West Virginia Court Records
West Virginia Warrant Search
A warrant is a writ issued by a magistrate directing any member of the West Virginia Department of Public Safety or any officer authorized by law to serve warrants to execute an order. A warrant search may become necessary in West Virginia when law enforcement agencies receive reports or complaints of suspicious behavior or criminal activity. It unveils information on active warrants issued in the state. It also furnishes the searcher with information about the subject of the warrant, including their legal name, aliases, age, sex, ethnicity, offense, previous arrests, warrant number, and bail or bond information.
For the public, conducting a warrant search in West Virginia requires the researcher to determine and identify the issuing county or the municipality where the warrant was signed and identifiable information about the person named in the warrant. Generally, warrant information in West Virginia is available through local law enforcement agencies and third-party aggregate search services.
Are Warrants Public Records in West Virginia?
Yes. The West Virginia Freedom of Information Act guarantees the right of all persons to request public records or any written material prepared, owned, or maintained by a public body. To further establish the above law, chapter 29B, article 1 of the West Virginia Code defines a public body as every state officer, agency, or department, including the executive and judicial departments; every county and city governing body, department, or agency or any other body created by a state or local authority.
A magistrate issues warrants upon the complaint or affidavit attached to a complaint by a state or local law enforcement agency establishing probable cause to carry out an otherwise illegal act. Hence, warrants come within the statutory definition of public records created, owned, and maintained by a government body.
Per rule 48 of the Rules of Juvenile Procedure (W. Va. R. Juve. Proc. 48), all affidavits, warrants, and duplicates served to a juvenile offender shall be deemed a juvenile record. As such, these records are exempt from public disclosure under §49-5-103 West Virginia Code. Custodians of warrant information may also exercise discretionary powers over search warrants.
Types of Warrants in West Virginia
The types of warrants recognized by the legal system in West Virginia include:
- Arrest Warrants: An arrest warrant is a legal document issued by a judge that permits a law enforcement officer to arrest a person who has committed an offense or is reasonably believed to have committed an offense.
- Bench Warrants: A bench warrant in West Virginia is an order issued "from the bench" to arrest a person who failed to attend a scheduled court hearing and does not appear voluntarily within 24 hours of the scheduled hearing. It is an order directing the police to bring such a person before the court.
- Search and Seizure Warrants: A search and seizure warrant authorizes a police officer to search a person or premises for evidence of a crime and seize all illegal items, contraband, or items used in committing a crime.
- Capias Warrant: A capias is also a bench warrant in West Virginia. A capias is an order issued by a magistrate or a judge when a person fails to appear in court when summoned, pay mandated fines and court fees, or obey court orders. Usually, the order is issued to the police to arrest the person and bring them before the court immediately or until a date for hearing is scheduled. However, under the new law signed by the Senate in 2023 (SB633), when a person is arrested under capias, the issuing judge or magistrate arranges a hearing within five days of the arrest. Also, before a capias is issued, the person must have received effective notice at least ten days before the scheduled court date.
Effective notice must contain the date, time, location, and purpose of the hearing sent to the defendant's residence or their legal counsel. When a person is said to receive an effective notice but does not have a history of nonappearance, the court cannot issue a capias until 24 hours after the scheduled hearing has lapsed.
What is a Search Warrant in West Virginia?
Rule 41 (a) of the West Virginia Rules of Criminal Procedure provides that a magistrate or judge of a circuit court may issue a search warrant. This is done following a request submitted by a law enforcement officer or a state attorney regarding a person or property in the county where the warrant is issued. A search warrant under this rule shall only be issued on an affidavit(s) sworn before the competent judicial offer of the circuit court. The affidavit must establish the grounds for the warrant and present probable cause to believe that the person or property named or identified to be searched or seized is committing or has committed a criminal offense.
A search warrant is directed to only peace officers, the Sheriff, deputy sheriff, or any member of a law enforcement agency or Department of Public Safety and member of the police force of the municipality where the property is located and authorized by law to execute search warrants. It must be executed within ten days from when it is issued. A search or seizure procedure in West Virginia can be performed at dawn or dusk. After it has been executed, the warrant must be returned to the magistrate and filed with the magistrate court clerk alongside other relevant documents.
Rule 14 (b) (1)-(4) lists the properties authorized officers are permitted to search for and seize with a warrant:
- All property that constitutes evidence of a criminal offense;
- Contrabands, loot from crime, or any item obtained through illegal or criminal means;
- Properties designed to be used in committing a crime or already used in committing a criminal act;
- Persons who have probable cause for their arrest, or who are unlawfully restrained or kidnapped.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Search Warrant?
It depends. The judge or a circuit court magistrate shall issue a search warrant when they find substantial facts stated in the affidavit that there is probable cause to believe that the person or a place to be searched is connected to a criminal offense. Finding probable cause may be based on evidence provided, hearsay, and witness testimony. The judge may exercise discretionary powers in examining the affiant or any witness the affiant may produce under oath. Once the applicant has established and satisfied the grounds for issuing a search warrant, it may be approved and signed by the judge or magistrate or in the name of the office of the judge or magistrate. This procedure can take a couple of hours or several days.
What is an Arrest Warrant in West Virginia?
According to Rule 4 of the West Virginia Rules of Criminal Procedure, a warrant for the arrest of a person is an order issued by a magistrate instructing an authorized officer of the law to arrest a defendant on account of an offense committed or reasonably believed to have committed. An arrest warrant will only be issued upon a complaint submitted to a magistrate or an affidavit attached to the complaint, establishing probable cause to believe that the defendant committed a criminal offense.
The magistrate of a circuit court has discretionary powers to issue a summons instead of a warrant. A warrant will subsequently be issued if the defendant is absent from court without reason on the scheduled hearing date. An arrest warrant shall contain the following details:
- The signature of the magistrate;
- The first name and last name of the defendant, if known, including all recent changes (if applicable). If unknown, any other name (street name or nickname) or description which particularly identifies the defendant;
- A description of the offense stated in the complaint or a copy of the complaint;
- An order that the defendant be arrested and brought before any available magistrate in the jurisdiction where the warrant is executed.
Likewise, a summons must describe the offense stated in the complaint or a copy of the complaint, a summon to the defendant to appear before a magistrate at a scheduled date, time, and courtroom. A magistrate has statutory power to limit the execution of an arrest warrant to when they are available to adjudicate on that particular matter.
While an arrest warrant can only be executed by a member of the police force, department of safety, or any officer authorized by law to arrest persons charged with violation of state criminal laws, a summons may be served by any person authorized to serve a summons in a civil action (for example, court officers).
An executor of an arrest warrant or a law enforcement officer does not need to have the warrant for arrest on their person at the time of the arrest. However, they must inform the defendant of the offense charged and that a warrant has been issued to be protected from civil or criminal liability. Upon request, the executing officer of the law must provide the warrant to the defendant as soon as possible. On the other hand, a summons shall be served by delivering a copy personally to the defendant's residence or mailing it to their last known address.
Arrest Warrant Lookup in West Virginia
In West Virginia, arrest warrants are generally issued by municipal circuit courts to law enforcement agencies, making them the custodians of such information. To find active arrest warrants in West Virginia, interested persons should check or contact the following sources:
- The West Virginia State Police maintains an index of the most wanted persons in the state, neighboring states, and the US. The list of most wanted persons is categorized accordingly: The West Virginia Division of Corrections Parole Absconders, The US Marshal Service, The West Virginia Eastern Panhandle, and the FBI Most Wanted List.
- Official websites of local courts and law enforcement agencies: For example, the Boone County Sheriff's Office maintains a list of active warrants for felonies and misdemeanor offenses committed against the state. Arrest warrants used as evidence in a legal proceeding might be filed as part of court records made publically available by the court clerk.
How to Find Out If You Have a Warrant in West Virginia
A concerned member of the public can find out if they have active warrants in West Virginia through:
- The Issuing Court: Since a magistrate or other competent judge of jurisdiction approves and signs warrants, concerned parties can visit their municipal court or county circuit court to look through their warrant records.
- Law Enforcement Agencies: Police departments or local sheriffs often provide online information on active warrants in their jurisdictions. However, because it might not be possible to upload every single warrant or retain older warrants online, the information online is prioritized for severe felonies and other more important offenses. Hence, where the searcher cannot find their information online, or the county police department does not maintain online records, the searcher may need to visit the lobby at their physical office to make further inquiries. The front desk or records officer will ask for a valid means of identification to proceed. If the person has an active warrant for their arrest, they will be taken into custody effective immediately.
- Criminal History Check: Although the West Virginia State Police does not conduct background checks based on individual requests, they recommend a verified private agency providing identity-related services for all background services on their website.
Free Warrant Search in West Virginia
Researchers can find warrant information for free through the county sheriff's official website. For example, the Marshall County Sheriff's Office has an online active warrants list available to all persons in and outside the county. The Sheriff is also developing a public notice list for the most wanted persons in the county. Interested persons may also take advantage of free third-party search applications that allow their users to find public information without subscription or access fees.
How to Find Out If Someone Has A Warrant Online
Most county or city police departments and Sheriff's offices provide updated warrant information online in compliance with West Virginia's public records laws. Researchers can easily access other individuals' warrant information by checking the official websites of local law enforcement agencies in the region where the warrant was issued. To expedite the search process, the searcher should know the name (or other aliases), descriptive features, date of birth, or municipality of issuance.
A West Virginia warrant inquiry may also be performed on third-party search applications. Unlike official government resources, privately owned sites may require search or subscription fees to look through their online resources. However, some third-party sites offer their services for free or at lower cost alternatives.
How Long Do Warrants Last in West Virginia?
An arrest warrant will last as long as it takes for the defendant or subject to be apprehended, taken into custody, and brought before the court. Likewise, a capias or bench warrant will be active until the defaulter submits themselves voluntarily before the court or is conveyed to the court by law enforcement officers. An exception to the above is that a warrant issued for the commission of a criminal offense will expire when the statute of limitation for that offense expires. When a statute of limitation has run its course, the court no longer has jurisdiction to try that case, and as such, the warrant becomes inactive. Furthermore, an unexecuted warrant may be canceled by the issuing judge or magistrate at the request of the state (Rule 4 (d) (4) West Virginia Rules of Criminal Procedure).