What is the FOIA?
The FOIA law is the Freedom of Information Act that was put into place in July of 1967 by President Lyndon B Johnson. This Act was set into place after it was decided the government should not keep things secret from the public any longer, as the public has a right to know what is going on in their nation.
The FOIA stated that all federal agencies in every state must provide all documentation to requesting citizens within a reasonable amount of time without any problems. There are some exclusions to this act however, most information that is kept on record should be open for public viewing.
As our technology evolves the regulations and rules changed in the FOIA including the release and accessibility of electronic records. In 1996 the law extended to the open information regarding access to public records via the internet and cut down the time on which it was to be obtainable making 10 days the limit for getting the public their requested information.
What are Virginia Laws Regarding Public Records?
In the State of Virginia, the Freedom of Information is a right to every citizen in the state and their open records laws include information contained by any federal government agency, public sector, or private to provide documentation upon the public request.
All public meetings and records should be assumed open unless otherwise advised and legal through the open records laws.
The Virginia Freedom of Information Act was put into place in order to give information to their citizens in a timely fashion without any trouble, and believe they have the right to view any information on file at all agencies unless otherwise stated.
What Information Does Virginia Consider to be Public Records?
In the State of Virginia, public records are any type of documentation held by any state agency including all physical forms owned by a public body or its officers’ employees or agencies. that includes but is not limited to:
- Handwriting, typing, or printed information
- magnetic impulse
- optical or magneto-optical form
- mechanical or electronic recording
This includes any form of data collection no matter how it may be stored or the physical form of characteristic. All information that is in the possession of this type of information must be made available to the public in the same documentation form as that of which the agency itself owns.
What is Virginia’s Open Meetings Law?
In the State of Virginia, the Open Meeting Law is a set of rules that have been placed to make it mandatory that all citizens have the right to be present for any meeting held by a federal agency. This law requires all agencies that fall under these sets of rules to provide ample amounts of notice so all citizens can be present if they wish to do so.
In these meetings, the public has the right to speak, offer opinions, and ask questions to get a better understanding of the information being presented.
How do you Request Public Records in the State of Virginia?
You can file a records request in the state of Virginia in multiple ways.
Jessica Killeen, Esq. – Deputy Counsel
Office of the Governor
Patrick Henry Building1
111 East Broad Street
Richmond, Virginia 23219
FOIA@governor.virginia.gov (must include “FOIA Request” in the subject box)
You can also request public records information by contacting any commonwealth department or the municipal building in your county depending on the records you are looking for. There are also multiple ways to find public information for the state of Virginia online.
Is There a Fee for Obtaining Public Records in Virginia?
In the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, each agency may charge a fee for records requests. This fee includes the amount of money it costs to recreate the documentation including the search time by staff, the recreation of the document, and the materials used to do so.
If the records you are requesting will cost over $200 to prepare, the agency has a right to request a deposit before the request will be conducted.
Each requesting person has the right to an estimated cost of the records they are asking for in order to be prepared for payment or have the option to reduce the information in the request to make the cost more manageable.
How Long Does It Take to Receive Records Once They Have Been Requested?
Once an agency receives your records request, they have five business days to respond back to you, whether the response is the records you have requested, partial records that were requested, the amount of time it will take to fulfill the request (cannot extend more than an extra seven days), or by giving you reasons as to why your request cannot be full-filled.
If there is no documentation on file regarding the information you are looking for, the government does not have to create a document for you.
What Records Are Excluded from The Freedom of Information Act?
There are over 100 exemptions from releasing certain records. There are even more laws in place that will only allow partial records to be released. Records that contain personal information or may impact the safety of someone may be excluded from public request. These agencies are covered by the law and do not have a legal bearing on granting records requests from the public.
Other records that may be held back from the public fully or partially include criminal records, records relating to children, and government official’s information.
Some of the information that may be excluded from a public request is, but not limited to:
- Personnel records
- Records subject to attorney-client privilege
- Attorney work product
- Vendor proprietary information software
- Records relating to the negotiation and award of a contract, prior to a contract being awarded.
- Working papers and correspondence of the Governor
- Victim information
- Health records
- Petit and grand juries
- Virginia State Crime Commission
- Information regarding ongoing investigations
- Investigator notes
- Some Educational information
- Health and social service records
What Happens if You are Denied Records?
If you are denied a record request by a government agency and you believe that the denial is unlawful, or if you receive records in which do not offer the proper information you are requesting you can contact the agency to dispute this directly with them.
If you still do not get the outcome, you feel is your legal right, you can then request for The Freedom of Information Council to step in and take an outside look into the situation to see if a mutual agreement and reconciliation can be made.
If you are still not happy with the outcome of the request issue, you can file a lawsuit against the agency denying you the records you are requesting. By filing a petition in any circuit court, you can have the government step in and take a look at the case.
If you win the case, you can be granted your court fees and the agency will then lawfully be responsible to provide you with the information you had requested within a reasonable amount of time.
Criminal and Court Records
In the state of Virginia, some criminal and court records are considered to be that of public record and some or all information may be available to view for free through each county or the state’s department of corrections office.
There are multiple laws in place protecting the rights of releasing criminal records and records of the officers and employees that work with the criminals in these cases. There is also a law preventing the public to access information into the victims of the cases and their personal information, this is to keep each victim’s identity safe and concealed.
The information that is available to the public per a public records request or an online search is for informational purposes only and if the information is used in order to gain access to private information on the person in which you are requesting records on are used to harass or abuse the person in any way, you will be subject to jail time and legal fines.
Criminal History Records
In the state of Virginia, criminal records can be obtained through a records request, in order to do this, you must have the notarized signature of the person you are requesting information on, or be the person on the request with proof of ID.
There are also State of Virginia-approved agencies that do not need to provide a notarized signature of the person being searched. The agencies approved for criminal records checks are as follows and can be used when a person is applying for a job position or any other reason to have direct contact with anyone involved with the agencies listed below:
- Domestic/ International Adoptions & Foster Care Agencies
- Hospital Pharmacy Employees
- Adult Home Care Facilities
- Licensed Homes for Adults
- District Homes for Adults
- Adult Day Care Centers
- Licensed Child Care Centers
- Unlicensed Child Care Centers
- Cities/Counties Under a Duly Enacted Ordinance
- Licensed Assisted Living Facilities
The agencies listed below are granted the right by the state of Virginia to gain access to a complete criminal history background of any person or persons they request information regarding through the CCRE.
- Alcoholic Beverage Control Board
- Specific Volunteer Agencies
- Foster Care Agencies*
- Domestic/International Adoption Agencies
- Gaming Commission
- Office of Interdepartmental Regulations*
- State Lottery*
- Armed & Unarmed Security Guard Companies
- Court Order/Subpoena
- Public School Boards*
- State Corporation Commission
- State Board of Elections
- Volunteer Fire & Rescue Depts.
- VISA/Passports for International Travel
- Virginia Racing Commission*
- Depts. Social Services–Mental Health/Retardation Substance Abuse*
- Virginia Power
Information that can be found on a criminal history report includes but is not limited to:
- Other known names or aliases
- Birthdate, race, gender, ethnicity
- Criminal fingerprints
- Criminal mugshot
- Information regarding all past offenses and convictions
- Any Indictments
- Past warrants
- Outstanding warrants
- History of arrests
The records are for the use of criminal background checks to keep the public safe from the wrong people getting jobs that may help them obtain easy access to vulnerable people. This information can only be obtained with legal clearance.
An Offender lookup is offered to the public for viewing at any time and the information listed in this lookup includes:
- Location of incarceration
- Release dates
- ID numbers
This is a limited detailed registry that holds the names and limited information regarding all offenders in the state of Virginia. This can be used by anyone in the public by online access or you can obtain this information by contacting your local police station.
Virginia Warrants Directory
An arrest warrant is a documentation signed by a judge authorizing law enforcement to legally arrest a person who is suspected of a crime. The arrest warrant is only signed off on if there is enough probable cause that would allow any officer and judge to feel there is good reason to believe the person on the warrant is in fact guilty of said crime.
These warrants allow law enforcement access to the home, work, or any other location in which the perpetrator may be residing at the time of the arrest. It can also give them the right to search the charged person’s home, car, and other personal belongings as long as it is clearly stated in the warrant.
In the state of Virginia, arrest warrants are considered to be that of public records. You can find arrest warrants on the State offenders’ website https://vadoc.virginia.gov/offender-resources/. Here you can find information on those who are currently being searched for and have active arrest warrants out on them.
To get information regarding your local area you can log onto your county or cities police department website and access their local warrants pages. The information you can access on these pages include:
- Warrants issued date
- Eye color
- Hair color
- Date of birth
Arrest warrants are available for public viewing and if you feel you have information regarding any person that is wanted by the Virginia police you should contact local law enforcement immediately. It is also important to remember to never take the apprehension of a wanted person into your own hands.
What is a Bench Warrant?
A bench warrant is an arrest warrant granted by a judge to arrest a person who failed to show up for their appointed court date. This differs from an arrest warrant because the arrest warrant is started and requested by a police officer who needs the approval of a judge to pick up a person they feel committed a crime.
A bench warrant is issued by the judge themselves when the person who was supposed to come before them did not show up.
Both warrants can serve fairly similarly and information regarding both can be accessed through public records.
How do You Have Your Criminal Records Expunged?
Unlike most other states, Virginia does not allow expungement for the length of time on record. Where a lot of other states are willing to allow an expungement after eight to ten years after the offense and no other crime had been committed since Virginia states that any criminal offense that you were found guilty of will never be expunged from criminal records throughout a lifetime.
If your records show a conviction on which you were never charged or the criminal charges were dropped or lessened to a conviction that did not require a severe crime to be placed on your records then you may petition the courts to have those records expunged.
Please see the information located in the Code of Virginia Law to decide if you are applicable for record expungement and the steps on how to do so.
Unsolved Case Information
Accessing information regarding unsolved cases, Case archives, and the state’s most wanted fugitives in each county of Virginia is made easy to do through websites such as Crime Solvers.
Here you are given access to unsolved case information and ways you can help capture the perpetrators in each crime by giving information anonymously or not in many different ways.
The information available to the public regarding unsolved cases includes but is not limited to:
- Detailed information regarding the case
- Location of the incident
- How to contact authorities if you have any information regarding the case
- Date and time the incident occurred
- Possible information regarding the victims in the case
You can locate inmates by looking onto the website of each individual county. There you will have access to up-to-date lists of each inmate in that county and their information. The information you can find on these inmate lists include but are not limited to:
- Date of Birth
- Booking date
- Inmate ID number
- Description of offenses charged
- Bond information
This information is provided to the public for informational purposes, it is a federal crime to use this information to harass or harm the inmates in these records and if caught doing so you will be punished by fines and jail time.
Virginia Sex Offender Registration Directory
In the State of Virginia, you can access a list of criminally charged sex offenders and offenders of crimes against minors through a Virginia State registry.
This registry was designed to give enough information to the public and previous victims of sex crime offenders to stay aware and protected. These offenders are required to register on the Virginia State registry within a noticeably short period of time after being released from jail.
Anyone who was convicted of a sexual crime in Virginia then moves to another state will have to register as an offender in that state, just as offenders from another state must register on the Virginia sex offender registry once they move to the state.
Information that can be found on the Virginia States sex offender registry includes but is not limited to.
- Alias Name
The information in these records is available to the public for safety reasons only, if this information is used to harass or harm the people in these records, the accused can face fines and jail time.
There is a lot of information in the State of Virginia that covers property records and the information you are allowed access to as citizens of this state. These records can help you identify who previously owned your home, information regarding the land surrounding your home, and public information regarding the area of your home. Some of the information you can request records for are listed below.
Virginia Land Records and Deeds Directory
The information available to the public regarding land records and deeds can be found on the Virginia land records and deeds directory. The information included on this page includes but is not limited to.
- Power of attorney
- Mortgage documentation
If you are unable to find the information you are looking for on the website and you believe you have a right to the information, you can call the Clerk of Circuit Court and request the records you are looking for.
Virginia Foreclosures and Tax Lien Sales Directory
Information regarding delinquent taxing and foreclosures are considered to be that of public records and the information regarding these issues can be located in the Foreclosures and tax liens sales directory.
The information that is available to the public regarding tax liens and foreclosures is but not limited to.
- Tax Code of Virginia (Title 58.1 and other tax-related provisions of the Virginia Code)
- Virginia Administrative Code (regulations)
- Legislative Summaries
- Rulings of the Tax Commissioner
- Tax Bulletins
- Attorney General Opinions relating to Tax Issues.
- Virginia Taxpayer Bill of Rights
- Annual Reports (1987 – current)
- Assessment Sales Ratio Studies (1998 – current)
- Virginia Taxable Sales Reports
- Local Tax Rates (1999 – current)
- Set-Off Program Guidelines
Virginia Assessor Virginia real and personal property tax records
In the State of Virginia, each county has a directory where you can access information regarding records where you can get information regarding the person who owns the land, their address, and the map number for that property.
If you are unable to access this information online, you can also contact the county assessor and request these records in person.
Vital records are accessible to the public in the state of Virginia online, through the state health department, or through the local municipalities that originally documented the information you are requesting.
Virginia offers genealogy records including but not limited to.
- Birth records
- Death records
- Marriage license
- Burial plots
- Census records
- Probate Records
- Military Records
Most of these records are available to the public online or by visiting your county or state library. Copies obtained from the library may cost a minimal fee for printing services.
Historical Birth and death certificates are available only after 100 years of the event date and can be requested through the local municipality of where the event took place or through the online database.
Will Requests in the state of Virginia
Wills that have already passed through probate are considered that of public records and can be requested through the circuit court in which the will was originally filed.
Virginia Birth Records Directory
In the state of Virginia, anyone can request a copy of their birth certificate through the Virginia Department of Health. You are able to request these records a few different ways and do require a fee before certificates will be released.
To request a birth certificate, you can log on to the VitaChek Online Order Form.
The fees associated with this format of records request are as follows:
$20.80 – For each document
$11.95 – VitaChek Service Fee
Fees to speed up delivery.
$18.50 – UPS Air – (note: cannot be delivered to a PO box)
$17.00 – UPS 2 Day Air – (note: cannot be delivered to a PO Box)
You can mail your request to:
VDH, Office of Vital Records
P.O. Box 1000
For a faster turnaround time, you can use the State of Virginia Records Request Online form!
Basic mail-in Vital Records requests turnaround time is around 8 weeks.
You can bring the request form, fee, and your ID to the office for a 2-hour pickup. This is a new service where you bring your request to the office of vital records, then come back two hours later to pick up your documentation.
To obtain your records per two-hour request for a standard fee of $12 per document due at the time of service.
Note: There are no refunds for any birth certificates that can not be found in the system of vital records for the person you are requesting information for. If there is no record, you will get a letter in the mail stating there is nothing on file.
Information that is required to be on a Birth Certificate Request includes:
- Birth Name
- Location of Birth
- Birth Mother’s Maiden name
- Father’s name (on certificate)
- Your relationship to the person on the certificate you are requesting
- The reason you are requesting the certificate.
- The best contact phone number to reach you at including area code.
- Number of copies you are requesting
Still Born Birth Certificates: To request the certificate for a stillborn birth you can access this form: Procedure for filling requests for a Certificate of Birth Resulting in a Stillbirth.
Who Can Request A Birth Certificate in The State of Virginia?
Although Birth Records are considered to be public records after 100 years from the event of birth, anything less than that is not available to just anyone in the public. These records can only be requested by and granted to the person on the certificate, legal guardian with proof of custody, the spouse with proof of marriage.
Virginia Death Records Directory
You can access the Virginia States Death records through the Virginia state Directory. This offers information regarding a residence death, burial plot, and obituary.
If you are looking to obtain a death certificate you can do so by following the same format listed above for obtaining a birth certificate.
The fee for all death Certificates is the same as the cost for a birth certificate. $12 per certificate unless subject to processing fees from online request or mailing fee for expedited shipping.
Information that needs to be listed in the records request for a death certificate is as follows.
- Name on the Certificate
- Parents names for the person on the certificate
- Date of death
- Location of death
- Your information including name, address, relationship to the person on the certificate.
- The reason you are requesting the certificate.
To find information regarding the location of a burial plot you can access the US Department of Veterans Affairs Nationwide gravesite locator.
Virginia Marriage Records Directory
You can obtain a copy of your marriage license online, by mail, or in person. Each certificate request will cost $12 per copy. An extra fee will be associated with this for online transaction service fees or any expedited shipping fees. (Please refer to information in the birth certificate section for extra fee information)
You can use the Virginia State of Health website request page to access your marriage license with a $12 fee as well by visiting OVR online request.
Virginia Divorce Records Directory
To request divorce records, you must contact the circuit court where the certificate was originally issued. You may also request your divorce certificate through the OVR online request site, giving them permission to request the information from the circuit court where the certificate was issued.
State of Virginia’s Military Records
Military personnel records are made public 62 years after the person leaves the military. The information available to the public regarding military records includes.
- Duty stations and assignments
- Training, qualifications, performance
- Awards and medals
- Disciplinary actions
- Emergency data
- Administrative remarks
- Other personnel actions.
Public records also include information regarding the discharge of military personnel, the information available for these records are as follows:
- Date and place of entry into active duty
- Home address at the time of entry
- Date and place of release from active duty
- Home address after separation
- Last duty assignment and rank
- Military job specialty
- Military education
- Decorations, medals, badges, citations, and campaign awards
- Total creditable service
- Foreign service credited.
- Reason for separation
- Type of separation
You can obtain these records through the Virginias Veterans Archives at Service Records or by requesting through your local veteran’s service office.
Mail your requests to:
1 Archives Dr.
St. Louis, Mo 63138
Fax a letter or completed form to
Note: You will receive your response in writing through the USPS.
Military Genealogy Records
You can access historical military records, through the online catalog of military records in the National Archives directory. Here you will have access to an extensive database of information including but not limited to:
- Compiled service records
- Muster rolls
- Pay vouchers
- Military rank
- Date mustered in and mustered out
- Basic biographical information
- Medical information
- Active-duty information
- Pension Applications
- Pension Payment Records
- Claims based on wartime service between 1775 and March 3, 1855
- Revolutionary War, War of 1812 records
- Records regarding the Early Indian War
- Records regarding the Mexican War
Community Health & Safety
In the State of Virginia, the public has the right to review information and documentation that have to do with the health and safety of the public, including the environment, traffic issues, and law, crime data statistics, etc.
Virginia Sustainability and Environmental Health Directory
By visiting the online site for the department of environmental quality you can access the records regarding information pertaining to:
- Underground storage of petroleum tanks
- The petroleum program database
- Environmental facts
- A toxic release inventory search
- Searches of EPA and state data for 800,000+ regulated facilities
- DEO air quality database
- Water quality standards
- Water quality assessments
- Permits and Regulations.
- Land and Waste information
Licensing and Permits
For information regarding the licenses of a business, you can access the State Corporation Commissions Clerks Information System. Here you can search for businesses registered with the commonwealth, accessing their RA History, filing history, and photo documentation from all previous filings without sending in a written records request.
You can also request the records of:
- Virginia Contractor Licenses Directory
- Virginia Professional Licenses Directory
- Virginia Bar Associations Directory
- Virginia Permits and Inspections Directory
- Virginia Voter and Elections Information Directory
- Virginia UCC Filings Directory
- Virginia Unclaimed Property Directory
Codes and Regulations
If you have any questions or interest in the information regarding codes and regulations in the State of Virginia, you access that on the Virginia Law website Virginia Codes. Here you can access information regarding but not limited to:
- Alcoholic Beverages
- Conservation and Natural Resources
- Criminal Justice and Corrections
- Economic Development
- Finance and Financial Institutions
- Labor and Employment
- Libraries and Cultural Resources
- Professional and Occupational Licensing
- Public Safety
- Public Utilities and Telecommunications
- Securities and Retail Franchising
- Social Services
- Transportation and Motor Vehicles
If you are looking to obtain information and records in person at any location, make sure you call each office ahead of time to ensure they are open to the public. All offices are handling the Covid-19 restrictions differently and a lot of public records are only being accessible online and through the mail.
If you are planning on visiting any state library in order to obtain genealogy information, call ahead to make sure you are allowed to visit the library in person and to obtain any information regarding your fees for researching and making copies of all records.