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Court launches statewide criminal records search

Peter Vieth//July 8, 2019

Court launches statewide criminal records search

Peter Vieth//July 8, 2019

As promised in January, the Supreme Court of Virginia has unveiled an online search engine to look up criminal and traffic cases in all general district courts and nearly all circuit courts.

Without any accompanying announcement, search links appeared on the website of the Virginia court system on pages with information about circuit and general district courts. The links lead to a “Terms and Conditions” page with an “Accept” button at the bottom.

Next is the search page, labeled “Online Case Information System 2.0.”  It allows for searching by name or case number at either the circuit or general district level or both. Another menu allows limiting the search to specific courts.

Simple search queries produced quick results in early tests. Lengthy test results required repeated clicks to “Load More Results.”

Disclaimers make it clear that the new system cannot process online payments. Other notices advise that information from Alexandria and Fairfax County circuit courts is not available on the system. Other courts have date limitations or suggest searching using the old, court-specific search tool.

The new statewide search engine was mandated by 2018 legislation that created Code § 17.1-293.1. The new tool was welcomed by Del. Mike Mullin, D-Newport News, who shared credit for the project with Sens. Monty Mason and Mark Obenshain and former Del. Greg Habeeb.

“We’ve worked for years on this and it’s finally bearing fruit,” Del. Mullin tweeted, adding, “Have fun searching.”

Habeeb responded: “Honored to have been part of the effort and humbled to be in that company. Great work to all.”

Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, pointed out that he had introduced a bill in 2017 to do the same thing. “Glad to see it’s finally live,” he tweeted.

One programmer in the private sector – who built his own version of a statewide circuit court search engine – suggested the General Assembly next could address what’s missing from the bulk data legislation passed in 2018 allowing requests for “aggregated, nonconfidential case data fields.”

Mullen was receptive. “Happy to help in any way possible. This is a pretty big deal for open data and freedom of the press,” he tweeted.

The programmer – Ben Schoenfeld – said he is shutting down his “,” and “couldn’t be more excited.”

He said he builds apps like his homebrew circuit court search to prove it’s a worthwhile endeavor.

“And hopefully proving the idea out makes it easier for the government to justify building the real thing,” Schoenfeld wrote in an online post.

He noted the terms of service for the Virginia courts’ new app preclude the kind of robotic data scraping that he used to create his home grown version of the search engine.

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