Note: This page covers information specific to Virginia. For general information concerning the use of recording devices see the Recording Phone Calls, Conversations, Meetings and Hearings section of this guide.
Virginia Wiretapping Law
Virginia's wiretapping law is a "one-party consent" law. Virginia makes it a crime to intercept or record any "wire, oral, or electronic communication" unless one party to the conversation consents. Virginia Code § 19.2-62. Therefore, if you operate in Virginia, you may record a conversation or phone call if you are a party to the conversation or you get permission from one party to the conversation in advance. That said, if you intend to record conversations involving people located in more than one state, you should abide by the recording law of the most restrictive state involved, or play it safe and get the consent of all parties.
The wiretapping law covers oral communications when the speakers have an "expectation that such communication is not subject to interception under circumstances justifying such expectations," Virginia Code § 19.2-61, But absent the speakers' justified expecation, the law does not apply. See Belmer v. Commonwealth. Therefore, you may be able to record in-person conversations occurring in a public place, such as a street or restaurant, without consent. However, you should seek the consent of one or all of the parties before recording any conversation that an ordinary person would deem private.
Violation of the Virginia law is a felony, punishable by imprisonment and fine. See Virginia Code § 18.2-10 for more details. In addition, while recording a telephone conversation with the consent of only one party is legal in Virginia, a lawyer’s recording of a telephone conversation without the consent of all parties was found to be unethical under the Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct (United States v. Smallwood).
In addition to subjecting you to criminal prosecution, violating the Virginia wiretapping law can expose you to a civil lawsuit for damages by an injured party. See Virginia Code § 19.2-69.
Virginia Law on Recording Court Hearings and Public Meetings
Recording is allowed in Virginia state courtrooms at the sole discretion of the presiding judge. It is, however, flatly prohibited in certain types of sensitive cases (e.g., those involving juveniles or sexual offenses; however, a juvenile who is tried as an adult is excluded from the prohibition on recording. See Novak v. Commonwealth, 20 Va. App. 373, 390-91 (1995)). Only two television cameras and one still photographer are allowed in a courtroom at any given time. For a complete list of the statutory guidelines, see Va. Code 19.2-266.
Federal courts in Virginia, at both the trial and appellate level, prohibit recording devices and cameras in the courtroom.
For information on your right of access to court proceedings, please consult the Access to Government Information section of this guide.
Virginia open meetings law provides that any person may "photograph, film, record or otherwise reproduce any portion of a meeting required to be open." However, the public body conducting the meeting "may adopt rules governing the placement and use of equipment necessary for broadcasting, photographing, filming or recording a meeting to prevent interference with the proceedings." Virginia Code § 2.2-3707(H). But the adopted rules may not "prohibit or otherwise prevent any person from photographing, filming, recording, or otherwise reproducing any portion of a meeting required to be open," and "[n]o public body shall conduct a meeting required to be open in any building or facility where such recording devices are prohibited." Virginia Code § 2.2-3707(H).
For information on your right of access to public meetings, please consult the Access to Government Information section of the guide and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press's Open Government Guide: Virginia.