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Are Virginia Records Public?

Virginia records are mostly open to the public. Under the Virginia Freedom of Information Law, members of the Commonwealth of Virginia can view and copy all public records in the custody of a government agency. Virginia's FOIA also determines the process of obtaining these records and the type of documents accessible to the public. The following are examples of public documents in Virginia:

  • Virginia birth records
  • Virginia sex offender information
  • Virginia inmate records
  • Virginia property records
  • Virginia court records
  • Virginia arrest records or rap sheets.
  • Virginia death records
  • Virginia divorce records

The Virginia Freedom of Information Law defines public records as all information or data that documents a public agency's activity or transaction. In this context, public agency refers to cities, municipalities, commissions, and departments. Thus the state FOIA empowers state residents to request and obtain public records from designated record custodians.

Note: Not all public records are open to the public. The state law prohibits the disclosure of certain documents due to reasons like confidentiality and privacy.

Who Can Access Virginia Public Records?

All citizens of the Commonwealth can request and access Virginia public records from custodian agencies, according to title 2.2, chapter 37 of the Virginia Code. In addition, record seekers must prove they are citizens of the state by sending their names and address to custodian agencies alongside their public records requests. Va. Code § 2.2-3704(A).

However, incarcerated felons do not have the right to access any public document in Virginia. Sensitive and confidential documents, such as birth records and medical records, are not publicly accessible. Thus, record custodians may demand proof of identification before granting access to sensitive information. For example, the Virginia Department of Health issues copies of birth records to record subjects and other authorized entities.

What is Exempted Under Virginia Public Public Records

The Virginia Freedom of Information Law classifies certain documents as confidential and prevents record custodians from issuing the documents to the public. For example, materials or files generated solely for exhibition or reference are not available to the public. Other exempted data under the FOIA includes:

Attorney-Client Privilege Data

Under the FOIA, the data protected by attorney-client privilege are exempt from public disclosure. Examples of this section include written advice of legal counsel to regional or state agencies or employees of such agencies. This also covers legal memoranda and other data compiled for use in an ongoing administrative investigation or litigation on issues concerning the subject of a closed meeting. § 2.2-3711.

Examination or Test Materials

The FOIA exempts test or examination materials administered by a public agency to evaluate:

  • A prospective employee or an employee's aptitude test for employment, promotion, or retention;
  • A student's performance;
  • Application for a certificate or license issued by a public agency.

Investigatory Records and Data

Exempt records under this subsection cover the following:

  • Data on applications for permits and licenses submitted to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Virginia Lottery, and the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority;
  • Information on active investigations being conducted by any health regulatory agency in the state;
  • The Department of Medical Assistance Services’ investigatory report;
  • Records of Investigation conducted by the Virginia Lottery Department on lottery agents and vendors;
  • Article 4 (§ 9.1-138 et seq.). Information on an ongoing investigation carried out by the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services.

Trade Secrets and Proprietary Information

The FOIA exempts whole documents or redacts portions of a document containing the following proprietary data:

  • Proprietary data collated for or by the State's Port Authority. § 62.1-132.4 or 62.1-134.1;
  • Confidential financial data filed with applications for financing an industrial project. Chapter 49 (§ 15.2-4900 et seq.) of Title 15.2.
  • Confidential information filed under the Toxic Substances Information Act;
  • Fisheries data may reveal the information of certain persons or vessels unless disclosed by a court order. § 28.2-204;
  • Confidential financial statements and trade secrets submitted to the Department of Rail and Public Transportation;
  • Inventory or sales-related proprietary information provided by private energy suppliers to the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy.
  • Memoranda and other valuation data prepared by a public entity for the negotiations and evaluations of proposals filed under the Public-Private Education Facilities and Infrastructure Act of 2002;

Tax Information

§ 58.1-3 The Secrecy of Information prevents the Tax Commissioner, Treasurer, or any employee working under the state's tax office from revealing information on an individual's personal property, tax information, transactions, and income. This exclusion also applies to federal return information and financial documents filed with the Attorney General according to Article 3 (§ 3.2-4204 et seq). All information regarding nonprofit organizations excluded from sales and use tax in line with 58.1-609.11;

Personal Information

The FOIA exempts data on an individual's housing loans or assistance which is filed with the Virginia Housing Development. This section also covers information on persons on the waiting list of government-funded rent assistance programs.

Data on the Location of Hazardous Waste Facilities

The FOIA exempts information regarding the placement of hazardous waste facilities from public disclosure if it would harm a public agency's negotiations. §10.1-1441

Location of Endangered Specifics

According to the Virginia Freedom of Information Law, the location of rare and endangered animal and plant species and historical and archaeological sites are exempt from public access. The law exempts this information if the disclosure endangers the existence of the species or sites.

Where Can I Access Public Criminal Court Records in Virginia?

Virginia residents can access public criminal court records by contacting the court clerk where the court case occurred. In Virginia, the Circuit court clerk acts as the custodian of criminal court records and issues copies of the documents on request. Thus, record seekers may get the contact details of the court clerk via an online directory.

Likewise, the Virginia Judicial System provides online access to criminal court records from the Supreme Court, appeal courts, and Circuit courts at the state level. To access Virginia criminal court records via the Circuit Court's online portal, requesters must select the county where the court is located and click "begin.” Requesters must input the defendant's name, case number, and hearing date on the subsequent page. Criminal court cases under the Supreme Court's jurisdiction are accessible via the Appellate Case Management System (ACMS-SCV). Record seekers using the platform must fill out the following information on the platform:

  • Case category;
  • Petitioner or Respondent's name;
  • Lower tribunal;
  • Tribunal case number.

Alternatively, the ACMS-CAV is the online platform for obtaining Virginia criminal court case records filed at the state's appellate courts. Record seekers must select these options:

  • Case category;
  • Party's name;
  • CAV case type;
  • Lower tribunal;
  • Case status (active or inactive);
  • Tribunal case number.

How Do I Find Public Records in Virginia?

Commonwealth citizens can find public records by contacting the public agency responsible for issuing the documents under the FOIA. Although the method of obtaining Virginia public records differs for each custodian agency, record seekers may receive public documents via these steps:

  1. Identify the Requirements for Obtaining the Preferred Public Record

    Interested persons seeking to learn how to access public records in Virginia must identify the specifics of obtaining the preferred record. For instance, public records are only accessible to state residents or citizens. Moreover, record custodians may require proof of identification from requesters before releasing the documents in their custody. Although Virginia public agencies do not require a statement of purpose, some agencies might restrict public records access to only the record bearer. For example, record seekers prove their relationship to the record subject before obtaining vital records at the Virginia Department of Health.

  2. Contact the Custodian Agency Holding the Preferred Document

    In Virginia, custodian agencies are responsible for maintaining and providing access to Virginia public documents. Thus, interested record seekers must find and contact the public agency holding the preferred paper. Also, record seekers must note the agency's mode of issuing copies of public documents. Custodian bodies may maintain an online or offline platform for issuing records.

    Case in point, the Virginia Department of State Police issues copies of criminal history checks to interested persons offline. To access the information, record seekers must download and fill out the necessary forms and mail the request to the address provided below:

    Mailing Address:
    P.O. Box 27472
    Richmond, VA 23261

    In contrast, copies of criminal history records are obtainable via in-person request at the address below:

    Administrative Headquarters
    7700 Midlothian Turnpike
    North Chesterfield, VA 23235
    Phone: (804) 674-2131
    Email: Background_Checks@vsp.virginia.gov

    Interested persons and entities can only access online versions of Virginia court records via the state-maintained judicial system platform. The platform features different search portals for cases recorded at the Supreme Court, appeal courts, and Circuit court. In addition to this, the court clerk provides offline access to court records in the state.

  3. Create and Send Request for Virginia Public Records

    Record seekers must submit a verbal or written request to obtain Virginia public records from record custodians. In some cases, record seekers may download a request form from the custodian agency's official website. For example, the Virginia Department of Health provides downloadable request forms for obtaining vital records.

    Not all record custodians provide request forms. Hence, requesters may write a letter requesting public documents at a custodian agency. Note that a written request must detail the listed data:

  • The requester's complete name;
  • The record bearer's birth date (if known);
  • The record bearer's full name or aliases, and other identifying information;
  • A case number (this applies to court records);
  • The case type;
  • Purpose of the request - provide a detailed description of your request;
  • Date range when the record was documented;
  • Preferred mode of delivery;
  • Record seeker’s contact details;
  • Additional information to assist with the search.
  1. Attach the Required Fee

    Some records are available at no cost, while others might require a fee. The fee amount and payment method differ depending on the custodian agency's requirements. For mail requests, record seekers are often required to attach the necessary fee in a money order or cashier's check. In contrast, the agency may accept credit/debit card payments and cash for an in-person request for Virginia public records.

  2. 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 extensive 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 Virginia

The Virginia Freedom of Information Act allows record custodians to charge for the cost of responding to public records requests. Public agencies may charge fees depending on these factors:

  • The total time for searching for the requested document;
  • Cost of copying the record;
  • Additional costs of providing the requested document.

If the record retrieval costs more than $200, record custodians may require the requester to pay a deposit before responding to the request. Furthermore, requesters can contact the records office to know the estimated cost of obtaining such records. This will enable requesters to avoid unnecessary financial issues and modify the request to lower costs.

How Do I Lookup Public Records for Free in Virginia?

Obtaining a free public record in Virginia is dependent on the agency in charge of the document and type of record. Thus, interested persons asking where can I search public records for free may utilize the following options:

  1. In-person Inspection of Virginia Records

    Some custodian agencies may allow inspection of public records in their custody. For example, interested Virginia citizens can inspect or view records, such as genealogical resources, business records, and tax records, at the Library of Virginia. The Library of Virginia is the principal custodian of all government-generated records in the state. Hence, requesters can inspect public records at any of the public terminals in the Library of Virginia. On the other hand, law enforcement agencies may allow record subjects and crime victims to view arrest records for free.

  2. Request for Online Copies of Virginia Public Documents

    Virginia public agencies may maintain online databases for public documents. Sometimes, these online public documents are obtainable for free. For instance, Virginia sex offenders' information is accessible via an online search portal. The Virginia Department of State Police via the Sex Offender and Crimes against Minors Registry is the custodian of all registered and absconded sex offenders. To access sex offender information via the registry, record seekers may use one of the search options listed below:

  • Search by address;
  • Search by zip code;
  • Search by County;
  • Search by School.

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

Under the FOIA, requesters do not need to provide a statement of purpose before getting public documents in Virginia. However, the law requires custodians to ask the requester's name and address to verify that they are state residents.

What Happens if I'm Refused a Public Records Request?

Record seekers must petition the court in the case of request denial. The court will commence actions against any employee or officer of a public agency that willfully and knowingly violated the Virginia Freedom of Information Law. Per § 2.2-3714. Violations and penalties, the court will impose a civil penalty within $500 to $2,000 on the public officer guilty of violating the FOIA. However, the court may impose a higher civil fine from $2,000 to $5,000 for a second-time violation.

Per the state statutes, public agencies must respond to a public records request within five days of receiving the request. In addition, record custodians must respond in writing if the document is under the FOIA exemption list. Agencies may take an additional seven business days to respond to public records requests under these situations:

  • If the request is for a large quantity of Virginia public record;
  • If the agency can’t supply the requested document within the five-day period due to logistics problems,

How to Remove Names From Public Records Search

As of 2021, the state law has no provision for sealing an adult's conviction records. However, Va. Code Ann. § 19.2-392.2(J) allows persons acquitted of criminal charges and those pardoned by a state executive to petition the court to seal their criminal records. Also, record subjects may expunge public records via these options:

  1. Record Sealing Under the HB 2113

    The HB 2113 and SB 1406 allows record subjects to remove their names from public records search under these options:

  • Automatic sealing for underage marijuana and alcohol possession, misdemeanor non-convictions, and some misdemeanor convictions;
  • Record sealing for low-level felony convictions via a petition-based court process.
  1. Deferred Dispositions

    The Virginia deferred disposition law is an alternative option for individuals with conviction records. Although the law does not expunge conviction records, it enables the court to dismiss certain charges and offenses. Under this law, the following crimes are discharged:

  • First-time drug offense;
  • Misdemeanor property offense;
  • Also, the court applies the deferred disposition law to persons with intellectual disability and autism.
  1. Record Sealing of Non-conviction Records

    Va. Code Ann. § 19.2-392.2 authorizes the expungement of non-conviction records like arrest records, especially if the record subject is a first-time offender. Furthermore, the court may seal records if the public document has led to discrimination against the offender.

  2. Record Sealing of Juvenile Records

    Juvenile records in Virginia are exempt under the FOIA. Moreover, state courts automatically destroy juvenile criminal records if the juvenile is at least 19 years old.

  3. Record Sealing of Sex Offenders' Information

    Under the Va. Code Ann. § 9.1-910, persons convicted of sexual offenses may petition the court to seal records after a minimum waiting period. Note that the type of sex offense determines the minimum waiting period. Sometimes, the minimum waiting period may range from 15 to 25 years after completing the sentence. Most importantly, sex offenders must complete all court-mandated counseling, restitution, and treatments.

What is the Best Public Record Search Database?

Virginia government agencies, departments, boards, and commissions are often the best public search database for accessing public records at the state and local levels. For example, the Virginia State Department of Police maintains the best public record search database for inmate records and sex offenders' information.

The Fairfax County Sheriff's Office maintains an extensive repository of all crime reports and data documented in the county at the county level. Interested persons may access the crime reports via online weekly crime data in excel format.

Likewise, the Clerk of the Court Land Records in Prince William County is the best public record search database for all property records in the county. To access property records in the county, record seekers may visit the public agency in person at the address below:

Clerk of the Court Land Records
9311 Lee Avenue
3rd Floor
Manassas, VA 20110.
Phone: (703) 792-6035

The Circuit Court Clerk’s Office in Virginia Beach County is responsible for generating and issuing copies of criminal and civil court records to interested persons. Record seekers may contact the Circuit Court Clerk at the address below:

2425 Nimmo Parkway
Building 10 & 10B, 3rd Floor
Virginia Beach, VA 23456-9017
Phone: (757) 385-4186, (757) 385-4188 - Civil Division
Phone: (757) 385-4187 - Criminal Division

It takes five days for a Virginia public agency to respond to public records requests in the state.