virginia Code, Regulations, and Statutes. Generally, Virginia court records include, among other things, records of pleadings, docket details, motions, decisions, court orders, evidence, and transcripts of proceedings.
In Virginia, court records can be viewed by the public unless a court order or a state statute restricts access. Persons who wish to obtain court records may consult the official repository maintained by the court of jurisdiction or use online court records search services, provided they have the necessary search parameters. The names of the case parties, the county, the case title, the case number, the type of court document, etc., are all possible search parameters.
How Do I Find Court Records in Virginia?
The first step to take when trying to obtain court records in Virginia is to verify the court where the case in question was held. The next step is to visit the courthouse location to request court records from the record custodian in the court. The Clerks of Court are usually the record custodians in Virginia courts. Court records are typically kept in paper or electronic formats. Hence, requesters can find court records in any of these ways:
- Visiting the local courthouses to obtain paper copies of court records
- Visiting the local courthouses to view electronic copies of court records from public access terminals
- Accessing local courthouse websites or the Virginia Court System website online for electronic copies
How to Obtain Virginia Court Records in Person
In-person requesters can access paper copies of court records at courthouses for nominal fees. Requesters can also access electronic copies of court records by using the public access computer terminals in the Clerks' offices. To locate the address for any court in Virginia, visit the directories page on the Virginia judicial system's website.
The Supreme Court of Virginia provides online access to its Appellate Case Management System (ACMS-SCV). Through this system, requesters can find case information for Supreme Court records by entering SCV record numbers or combinations of the following search items:
- Names (last and first)
- Case Type
- Lower Tribunal
- Tribunal Case number
Note that the ACMS-SCV system is unavailable from 3:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. every night.
Virginia Court Records Public Access
Case information from the Court of Appeals can also be accessed using the ACMS-CAV system by entering a Court of Appeal of Virginia (CAV) Record number or any combination of search items as listed above for Supreme Court case information search. The system also undergoes nightly maintenance, during which it is unavailable.
Case records of Virginia Circuit Courts proceedings can be viewed on the Circuit Court Case Information page of the Virginia Judiciary System website. However, not every Circuit Court in Virginia offers public access to court records on this portal. Examples of circuit courts that do not provide case records on the case information system are the circuit courts of Alexandria and Fairfax. To begin a search on the page, select the court in question.
Relevant case information such as name, case number, or hearing date will be required for a successful search. Statewide searches are not possible using this portal. Searches must be done by individual courts. To obtain court records for Circuit Courts in Alexandria and Fairfax, contact the courts directly. Visit the Individual Circuit Court page of the Virginia Judicial System website to find the addresses of all Circuit Courts in Virginia.
General District Court case records can be accessed from the General District Court Online Case Information System page of the Virginia Judiciary System website. Traffic/criminal cases can be searched using the name, case number, hearing date, or service/process search option. Civil case records can also be found using any of the four options mentioned. Information regarding the following types of cases is not available through the General District Court Online Case Information System:
- Protective orders (e.g., emergency protective orders, preliminary protective orders, and protective orders)
- Civil commitment proceedings (e.g., emergency custody orders, temporary detention orders, and involuntary commitments)
- Medical emergency custody and temporary detention orders.
How to Conduct a Virginia Court Record Search by Name
In Virginia, a requester can go to the courthouse where the case was filed and submit a request by giving the county clerk's office the parties' names to conduct a court record search by name.
Alternatively, the searcher may use the Online Case Information System (OCIS) to do a court record search by name. In addition to the party name, the searcher will need to specify the case type, the specific court level, the case category (criminal/traffic), or the court’s location to narrow down the search. OCIS is free to use, and searchers can sign up with a working phone number or an email address to get text or email alerts about most cases.
How to Get Court Records Online for Free
The Supreme Court's Online Case Information System portal, which also serves as the state repository for data on court records, allows free online access to court documents in Virginia. A name, case number, or hearing date search can be done. This platform is used by the majority of the state's circuit courts, and other search parameters include court levels, court divisions, and particular courts. Another way to get access to court records in Virginia is via third-party repositories.
Considered open to citizens of the United States, court 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.
What Shows Up on Virginia Judgment Records?
Virginia judgment records describe the court's decision on the contested issues in a case after examining case facts, following a trial, or the jury's verdict. A judgment is issued at the end of a case, and entering the court's decision or order into the court record by the clerk makes it official and binding. A copy of this document is also available to interested members of the public per the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.
The basic requirement to obtain judgment records in Virginia is to possess the necessary details to identify the case file. But first, the requester must identify the record custodian - this is usually the clerk at the court where the case was handled and finalized. Armed with this information, visit the clerk's office during regular business hours and submit a request specifically for the judgment record.
The administrative staff will require the case identifying details and payment for administrative fees before processing the request. The most efficient case-identifying details include the case number, litigants' names, and judgment year. The name of the presiding judge and the year of judgment are also useful information for identifying court records. When the administrative staff retrieves the judgment record sought, the requester will have the option to obtain regular copies of the document or certified copies. Regular copies of judgment records suffice for information purposes, while certified copies are required for official purposes like enforcing a lien.
The information contained in a Virginia judgment record varies with the case. Still, a typical judgment record will contain the names of the persons involved, a brief description of the case background, the judge's decision or order, the judge's name, and the judgment date.
Are Virginia Bankruptcy Records Public?
Virginia bankruptcy records are open to the public. They contain information on debtors who have filed for bankruptcy. People and companies in Virginia with debts who cannot afford to pay their debts or want to settle their debts without losing their business can file for bankruptcy only in federal courts. The bankruptcy court system was established in 1978 as part of the Bankruptcy Reform Act to settle the different categories of personal and corporate bankruptcy cases. There are two federal courts that handle bankruptcy in Virginia: either the Eastern or Western District Courts of Virginia.
- The Western District of Virginia has bankruptcy offices in Roanoke, Lynchburg, and Harrisonburg
- The Eastern District of Virginia has bankruptcy offices in Alexandria, Norfolk, Richmond, and Newport News.
As part of court proceedings, Virginia bankruptcy records are available in the public domain. The records usually include financial information such as income, assets list of creditors, the amount owed, and identification documents.
Interested persons may request bankruptcy records alongside Virginia liens, mortgage agreements, writs, judgments, and contracts from the record custodian in their judicial district. However, requestors are typically required to provide relevant information about the record of interest to facilitate the search. The requesting party will also be charged a nominal fee in some cases.
How to Find Bankruptcy Records in Virginia
Bankruptcy records are retained at the court clerk's office where the case was filed and can be accessed by anybody who is interested, just like any other court record. These data are often accessible at the federal court level because bankruptcy is a federal case. Virginia has two bankruptcy districts: the Eastern and Western Bankruptcy Districts, each of which also has a number of divisions handling bankruptcy filings from specific counties.
Bankruptcy records are available to requestors via mail, in person, or online via the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) search engine. PACER users must register to access bankruptcy court records for $0.10 per page. On the other hand, persons who prefer to obtain bankruptcy records in person or by mail must first find the court’s contact information. Thereafter, they may send a mail request or visit the courthouse and submit the case number or party’s name to conduct a search. There is a $35.00 search charge and $0.50 per page to reprint bankruptcy records.
Can You Look Up Court Cases in Virginia?
Yes. Virginia provides online access for requesters to access court cases, and a Virginia court case lookup may be performed using one of the state’s resources or a third-party alternative. The Virginia judicial system hosts different portals for requesters to look up court cases from the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, Circuit Courts, and the General District Courts. Interested persons may access these portals remotely to look up court cases or visit local courthouses to use public access terminals to look up court cases. Note that confidential records are exempt from access.
Virginia Court Case Lookup Exemptions
In Virginia, court records are regarded as public records and are accessible to the public. Information on court cases is open to the public, although some case files are restricted due to court orders or state laws. Some records, such as juvenile case files, child custody records, divorce records, or confidential marriage records, may be ordered to be kept secret by the court. Only the parties to the case files or their legal representatives may have access to these materials in such circumstances.
In Virginia, certain files - including those having an actual signature, a social security number, a date of birth associated with a specific person, and any financial account number or numbers, among other details - are exempt from public remote access through the case management system. Only those involved in the case, their attorneys, any third parties selected by the court, and court personnel should have access to the aforementioned material.
How to Find a Court Docket in Virginia
A Virginia Court Docket is a formal record of each court case that is heard in one of the state's several courts. It includes details about the parties involved, counsel, witnesses, hearings, motions, orders, dispositions, and other information. On docket sheets, searchers can expect to find court dates and times, the location of the hearing, the case number, and the nature of the hearing.
This information is essentially helpful for giving case information to support keeping track of court case dates and deadlines, especially for self-represented litigants. Court clerks keep track of court dockets, which are accessible to the public at the courthouse or on the official court website. For example, Fairfax County offers online access to circuit court dockets using party or attorney name searches.
Types of Courts in Virginia
The Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, the Circuit Courts, and the District Courts are the four levels of the Virginian judicial system.
- District Courts hear all cases involving offenses that violate the laws of the city or county where the courts are located and all matters involving children or minors under the age of 18.
- The Circuit Courts have general jurisdiction over criminal and civil cases in the state. In addition, a circuit court can hear appeals from district courts and administrative bodies.
- The Court of Appeals has appellate purview of circuit court judgments in civil, criminal, and administrative agency proceedings as well as final decisions made by the Virginia Workers' Compensation Commission.
- The Supreme Court of Virginia has original and appellate jurisdiction, meaning it can hear important cases first and review judgments made by lower courts.
Civil vs Small Claims Courts in Virginia: Understanding the Difference
Civil claims in Virginia are filed in the General District Courts for disputes where the amount in controversy is up to and including $25,000, with certain exceptions. Civil actions may be brought before the District Courts by summons, warrants, or motions for judgment. This requires the person against whom the claim is being asserted to appear before the district court on a specific day to answer the complaint.
Virginia small claims courts are a special division of the General District Court with jurisdiction over civil cases in instances where the plaintiff seeks a money judgment up to $5,000 or recovery of personal property valued up to the same amount. Small claims court procedures are relaxed, and the process is inexpensive and prompt. Hence, it makes an excellent forum for straightforward disputes, such as automotive repair disputes and security deposit cases. The simplified procedures of small claim courts permit evidence to be admitted at the judge’s discretion beyond what is generally allowed by formal rules of practice, procedure, pleading, or evidence. The judge makes all decisions as no juries arbitrate in small claims proceedings.
According to the Code of Virginia 16.1-122.1 through 16.1-122.7, neither party to a small claims court case may be represented by an attorney. The court is meant for pro se litigants only. Small claims court forms must be completed by the plaintiffs representing themselves or representing corporations and partnerships. No provisions are made for unlawful detainer/eviction actions seeking possession of real property in small claims court. Such cases are to be filed as civil actions. To file a case in the small claims court, the plaintiff must be at least 18 years old or an emancipated minor.