Most court documents are public records in West Virginia, meaning that you are allowed under the Freedom of Information Act to inspect or copy them. You may be charged a fee for doing so, but the law requires it to be reasonable. Civil and criminal case records are maintained by the circuit court in the county where the proceedings took place. If the case was a federal one, its records are maintained at the federal courthouse that handled the matter. Court documents can be retrieved in person and online.
Records at the Local Courthouse
Circuit courts throughout West Virginia house a variety of court records. Common case records include those involving divorce, custody, child support, civil lawsuits, criminal prosecutions, adoptions and guardianships. Generally, cases are recorded in the county where the case took place. If you want copies of a certain record rather than only inspect it, contact the circuit court where the record is held for instructions on how to submit the request, as these can differ between courthouses. Court records may also be available from the state's magistrate courts, family courts and supreme court of appeals.
Federal Court Records Available Online
If you want information on a case presided over by a federal district, appellate or bankruptcy court in West Virginia, you need only go as far as your computer. The federal judiciary has made these records available online through the PACER, Public Access to Court Electronic Records, database. You must sign up for an account online, similar to creating an email account. There's no charge to do this. Charges only accrue once you start ordering court records. However, if your orders total $15 or less within a quarter, the charges will be waived. You also have the option of going to the federal courthouse where a case was heard to obtain these documents.
Court Records Accessible From Third Parties
You are not limited to government agencies when it comes to ordering court records. You can also get this information from third-party providers, including local paralegals and legal couriers. For example, if you're looking for a subscription service, Circuit Express provides online access to the court records of West Virginia's 38 circuit courts. However, this access is not free. As of the date of publication, you must pay a one-time set up fee of $125, monthly fee of $38 and $1 for each minute you're connected to Circuit Express's online database. If you don't search court records regularly, other online sites may be a better fit and a cheaper option. PeopleSmart will send a court runner to the courthouse and pull the record for you -- for a fee, of course.
Some Records Are Off-Limits
In West Virginia, as in most states, certain court documents are not available to the public. For example, juvenile court records are generally confidential. Only a handful of exceptions exist: for example, a juvenile's court records may be released to a school official if he's been charged with a crime of violence against another person or possession of a deadly weapon. Domestic relations records, such as those pertaining to child custody and support, are also not available to the public. Only the final order, the judgment handed down by the court, is available. Also, sensitive personal information may be redacted from court records.