CLARKSBURG, WV – A new law that recently took effect in West Virginia prevents criminal complaints, court records and other investigative documents involving sex-related crimes from becoming public record, as they were in the past.
West Virginia Senate Bill 616, titled “Court files and law-enforcement records; confidentiality,” was introduced in February and officially signed into law by Gov. Jim Justice on March 12. The law went into effect in early June. Under the law, courts are not permitted to release any documents that contain information related to sex crimes, such as “identifying information of a victim in an arrest, investigation or complaint for sexual offenses,” according to a memo the West Virginia Supreme Court recently distributed to magistrate courts around the state.
The bill was sponsored by a single representative, Sen. Ryan Weld, R–Brooke, and passed unanimously in both the West Virginia House and Senate.
Under the law, in order for someone to view criminal complaints alleging sex-related crimes, it must: be required by law, be necessary for law enforcement or court proceedings or be court-ordered. “If someone wishes to examine or copy a record that contains identifying information of a victim for one of the below offenses, they must submit a motion to the circuit court and the circuit court will order which specific documents in the file can be examined or copied,” according to the memo sent to the state’s magistrate court clerks.
Documents related to the following crimes are included in the new confidentiality law:
- Distribution and display to minor of obscene matter
- Use of scene matter with intent to seduce minor
- Employment or use of minor to produce obscene matter or assist in doing sexually explicit conduct
- Sexual assault in the first, second and third degree
- Sexual abuse in the first, second and third degree
- Enhanced penalties for subsequent offenses committed by those previously convicted of sexually violent offenses against children
- Imposition of sexual acts on persons incarcerated, detained, or under supervision
- Use of minors in filming sexually explicit conduct
- Distribution and exhibiting of material depicting minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct
- Prohibiting child erotica
- Prohibiting juveniles from manufacturing, possessing and distributing nude or partially nude images of minors
- Female genital mutilation
- Sexual abuse by a parent, guardian, custodian or person in a position of trust to a child; parent, guardian, custodian or person in a position of trust allowing sexual abuse to be inflicted upon a child; displaying of sex organs by a parent, guardian, or custodian
- Sending, distributing, exhibiting, possessing, displaying or transporting material by a parent, guardian or custodian, depicting a child engaged in sexually explicit conduct
- Human trafficking of an individual; aiding and abetting human trafficking
- Use of forced labor
- Use of persons in debt bondage
- Sexual servitude
- Patronizing a victim of sexual servitude
The names and photos of people charged will still be accessible through public jail records, and all people convicted of sex-related crimes are still required under state law to register as a West Virginia sex offender in the West Virginia Sex Offender Registry.
The full law can be viewed on the West Virginia Legislature website.
It is worth noting that the new law does not apply to people who are facing federal sexual offenses.