California Public Records
Section 6250 of the California Public Records Act defines public records as any type of writing that contains information on the conduct of public business that is retained by the state or any local agency. The term “writing” includes any records with “letters, words, pictures, sounds, or symbols, or combinations thereof.”
How to Find California Public Records
Under the state’s Public Records Act, Californians have the right to access public records maintained by state and local government agencies.
You can make public records requests via email, regular mail, or phone. However, the best way to obtain a public record is to contact the state or local agency responsible for the public record directly. However, private sources can also provide access when the records are available.
Are California Public Records Available Online?
Public records in California are available online through official government agency websites. Otherwise, you may have to contact the agency directly via mail or phone or visit them in person to obtain public records that are not available online.
What Records are Not Available in California?
Under the California Constitution and the state’s Public Records Act, Californians have the right to inspect public records at all times during office hours. The only records exempt from inspection and disclosure are those provided by the state or any other local agency that holds or maintains the public record as confidential.
Types of Public Records Available in California
The following is the list of available public records that you can get in California.
California Public Criminal Records
Public criminal records in California are maintained by the Bureau of Criminal Information and Analysis (BCIA) under the California Department of Justice (DOJ).
Per restrictions by the law, criminal records request in California are only available to authorized agencies like law enforcement or to the person named on the record.
To request your criminal records, you must do the following:
- Fill out all personal information required in this Live Scan Form. Make sure that you check and write “Record Review” as the type of application and your reason for requesting a criminal record.
- Take the completed form to authorized Live Scan sites for fingerprinting. Only qualified law enforcement personnel or certified fingerprint roller are authorized to take your fingerprints.
- Send the form to the DOJ’s Public Records Coordinator to process your request.
Note that the DOJ requires a $25 fee to process your criminal records request plus rolling fees, which may vary depending on the nearest Live Scan sites available in your area.
Police Departments and Sheriffe Office in California :
Arrest Records and Warrants
Like with criminal public records, arrest records, and warrant information in California are maintained by the DOJ.
All arrest records and warrants are kept by DOJ according to their record retention policy which states that the department shall maintain criminal history information for 100 years.
To request arrest records or warrants issued to your name, you can submit a written or an online request.
You may also contact local law enforcement authorities who made the arrest or issued the warrants.
Inmate and Jail Records
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has an inmate locator available online that gives you the following information:
- Current location
- CDCR number
- Admitted date
- Parole date (if eligible)
You can search for inmates using the unique CDCR number or using the name. The more specific the name, the more you can narrow down your search. A partial name search, like the last name, can yield multiple results.
Jails and Prisons in California :
California Background Checks
In 2018, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) enforced the California Fair Chance Act, also known as the “Ban the Box” law went into effect which “prohibits employers with five or more employees from asking about your conviction history before making you a job offer.”
Under the Fair Chance Act, employers cannot ask for a background check before a job offer has been made conditionally. This means that employers will only be allowed to run a background check after making a conditional job offer.
Employers who find a candidate’s criminal history to negatively affect their business can only take back a job offer by formally writing to the candidate and providing them a copy of the background check with which they relied their decision on.
How to find Sex Offender in California
The Attorney General of California has a sex offender registry where you can find sex offenders by name or by address with city or zip code. The registry is updated daily based on the sex offender information provided by local law enforcement agencies around the state.
California Public Vital Records
The California Department of Public Health – Vital Records (CDPH-VR) is the main repository of all public vital records in the state, like birth, death, marriage, divorce, and stillbirth records.
Copies of public vital records in California can either be authorized or informational.
Authorized public vital records are those requested by the person named on the documents, next of kin, or any other legal representative like an attorney or a representative of another government agency requiring the vital records.
Informational public vital records are given when you cannot obtain an authorized vital record under California law. If this happens, the CDPH can provide you with a copy of the vital record you need containing the same information, but with an annotation saying that it’s not a valid document but for informational purposes only.
You may request vital records in California online. It would be best if you also took note of the following fees for each record request:
- Birth certificates – $29.00
- Marriage certificates – $17.00
- Divorce certificates – $16.00
- Death certificates – $24.00
- Fetal death certificates – $21.00
- Stillbirth certificates – $28.00
Check, or money orders payable to the CDPH-Vital Records are the only accepted forms of payment.
You may find the appropriate request forms or request a copy of the vital records you need from the county registrars and recorders, except for divorce records.
For divorce decrees or separation records, you may obtain certified copies from the county's Superior Court that finalized the decree.
California Court Records
Court records in California are open to the public except for court records that are considered confidential under state law, like cases including dependency or delinquency involving juveniles.
You can easily search through the state’s court records online. Otherwise, you must go to the specific courthouse that maintains and handles the court records you need.
State Court System in California
The court system in California is by far the largest in the United States and has three levels:
- Supreme Court
- Court of Appeals
- Trial Courts
California currently has 58 trial courts, also called superior courts, for each of the state’s counties. The superior courts hear cases that involve traffic, juvenile, probate, family, mental health, civil, and minor criminal cases.
The Court of Appeals mostly reviews the decisions of the trial courts. The Supreme Court is the highest and the last court to settle important issues involving the law in the state.
Courts in California :
The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in California has an online service that allows you to print your own driving records upon making a request.
To obtain your driving records, you need to create an account to use the agency’s online service, pay the $2.00 fee, and get your printer on and ready to print out your record.
If you need an official driving record that is a hard copy, you will have to submit and mail a request form to the DMV.
You may also request another person’s driving records information for $5 per automated record. A higher fee of $20.00 is required for any photocopy of microfilm or hardcopy documents.
Civil Driving Infractions
In California, civil driving infractions are considered minor offenses. Driving infractions are fined for over $200, including mandatory community work service. Some common examples of civil driving infractions in California are:
- Running a red light
- Unsafe lane changing
- Not wearing a seatbelt
Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI) is considered a misdemeanor case. Offenses like this are punishable by up to a year in jail and paying a fine of $1,000.00.
California License Plate Lookup
Another online service available in California is the license plate lookup. As part of their online service, you need to register for an account to use their available services.
On the other hand, you may use third-party websites to lookup license plates in California, although you may have limited information.
California Property and Asset Records Online
The State Controller’s Office in California contains information on property and assets available in the state. The agency offers an online search tool that you can use for free to find and claim properties. Property records are managed by the registry of deed offices which are also organized on a county level.
Unclaimed properties in California include the following except for real estate:
- Contents of a safe deposit box
- Insurance benefits
- Bank accounts
- Uncashed checks
Important Government Agencies in California
The following are links to some important government agencies in California
- Secretary of State
- Governor’s Office
- Legislative Office
- California Office of Attorney General
- California Judicial Branch
- California Department of Justice
- State Controller’s Office
- Department of Motor Vehicles
- Superior Courts
- California Department of Public Health
- California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
- Department of Fair Employment and Housing
Counties in California
- Contra Costa
- Del Norte
- El Dorado
- Los Angeles
- San Benito
- San Bernardino
- San Diego
- San Francisco
- San Joaquin
- San Luis Obispo
- San Mateo
- Santa Barbara
- Santa Clara
- Santa Cruz
List of Content
- How to Find California Public Records
- What Records are Not Available in California?
- Types of Public Records Available in California
- California Public Criminal Records
- Arrest Records and Warrants
- Inmate and Jail Records
- California Background Checks
- California Public Vital Records
- California Court Records
- State Court System in California
- Driving Records
- Civil Driving Infractions
- California License Plate Lookup
- California Property and Asset Records Online
- Important Government Agencies in California