West Virginia Court Records
What are West Virginia Juvenile Court Records?
West Virginia Juvenile court records are documents that contain the detailed history of a juvenile’s misdeeds, rehabilitation, and convictions/adjudication. They are generated in the juvenile division of the West Virginia Circuit Courts. The State of West Virginia defines a child or juvenile as any person under 18 who is transitioning into an adult. When such individuals violate state or municipal law, they are called juvenile delinquents. Unlike adult offenders, they are handled by the West Virginia Juvenile Justice System. The system is made up of the Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR), the West Virginia State Courts, and the Bureau of Juvenile Services (BJS). The primary purpose of the statutes, rules, and the entire system is to create and maintain a structure of coordinated child welfare and juvenile justice services.
What Information is Contained in a West Virginia Juvenile Record?
Generally, juvenile records contain all findings and court orders regarding a juvenile court proceeding, and the clerk of the juvenile court maintains them. The records are made up of a collection of the following:
- The juvenile petition that initiates the case,
- The specific facts and allegations against the child,
- Details of informal resolution or diversion program(s),
- Custody orders,
- Formal notifications,
- Court findings or evidence,
- The child’s academic, health, and social history,
- Details of the adjudicatory hearings,
- The presiding judge,
- The child’s attorney information,
- Disposition and sanctions, etc.
What Cases are Heard by West Virginia Juvenile Courts?
The Juvenile Division of the West Virginia courts handle cases of juvenile acts of delinquency or status offenses. According to Chapter 49 of the West Virginia Code, acts of juvenile delinquency are actions that will be considered crimes under state or municipal law if committed by an adult. Examples include assault, robbery, murder, sex-related offenses, violent crimes against the elderly, etc. In contrast, status offenses are actions or deemed unlawful because of a juvenile’s status as a minor and because those actions could be harmful or self-destructive. In West Virginia, such offenses are non-criminal in nature. The West Virginia justice system considers the following offenses to be status offenses:
- Failure to respond to the lawful supervision by a parent, guardian,
- Behaviors that threaten the juvenile’s safety, or the welfare of any other individual
- Running away or eloping
- Leaving the care of a parent, guardian, foster parent, or custodian without consent or good cause
- General ungovernability
- Habitual absence from school without good cause.
- Underage offenses such as the use or possession of alcohol or tobacco by minors
Who is Eligible to View Juvenile Records in West Virginia?
West Virginia juvenile records are not public records; hence, they cannot be disclosed to any person or entity that is not authorized by law. All agencies that create and maintain records and information concerning children or juveniles are mandated by law to keep them confidential and unavailable to any individual or entity, including any federal or state agency. The records are typically stored by the Division of Juvenile Services, the Department of Health and Human Resources, children agencies or facilities across the state, courts, law enforcement agencies, etc.
Exceptions to this law include the subject of the record, the child’s parent or guardian, the child’s attorney, probation department personnel, and the corrections department personnel. Other than these individuals, the disclosure of such information is only allowed if it is authorized by Article 5 of the Child welfare statutes under specific terms and conditions. They are The county superintendent, authorized school officials, especially in cases where the child has been charged with a violent offense. The court has reason to believe that the juvenile committed the offense. In this case, the information disclosed to them shall include only:
- Copies of the arrest report
- Copies of all investigations
- Copies of any mental health and psychological assessment results
- Copies of any evaluation reports from rehabilitation or detention facilities
- Other materials, files, or documents that will inform the school or facility of the potential danger that the juvenile may pose to themself or others
However, the law prohibits these individuals from accidentally or negligently distributing certain juvenile records to unauthorized individuals or entities. The law mandates that if this happens, the individual must rectify the mistake. However, if the act was committed intentionally, the perpetrator will be subjected to both criminal and civil penalties.
Further, depending on the nature of the offense, the name and identity of any juvenile adjudicated or convicted of a violent or felonious crime is available for public inspection, and the related law enforcement records are accessible upon the order of a court.
How to Find Juvenile Records in West Virginia
Juvenile records of delinquency proceedings conducted under Chapter 49 of the West Virginia Code are generated and maintained by the West Virginia Circuit Courts. However, these files are not open for public inspection as the law does not allow disclosure of juvenile records unless it is authorized by the Child Welfare Act (Juvenile Act). Nevertheless, the law also provides that, if the juvenile proceedings were transferred to the adult criminal proceedings or court, the record becomes public information and thereby retrievable from the West Virginia Judiciary. Specifically, most court records are not available online; hence, the inquirer must visit the court that heard the case to obtain copies of the records of interest.
Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching simpler, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:
- The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
- The location or assumed location of the record or person involved. This includes information such as the city, county, or state that the person resides in or was accused in.
Third-party sites are independent from government sources, and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party sites may vary.
Can you Lookup West Virginia Juvenile Records Online?
No, West Virginia juvenile records are not accessible online. Along with records sealed or expunged by court order, juvenile records will not show up in any online search on state-run or third party databases unless the case was transferred to the adult court. In this case, the record becomes part of the individual’s criminal history. Criminal history reports are obtainable from the West Virginia’s Criminal Identification Bureau, but only with the Superintendent’s approval and a written authorization signed and acknowledged by the subject of the record.
Do West Virginia Juvenile Records Show up on Background Checks?
Generally, unless the specific record meets the exceptions to confidentiality, they cannot show up on a background check. As a result, the availability of juvenile records on background checks may depend on the nature of the offense the child delinquent committed. Suppose the juvenile was adjudicated or convicted of a violent offense or felony. In that case, the child’s name and identity are available to the public and will show up on a background check unless the record is sealed or expunged.
How Long are Juvenile Records Kept in West Virginia?
Although juvenile record sealing in West Virginia is discretionary rather than automatic, the judiciary provides child delinquents with the opportunity to protect their rights when they reach adulthood by sealing/expunging their records. This is so that their offenses do not stand as barriers to their futures. Hence, the juvenile act provides that the records should be sealed a year after the juvenile’s 18th birthday or one year after juvenile or personal jurisdiction is terminated.
The records are kept in separate confidential files in the circuit court where the case was heard. Then, they are physically marked to signify that they are confidential files that must be secure and that no one can have access to determine the juvenile’s identity, except upon order of the circuit court. Despite being physically available, these sealed records have the legal effect of extinguishing the offense as if it never occurred.