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California Arrest Records

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Registered Licenses is not a consumer reporting agency as defined by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”). You understand and acknowledge that these reports are NOT “consumer reports” as defined by the FCRA. Your access and use of a report is subject to our Terms of Service and you expressly acknowledge that you are prohibited from using this service and this report to determine an individual’s eligibility for credit, insurance, employment or any other purpose regulated by the FCRA.

Are Arrest Records Public in California?

Yes. Under Section 6254(f) of the California Government Code, also known as the California Public Records Act (CPRA), certain information within an arrest record can be released for public examination. Anyone who wants to review a public arrest record must query the arresting law enforcement agency.

Though often considered a criminal record in California, arrest records do not serve as conclusive proof of a person's crime. Instead, it provides details about an arrest based on suspected illegal activity, which may be vital to the suspect’s prosecution. Because not all arrests lead to a criminal conviction, the state permits the erasure of arrest records, especially when one has been falsely accused or exonerated.

What is Considered an Arrest Record in California?

California arrest records (also called arrest reports) are public documents that comprise information about individuals who have been apprehended and questioned by the police for a criminal act. These records are generated upon a person's arrest, regardless of the alleged crime, and maintained by the state's law enforcement agencies.

In California, anyone caught or suspected of violating the state's Penal Code can be arrested by the police and made to stand trial for a criminal offense.

After an individual's arrest, the arresting officer will prepare a report under the suspect’s name. This report is referred to as an arrest record, and it carries details about an individual's booking and detention due to the alleged commission of an infraction, misdemeanor, or felony.

Although most arrest records are public records, some arrest records are exempt from public searches. Such cases include:

  • Records that contain information that threatens public safety
  • Records pertaining to cases that are under investigation
  • Arrest records related to sealed or expunged crimes
  • If the involved arrestee was found innocent of the crime for which they were arrested.

What is Contained in a California Arrest Record?

An arrest record is a written account of a person's apprehension by the police. For this reason, the following information is usually contained within the record:

  • Physical description: The suspect's weight, height, sex, eye and hair color, race, tattoos, and other distinctive features.
  • Personal information: The suspect's full name and aliases, age, birthplace, current address, occupational status, social security number, etc.
  • Arrest and booking information: The suspect's mugshot, fingerprints, booking number, date and time of booking, time and date of the arrest, location of the arrest, type of arrest, arresting agency, bail amount, time and manner of release, outstanding warrants (if any), etc.
  • Crime information: The classification of the crime (i.e., infraction, felony, or misdemeanor), a description of the criminal incident (which may be enhanced with information obtained from witnesses and victims), the next court date, all criminal charges upon which an individual was held.
  • Information about the police interrogation.

Who Can Access Arrest Records in California?

Arrest records generated by local law enforcement agencies can be accessed by the subject of the record, an employer, an insurance company, a legal representative, victim, witness, government agency, bail bondsman, and other interested third parties. However, some arrest records or information may be withheld from disclosure because they fall under federal and state exemptions:

  • The record belongs to a juvenile suspect and can only be released to a parent, a person who obtained a court order from the Juvenile Court, or another party entitled to receive the record by law. For example, a law enforcement agency, district attorney, probation department, the subject of the record, a coroner, etc.
  • Disclosure of the record or information will endanger the safety of a person involved in a criminal investigation.
  • Disclosure of the record or information will hinder or jeopardize an investigation or related investigation.

Another reason why the police may not release an arrest record to the public is that the pending court case has been settled. As such, the arrest information has become part of a person's local criminal history, which does not fall under the state's public record disclosure laws and can only be accessed by specific people and agencies.

California Arrest Statistics

In 2021, the total number of arrests in California was estimated at 793,000. This was significantly lower than the previous years and was, in fact, the lowest figure in the state's history at the time. On average, there were an average of 2,014 arrests per 100,000 residents.

The overall arrest rate dropped by about 25% from 2019 to 2021. Felony cases accounted for about 267,000 arrests in 2021. Violent offenses led to 35.1% of the total felony arrests made in the state, while 8.9% of felony arrests were for drug offenses. Property crimes and weapons-related cases accounted for 21.8% and 9.7% of felony arrests, respectively.

Misdemeanor arrests totaled 525,000, with drug offenses being the highest in the category (25.3%). Offenses related to check misuse, petty theft, and burglary accounted for the smallest percentage of arrests in this category (3.8%).

Conducting a California Arrest Record Search

A California arrest search is used to look up information about a particular arrest or a person's arrest records. Arrest records are official documents that inform a searcher about details of a person taken into custody by a law enforcement agency in California. It also informs interested persons about the reasons that led to an arrest as well as the conditions under which the arrest took place.

How Do I Lookup Arrest Records in California?

In most cases, the person seeking to review an arrest record in California is the subject of the record (the party who was apprehended). However, state law allows individuals other than the record holder to request public arrest records.

The first place to inquire about an arrest record is the local sheriff's office or police department responsible for the arrest. It is advisable to contact the appropriate department beforehand or check its official website to find information about reviewing an arrest record. The reason is that record dissemination methods and fees differ by agency.

For instance, some offices, e.g., the San Diego County Sheriff's Department, provide forms that requesters can complete and submit via an online platform. Some (like the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department) provide downloadable record request forms which can be submitted via mail, electronically, or in person. Others may require the physical presence of a requester before records can be released. Furthermore, it may be possible to view recent arrest information on some sheriffs' websites.

Usually, a local law enforcement agency will require identifying information about the arrestee, such as a full name, arrest date, date of birth, case number, or booking number, to process a CPRA request. The requester will also need to provide personal information, such as their full name, mailing address, contact phone number, and valid photo identification. Note that local law enforcement agencies charge a fee to furnish copies, which may be paid with cash, check, or money order.

Other than requesting another person's arrest record from a local police agency, certain entities can also request an arrestee's local or state criminal history record. This type of record contains more extensive arrest information. However, it is restricted to the subject of an arrest record, law enforcement agencies, certain employers and regulatory bodies, and others authorized under Sections 11105 and 13300 of the California Penal Code.

Local law enforcement agencies maintain the criminal history of local residents which contain arrests specific to a jurisdiction. Whereas state criminal history records, which have a more holistic view of a person's arrest history in the state, can be requested from the state's Department of Justice (DOJ).

How to Subpoena Arrest Records in California

In California, members of the public have access to arrest records under the Public Records Act. However, this right is not absolute. Ordinarily, the public can only access certain parts of an arrest record under CPRA, and in some cases, the entire record may be exempt from disclosure.

The need for a subpoena arises when an entity wishes to obtain restricted or non-CPRA records held by a law enforcement agency. One common reason for requiring such access is for law enforcement or judicial purposes. For example, an individual may need to subpoena an arrest record when there is a pending court case and some time has passed since the arrest.

A subpoena (also, Subpoena Duces Tecum) is an order from the court that directs a person to attend court or produce specific documents. Subpoenaing arrest records in California is a two-step process. An individual only has to download and fill a subpoena form with as much information as possible and take it to the court clerk for issuance (i.e., to sign and stamp it). Then, the individual must serve it on the records custodian of the relevant police department or sheriff's office.

Most courts provide subpoena forms and packets that can be downloaded online. Otherwise, the relevant form can be obtained from the California Judicial Branch's forms website by typing "subpoena" into the search box. For example, if the arrest record is for a criminal or traffic court proceeding, the correct form to use is CV-125.

To serve a police department or sheriff, an individual may need to pay a non-refundable processing fee before service can occur. The subpoena can be hand-delivered to the custodian by a process server or anyone over 18 years. After service, the server must file a Proof of Service (usually contained in a subpoena forms packet) with the court.

Though the subpoena process in California is not complicated, individuals can still consult a lawyer to ensure they satisfy all legal requirements. Furthermore, they can contact the law enforcement agency in charge of the arrest record to verify the service process.

Bear in mind that juvenile arrest records cannot be subpoenaed in California. Anyone who is ineligible to obtain a juvenile record under California Rule of Court 5.552 and Sections 827 to 828.3 of the Welfare and Institutions Code must petition the Juvenile Court for access. This entails mailing or hand-delivering the following forms to the court and serving them on all involved parties:

  • Petition to Obtain Report of Law Enforcement Agency (Form JV-575)
  • Notice to Child and Parent/Guardian (Form JV-580)

Fees may be assessed for the request.

How to Search for an Inmate in the California Prison System

The California prison system consists of state prisons, correctional institutions, detention facilities, and conservation (fire) camps used to hold individuals who have been detained pending trial/sentencing or sentenced to a period of confinement or rehabilitation.

To search for an inmate within the California prison system, an individual can access the Public Inmate Locator System offered by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), the agency in charge of running the state's prison system. The searcher must have the last name or CDCR number of the inmate to obtain results such as:

  • The inmate's full name
  • CDCR number
  • Age
  • Admission Date
  • Current location
  • Parole information

The inquirer can also contact the CDCR's Identification Unit at (916) 445-6713 to find a current inmate if their location cannot be obtained with the Inmate Locator System.

To search more precisely, an individual can also use inmate lookup tools often found on the websites of county sheriffs. Data about an inmate's identity, arrest, booking, bail, housing location, and offense/case information can be retrieved from such sites.

It should be noted that juvenile inmate records are not available online.

How Do I Find Out if Someone Was in Jail in California

The online inmate search tools provided by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the county sheriffs only provide information about present inmates. Furthermore, California does not maintain a central database for past inmates. As a result, anyone who wants to find out if someone has been in jail can query the local sheriff or police department. If suspecting that a person was held in prison, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation should be contacted. Then again, an inquirer can perform a background check to find such information.

How to Find Recent Arrests in California

Interested individuals can view recent arrest information on websites provided by sheriffs of various counties, such as Orange County and Sonoma County. Third-party websites also facilitate these searches. In any way, the searcher must know the names of the arrestee or other details surrounding the arrest. Persons interested in finding recent arrests may also visit the local police department or other relevant law enforcement agencies and request the arrest information of the person of interest.

How Long Do California Arrest Records Stay on File?

California's statutes do not outline standard retention periods for arrest records. Hence, law enforcement agencies adhere to schedules established by legal, departmental, and management recommendations.

The length of time that a California arrest record stays on file depends on the record retention policy of the agency in charge of the record, and this may be based on:

  • The incident behind the creation of the arrest record, e.g., if the crime was a felony or misdemeanor; and
  • Whether the connected court case has been resolved or the subject has served all imposed sentences.

For example, arrest records listed on criminal histories maintained by the Department of Justice remain on file until the subject turns 100 years old.

On the other hand, arrest records maintained by local law enforcement agencies have varying retention schedules. For instance, the Los Angeles County Sheriff retains arrest records for nine years, while the City of San Luis Police Department maintains these records permanently. The San Diego Sheriff's Department retains most of its arrest records for ten years. Still, the department may utilize longer retention periods for records of an escapee who has not been apprehended, homicide, a sex crime, or a crime involving children.

Are Arrest Reports Public in California?

In California, arrest reports are generally subject to public record laws except where protected by state laws. An arrest report is an official document that describes the incidents that took place during and shortly after an arrest. The arrest report is usually prepared by the arresting officer and is kept at the police department of the jurisdiction where the arrest took place.

Information contained in an arrest report is as follows:

  • The date and time of the arrest
  • Description of the arrestee and personal information such as age, address, full name, fingerprints, and photographs
  • Details about the arresting officer
  • The crime or reason that warranted the arrest

An arrest report is different from an arrest record due to the kind of information they contain. While an arrest report typically handles a specific arrest, an arrest record covers an individual's past arrest records. Both arrest records and arrest reports are public records in the state of California.

How to Obtain Arrest Records for Free in California

Requesting an arrest record from a California law enforcement agency often involves contacting the agency or submitting a form to obtain the document. As an agency will most likely furnish the requester with copies of the record, the individual will have to pay the cost of reproduction.

One way to view arrest information for free in California is via the websites of the county sheriffs. However, an individual may only be able to retrieve recent arrest information.

How to Search for a California Arrest Record Online Using a Third-Party Search Service

Sometimes, it may be challenging to obtain a paper copy of an arrest record or find it online through databases maintained by law enforcement agencies. When this happens, an individual can turn to a third-party search service to source the information without delay or long processing times.

To find a California arrest record through a third-party search service, an inquirer will usually need to navigate to the preferred site with their web browser and input the record owner's first and last name into the provided search boxes. In most cases, the requester will need to pay a fee for one-time access or subscribe to a monthly plan to obtain the record.

How to Correct an Arrest Record in California?

Anyone who finds an error in their arrest record should contact the law enforcement agency responsible for creating the record to make complaints.

If the discrepancy was found on a criminal history report, the subject should submit a formal challenge to the California Department of Justice (DOJ). This entails completing and submitting Form BCIA 8706 - Claim of Alleged Inaccuracy or Incompleteness, along with the inaccurate record and any supporting documents, to the mailing address indicated on the form.

Note that Form BCIA 8706 is sent along with a criminal history record. As such, a person can only challenge their record after receiving a copy from the DOJ. If the claim proves unsuccessful, the applicant can request a DOJ administrative hearing.

How to Expunge Arrest Records in California

There are several ways that individuals can seal or destroy their arrest records in California. The usual methods are to file a petition with the court under Sections 851.8 and 851.91 of the state's Penal Code. The governing statute depends on the circumstances of the case.

Persons eligible to petition under Section 851.91 are adults who were arrested but not convicted. Scenarios where the law applies include:

  • The arrest occurred, but no criminal charges were filed.
  • Criminal charges were filed but dismissed.
  • A trial occurred, but the subject of the record was acquitted.
  • The subject completed a diversion program, and the criminal charges were dismissed.
  • A conviction occurred, but it was overturned on appeal, and the charges cannot be refiled.

Eligible persons can petition the court to seal their arrest and related records with Form CR-409 (see Form CR-409-INFO for instructions). No fee is charged to file the petition.

On the other hand, an adult who was wrongfully arrested ("factually innocent") may ask the court or police agency with jurisdiction over the matter to seal and destroy their arrest record under Section 851.8. If no charges were filed or the charges were dismissed pending trial, the petitioner can file Form BCIA-8279 or a local form (if available). However, another form must be used if the petitioner was acquitted after a trial or had their conviction set aside. In this case, there is no statewide form provided. As such, a petitioner may have to ask their local court for a form (e.g., the San Diego Superior Court provides a form) or request a lawyer's assistance in preparing the petition.

Petitions under Section 851.8 must be filed within two years of one's arrest or the filing of charges, whichever is later. However, a judge may hear a petition that exceeds the two-year limit if the petitioner can demonstrate a good reason for not filing the petition within the statutory time limits.

Per Cal. Pen. Code § 851.92, sealing or destroying an arrest record hides it from the public and can allow a person to say that they have never been arrested for a crime. However, if the record was merely sealed, the individual must still disclose arrests if specifically asked on certain applications, like an application for a public office or a state/local license.

For other methods to seal an adult or juvenile arrest record in California, an interested party can peruse the Record Cleaning and Sealing Juvenile Records web pages published by the state judiciary, or the FAQ web page of San Diego County's Office of the Public Defender.

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