What Are California Criminal Records?
California criminal records are documents that outline the criminal activity of persons within its jurisdiction. Also known as rap sheets, criminal records typically encompass crime-related information such as arrest data, indictments, pending dispositions and conviction information all assembled from local, county law enforcement offices as well as trial and appeal courts and state-run correctional facilities. California criminal records generally comprise the following information:
- The full name of the subject (including any known aliases)
- The birth date, race/ethnicity, and fingerprints of the subject
- Details of unique physical descriptors
- All previous and current indictments
- Arrest records and outstanding warrants
- Conviction details
- Incarceration information
Are California Criminal Records Public?
Full California criminal history records are only partially available to members of the public. Interested parties can access certain information from California public records collected and stored by local law enforcement and incarceration facilities, such as arrest records and inmate records. Arrest and inmate records are accessible through the California Department Of Corrections And Rehabilitation (CDCR), local county sheriff’s offices and jails, as well as centralized state websites and non-geographically specific public records search portals. The California Department of Justice (CA DOJ) makes complete criminal records open to certain types of employers, case subjects, and their legal representation.
According to federal laws in the United States, criminal records are publicly available through official agencies and third-party organizations. However, California state law dictates that specific parts of a criminal history record are available only to the entities outlined in California Penal Code Section 11105. Third-party aggregate sites collect publicly available information from various agencies into one database, meaning that searches are not geographically limited. Typically, individual requesters must provide the following information to gain access to partial criminal records in California:
- The record subject’s name, unless the subject is a juvenile.
- The record subjects’ last known location, including cities, counties, and states.
Third-party websites offer these search services, but they are not government-sponsored. Availability of records may vary.
How To Obtain Criminal Records In California?
The CA DOJ organizes criminal records in online record depositories. These reports may be accessed through law enforcement offices, as on-demand court records from the local clerk of courts. The CA DOJ only allows law enforcement agencies, certain employers, or the record’s subject to perform a criminal record search. If a person with a criminal record requires a copy of their record, they visit the CA DOJ in person and submit fingerprint images and a $25 processing fee. If the requester wishes to perform a free public criminal record check, they must apply for a fee waiver.
What Are California Arrest Records?
California arrest records are official documents providing information regarding persons who have been taken into custody following their alleged involvement in a crime. While these records feature details of the apprehension and detention, they may not serve as a criminal record unless the arrest is followed by an indictment or court hearing. California State laws provide that not all arrests will result in detention. Some arrests may result in the arrestee being ticketed or questioned. California arrest records typically feature details of the alleged crime as well as:
- The personal information of the arrestee: their name, birth date, gender, etc.
- Date and place of the arrest
- The name of the arresting officer
- The address of the detention center or jail
- The name of the issuer of the arrest warrant
In California, arrest records and police reports are terms that are often used interchangeably. However, they are not the same. Police reports, or police records, are logs that track police actions, while arrest records are focused on a single subject and only induce arrest information.
Are California Arrest Records Public?
Yes, according to the California Public Records Act, all arrest records that law enforcement agencies create are open for public view. Anyone that wishes to view public arrest records must contact their local law enforcement officials. Requesters may be able to obtain free arrest records but may have to pay the cost of copying the documents.
What Is A California Arrest Warrant?
California arrest warrants are a court-issued order which provides authorization to the bearer to arrest the person(s) named on the document. An active warrant is typically issued following the request or sworn affidavit of a law enforcement agent or district attorney with claims that an individual was or is involved in criminal activity. Warrants are issued by a judge or magistrate and may also provide authorization for the search and/or seizure of private property signed and issued by a judge or magistrate on behalf of the local and state jurisdictions. Most warrants are only valid for a specified period of time unless otherwise indicated. Arrest warrants in California typically contain:
- Details of the alleged criminal offense
- The full personal information of the suspect
- The time and place the arrest may take place
- An expiry date (if applicable)
- The date on which the warrant was issued/the name of the issuer
- Any applicable bail/bond conditions
As per California state law, state or local police may execute an arrest for a felony crime without a warrant. However, the arresting officer must have probable cause in making an arrest of this kind.
Although there is no central database to run a warrant search in California, local police departments and sheriff's stations have resources allowing them to conduct a search upon request.
What Are California Jail And Inmate Records?
California inmate records and jail records refer to documents pertaining to persons who have been incarcerated, as well as relevant information regarding housing facilities across the state. While jail records are primarily generated by the various jurisdictions and their correctional facilities, detention centers and housing units, these institutions are unified under the CDCR. The department operates a Records Division which is tasked with managing and disseminating information regarding inmates and their respective facilities. Individuals interested in performing an inmate search may contact the Records Division. There are other information sources for people who wish to carry out an inmate lookup, but the information may be limited.
Included on a California inmate record are:
- The full name and alias of the inmate
- Details of the convicted offense
- Relevant personal data including their birth date, gender, mugshot, etc.
- Date of incarceration and prospective release date
- The location of the facility where they are housed and the security level
- Any relevant past convictions and sentences served
- Bail/bond conditions (if applicable)
What Is The California Sex Offender Registry?
The California Sex Offender Registry refers to the state’s database of registered sex offenders in cmpliance with the California Megan's Law. The state database exists because many smaller databases are maintained by various jurisdictions across the state. These databases were developed following the establishment of the nationwide sex offender registration law, requiring convicted offenders to be registered in a public access database. The listings feature the names, locations, and compliance status of sex offenders resident in specific jurisdictions.
All the information assembled by California state county and city law enforcement agents come together in the California Sex Offender Registry for easier public access. Members of the public may conduct offender searches on the registry as they deem fit. However, it is the primary responsibility of the presiding judge to determine who should be registered on any of these listings. A judge may order an adult to register as a sex offender if the crime he/she was convicted of involves sexual motivation.
What is a DUI in California?
A DUI in California is one of the most serious traffic violations a driver can commit in California. According to the California DMV, a person is considered to be operating a motor vehicle while impaired if their measured blood alcohol content is above 0.08%. The limit for commercial vehicle drivers is 0.04% and for minors, the acceptable BAC is 0.01%.
In the state of California, law enforcement will typically stop any motorist who seems incapable of operating their vehicle properly. After stopping the motorist, the officer will then attempt to perform a field sobriety test on them. If the motorist’s BAC is higher than expected, the officer may choose to place them under arrest and impound the vehicle. First-time DUI offenders have to pay fines, face jail time, or both. In most cases, the offender may also lose their license for 12-24 months.
What Are California Misdemeanors?
California misdemeanors refer to non-indictable or minor criminal offenses for which the maximum sentence is no more than one-year incarceration. They are generally known to be less severe than felonies and in the state of California are categorized into standard and gross/aggravated misdemeanors based on their severity. In addition to this, there are also California Wobbler Offenses which are uncategorized crimes that the prosecutor may choose to charge an infraction, misdemeanor or felony. Some common misdemeanor examples in California include:
- Standard misdemeanors: drug possession, public intoxication, shoplifting, and petty theft.
- Aggravated misdemeanors: Domestic battery, restraining order violations, etc.
What Are California Felonies?
A felony in the state of California is the most severe category of criminal offenses. These crimes attract a sentence of more than one year in prison and at the maximum, may be punishable by life sentences or death. The punishment for a felony in the state of California is fixed by a crime-by-crime base. Felony crime punishments may include fines of up to $10,000 in addition to or instead of imprisonment.
As per California state law, there are two types of felonies - straight felonies and wobbler felonies. These are primarily distinguished by what they can be charged as. While felonies may not be charged as or reduced to a misdemeanor, wobbler felonies may be charged as misdemeanors or infractions based on the specific facts of the case and the criminal history of the defendant. Most serious California offenses are considered straight felonies, especially those that count as “strike” in line with California's “three-strike” law. Some examples of California state felonies include:
- Straight felonies: murder, rape, vehicular manslaughter
- Wobbler felonies: domestic violence, forgery, assault, vandalism
What Are California Parole Records?
California parole information primarily indicates the release of inmates prior to the completion of their maximum sentence, haven met all required conditions. This information is managed and disseminated by the CDCR to which the states Parole Board reports. The board is tasked with conducting hearings for adult inmates within the jurisdiction of the state and following a successful hearing, a prisoner is on supervised parole with various conditions depending on the inmate's earlier conviction and their behavior while in custody.
All information pertaining to parolees in California can be obtained using the Board of Parole Hearings online resource. The CDCR Inmate Locator System can be used to view information regarding a parolee's status by conducting online searches using the inmate's full name or CDCR number. The board grants parole and may impose conditions of parole it deems appropriate in order to ensure the best interests of the prisoner and the citizens of California are served.
What Are California Probation Records?
California probation records are official documents that indicate that a convicted person has been allowed to serve their sentences outside a correctional facility under supervision. Probation records typically feature details of the indictment, including the convicted criminal offense, date of the judgment as well as the personal data of the subject on probation. These records are primarily managed by the State Department of Corrections’ probation office and may be made available to interested members of the public upon request.
Most probation sentences differ, and as such probation records will likely vary between individuals. The length of time and the conditions to be met by the persons involved will depend mostly on the crime for which they were indicted, their criminal history, and the discretion of the judge. Some probations may be strict and intensively supervised to avoid a probation violation. Others may be minimally supervised by their probation officer, allowing the individual to go about their normal business.
What Are California Juvenile Criminal Records?
California juvenile criminal records are documents pertaining to the criminal activity of persons under legal adult age. Underage law-breakers typically go through the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) and serve time in a juvenile detention center.
Juvenile criminal records typically include reports of all arrests, judgments, exhibits, probation reports, indictments and adjudications. However, rather than considering juvenile convicts, they are found to be “adjudicated delinquent.” While most juvenile records are deemed confidential, they may still be accessed by persons such as prospective employers and landlords, licensors and lenders.
Juvenile criminal records may be sealed by the juvenile court after the subject of the record becomes 18 or older and if they are not convicted of a felony as an adult. Subsequent to this, the subject of the sealed record may truthfully claim that they have no criminal history. However, under special circumstances, these records may be reopened unless they are expunged or destroyed.
What Are California Conviction Records?
California conviction records are official documents that indicate that an indicted person, following their plea and/or court hearing has been found guilty of the crime for which they are charged. These charges may be an infraction, misdemeanor or a felony, and convictions are typically rendered by a jury of the defendant's peers or a judge in a court of law. California conviction records indicate when the subject has been judged delinquent, has been less than honorably discharged or has been placed on probation, fined, imprisoned or paroled. However, these records exclude final judgments that have been deleted by a pardon, set aside, reversed or otherwise rendered inoperative.
History And Accuracy Of California Criminal Records
While the advent of technology has dramatically improved record management processes in the state of California, the accuracy of the data of criminal records depends on the recordkeeping and technological capabilities of the jurisdiction where the record was assembled and later digitized. Most criminal records archives of the state go back into the pre-technological era before criminal and arrest data started to be centralized and compiled into an organized database. However, having eliminated the place of human error, current technological advancements have improved the quality and accuracy of recordkeeping exponentially.
California Department of Justice vs. Public Records Industry Definition of Criminal Records
According to the public records industry, the following items comprise a criminal record:
- Arrest records, warrants, and arrest information
- Trial information such as convictions, sentences, and parole and probation status
- Incarceration information and inmate records
- Personal identifiers
- Basic personal information on the convicted offender
California state legislature maintains that a full criminal record includes only convictions, criminal case details, arrests for which the subject is awaiting trial, sex offender registration status, and sentencing information. California law also states that individuals cannot make criminal records requests through the CA DOJ unless they are the subject of the record, their legal representation, or law enforcement. Individuals who request another person’s criminal records in California on third-party websites will be able to obtain the specific information that is defined as criminal records' by the public records industry. This means that California criminal records accessed through third-party aggregate sites will show only partial criminal records, as defined by both the public records industry and the state of California.
How to Find California Criminal History Record for Free
A criminal history record (informally called "rap sheet") is a summary document that details all arrests, convictions, and incarcerations sustained by an individual within a particular jurisdiction.
In California, law enforcement agencies, subjects of records, and employers or regulatory agencies—entities eligible to request criminal background checks under California Penal Code, Section 11105—can obtain criminal history records from the state Department of Justice (DOJ) by submitting live scan fingerprints. State law institutes a $25 fee as the processing fee the DOJ must charge for each California criminal record. However, an individual who satisfies a few requirements can petition the DOJ to waive the fee under California Penal Code, Section 11123.
The eligibility requirements for a criminal history record fee waiver in California include:
- An individual who has no income;
- An individual who receives public assistance like Medi-Cal, CalFresh/Food Stamps, or Disability; or
- An individual whose income is low for their area and household size.
Qualified parties can find the request form (named Application for Live Scan Fingerprinting Services) and instructions for submission on the California DOJ's Apply for a Fee Waiver website. Generally, an applicant must fill out the form online with personal details and other additional information. Then, they must print the form and take it along with a valid photo ID to a nearby live scan fingerprinting service provider.
Waiving the criminal history fee means an individual can obtain criminal justice information from the CA DOJ for free. However, the waiver does not release any requester from the obligation to pay the fingerprinting service provider's fee.
Are Police Records Public in California?
To some degree, yes. Police records fall into the category of documents considered public in California—that is, records that remain accessible to the public to promote transparency in government. A "police record" means any record developed, received, or maintained by law enforcement agencies for the detection, prevention, investigation, reporting, or prosecution of crime. This includes traffic collision reports, crime/incident reports, arrest logs, audio & video recordings, investigative reports, officer-involved shooting reports, training records, crime statistics and other departmental publications, etc.
However, not all records maintained by the local and state police departments can be inspected or copied by the public. Certain police records or portions of records are exempt from public viewing under the California Public Records Act (CPRA). These records are typically subject to privacy or confidentiality laws and may be accessible only to an authorized few. Per Section 6254 of the CPRA, police records that may be restricted or redacted from public access include:
- Identifying information about confidential informants
- Juvenile police records, as defined in Welfare and Institutions Code, Section 827.9
- Identifying information (names, images, addresses) of crime victims listed in Government Code, Section 6254 (f)(2) and (3)
- Criminal offender record information
- Any record whose dissemination would jeopardize a criminal investigation or law enforcement proceeding
- Records that may endanger the safety of a witness or individual involved in an incident
- Records that may reveal investigative techniques
- Peace officer personnel records, except as stated in Penal Code, Section 832.7
- Portions of investigative files that show the analysis or conclusions of an investigating officer
- Information that may deprive an individual of a fair trial
How to Obtain Police Records in California
Individuals who want to obtain a police record in California must contact the records division or bureau of the police department believed to maintain the record. Notwithstanding, law enforcement agencies generally provide other means to obtain police records besides a phone call, including in person, online, by mail, or via fax, so long as the desired record is not exempt from disclosure under state law. Typically, requesters will be asked to provide relevant information that staff can use to identify a record (i.e., if no standard form is available), a copy of their valid photo ID, and payment if applicable.
Every requester must note, however, that eligibility requirements apply to each police record maintained by a law enforcement body. As mentioned, some police records are accessible under the California Public Records Act, but others are either withheld from public disclosure or released under specific circumstances.
For instance, the public can retrieve information about individuals arrested by the police, including their names, physical descriptions, charges, bail amounts, and other releasable arrest details. However, audio and video recordings (for example, body camera footage) are releasable to the victim, the authorized representative of a victim, an individual who suffered property damage or bodily injury due to the crime incident, or an insurance carrier who received a claim for damages, with some limitations. Nevertheless, audio and video recordings relating to a "critical incident" are publicly available in the absence of exemptions.
Details about confidential police records and persons authorized to access them may be obtained from a police agency's website. Moreover, one can contact the relevant records division for information or review the applicable laws (Penal Code, Section 832.7 and Government Code, Section 6254 (f)).
Are Police Reports Public Record?
A police report is a law enforcement document that describes an incident or arrest that took place. It carries the names of victims and witnesses, timelines and circumstances, offense classification, and other details or facts relevant to an incident or arrest. The main types of police reports include:
- Motor vehicle accident reports
- Police incident/crime reports. For example, lost or found property and vandalism reports
- Arrest reports. For example, Driving Under the Influence or DUI reports
In California, police reports are subject to the state's public records laws and the departmental policies of law enforcement agencies. Thus, the public can access such reports by request.
However, there are limitations to the public's right of access, which generally encompass situations where disclosure would compromise an investigation, would put a victim or witness named in the report at risk (for instance, if the report were released to a suspect or arrestee), or the report contains juvenile information.
Altogether, police reports are important documents within any criminal justice system, as the outcome of a reported incident (the follow-up investigation, apprehension of suspects, or prosecution) largely depends on how concise and accurate the report is. Justice may not be served if the police report is inaccurate, sparse, or missing vital details.
How to File a Police Report with California Law Enforcement
The California legislature allows citizens to file online police incident reports (crime reports filed by victims) with local law enforcement. Online crime/incident reporting is a public service offered to residents by city police departments and county sheriff's offices to aid in speedy reporting of non-emergency crimes, among other benefits.
The criteria to file a police incident report online in California differ by the agency with jurisdiction, i.e., the agency servicing the area where an incident occurs. However, it usually includes:
- The incident is not in progress.
- The incident occurred within the territory of the law enforcement agency that will receive the report.
- The incident is any of the following:
- Identity theft
- Lost, stolen, or vandalized property
- Vehicle vandalism
- Harassing phone calls
- Vehicle burglary (theft from a locked motor vehicle)
- Theft from vehicle (theft from an unlocked motor vehicle)
- The incident did not happen on a state highway.
- No known suspects or evidence exist.
Notably, some law enforcement agencies have additional requirements. To illustrate, victims in the City of Los Angeles cannot report a crime online if it resulted in an injury or involved firearms. Meanwhile, victims in the City of Oakland can report more incident types online, including assault, bad checks, illegal dumping, attempted auto theft, and dog theft.
A victim can follow these steps to file a police report in California:
- Go to the relevant law enforcement agency's website to search for the online crime reporting tool. This tool is often embedded on a "File a Police Report" or "Report Crime" page.
- Review the criteria for reporting a crime in that jurisdiction and follow the instructions or prompts to file a police report. A valid form of identification and an active email address will typically be required for submission. (It is this email address that the police department uses to communicate a copy of the final report with the actual report number or other follow-up information.)
After submitting the online report, the victim will receive a temporary report number and be allowed to print a copy of the report they submitted. The approval processing time for law enforcement agencies varies. However, if this timeframe passes and no final report is received, the victim can contact the law enforcement agency that received the report.
It is important to note that online reports serve documentation purposes in California. In most cases, no actual investigation is carried out. Furthermore, filing a false police report in California is a crime punishable as a misdemeanor under Penal Code, Section 148.5.
If a non-emergency crime or incident does not meet the requirements for online reporting, a victim can call the assigned phone number, which may be found on the agency's "File a Police Report" or "Report Crime" page. The individual can also visit the police station to file the report.
Where to Find Free Public Police Records
The California Public Records Act obliges local and state law enforcement agencies to make certain police records publicly accessible. Under the Act, citizens can inspect public records for free, but fees apply for the reproduction of records. Hence, to inspect a public police record for free, an individual can visit the records section of a law enforcement agency during regular business hours.
Another option to find free public police records in California is to search online public records databases provided by local police departments and sheriff's offices. For instance, one public police record that can be published online by law enforcement is an arrest log. By reviewing such records, an individual can find information about persons arrested in a specific city or county for free.
How to Find Mugshots in California
A "mugshot" is a close-up image taken by law enforcement to identify a person who was arrested or charged. This photograph may show the arrestee's front and profile view from the shoulders up.
Pursuant to California's Freedom of Information Act, mugshots are a matter of public record. Hence, interested members of the public can search online databases managed by certain criminal justice agencies to find mugshots. For example, a local police agency's daily arrests or most wanted fugitives site and the California Department of Justice's sex offender registry. However, these agencies publish mugshots at their discretion. If a mugshot cannot be viewed online, one can always contact or visit the agency to obtain the photograph under the CPRA.