California Court Records
Court records are all kinds of information that the court makes public. Typically, the court clerk files these records, including transcripts, progress dockets, electronic records, video tapes, and stenographic tapes of depositions.
According to the California Public Records Act, enacted by the state legislature in 1968, most California Court Records are open to the public.
Also, Rule 10.500 of the California Rules of Court, which went into effect on January 1, 2010, gives the public access to all Judicial Administrative Records kept by trial and appellate courts, the Judicial Council of California, and the state Supreme Court.
However, some of these documents might not be available to the public if a law or court order asserts they are private. Juvenile dependence and delinquent records are examples of these confidential documents.
There are no court records in California that no one can see. A record may be ostensibly private, yet some individuals still have access. Parties to the case and other authorized people are among these people.
Which California Courts Maintain Publicly Accessible Records?
When you're trying to find court records, it helps to know how the California state court system works. And most California Court Records are in the trial court system, which is the Superior Court in the state.
All court cases in California take place in Superior Courts because the state has a unified court system.
California Superior Courts
Superior Courts in California have the authority to hear civil and criminal matters in the state, and these courts have different court divisions. These include the civil, criminal, small claims, traffic probate, family, and juvenile divisions.
Most cases in Civil Divisions contain limited claims of less than $25,000 and unlimited claims of more than $25,000.
Usually, both felony and misdemeanor cases are handled by the Criminal Division.
Small Claims Divisions
The Small Claims Divisions typically hear civil claims for less than $7500. There are other limits on Small Claims jurisdiction, like financial and other limits on how businesses and organizations can use the Small Claims process.
Traffic Divisions usually handle tickets for parking and other violations that can result in fines. This division also hears some traffic cases involving teens.
Probate Divisions in California hear cases related to estate administration, guardianships, conservatorships, trusts, and wills.
Family Divisions handle cases involving families and children, such as divorce, legal separation, paternity, child custody, child support, domestic violence, division of marital property, and spousal support.
Juvenile Divisions deal with juvenile offenses, child abuse or neglect, and minors who need supervision.
What are the Common Public Court Records in California?
Here are the most prevalent types of court records you have access to in California:
California Civil Records
There are two types of civil court cases in California based on how much money is at stake.
One is the limited civil cases that involve $25,000 or less. The second type is unlimited civil cases, which cost more than $25,000, or other types of disputes that don't involve money, like cases to settle the title to real property, requests to change a person's or child's name, and issues asking for civil restraining orders.
In essence, an unlimited civil action is any case that is not limited as defined by Code of Civil Procedure sections 85–86.1.
You can get California Civil Records in the county's Civil Clerk's Office of the Superior Court's Civil Records Division. Most county clerks can help you use a computer to search for and ask questions about a case, use a microfilm or microfiche machine, and fill out the forms you need.
California Small Claims Records
California Small Claims Records pertain to disputes involving less than $10,000.
In California Small Claims Courts, you as an individual can't sue for more than $10,000, but you can file as many claims for up to $2,500 each as you want. Note, though, that you can only file two claims for more than $2,500 a year. On the other hand, businesses other than sole proprietors can't sue for more than $5,000 in this state.
Here are some examples of cases in California Small Claims Records:
- Property damage
- Repayment cases
- Tenant/landlord deposits
- Contractor disputes over repairs or house improvements
- Car accident injuries or property damage
- HOA conflicts
You can find small claims records in California through the county's Small Claims Division Clerk. Most of the time, you have to fill out small claims request forms to get a record. You can check this California small claims guide and packet forms for your guidance.
Once you obtain a small claims record in California, it tells what happened in the case, who the parties were, and how much money the person who lost had to pay.
California Criminal Records
Criminal records in California also called "rap sheets," list the crimes people in the state have committed. It usually includes information from trial and appeal courts, local and county law enforcement offices, and state-run prisons and jails.
The California Department of Justice (CA DOJ) is the state's primary distributor of these records. It allows certain employers, people involved in a case, and their lawyers to see their complete criminal records.
Once you obtain these records, you will typically find the following information:
- The subject's full name and any known aliases
- The birth date, ethnicity, fingerprints, and photographs of the subject
- Physical descriptors details
- Crime/s committed and conviction details
- Arrest records
- Outstanding warrants
- All charges from the past and the present
- Incarceration information
California Traffic Records
California Traffic Records are official documents that list a person's driving or traffic history, including any traffic offenses, tickets, and sentences.
These are some of the most frequent traffic offenses in California:
- Failure to yield
- Running a red light
- Driving without insurance
- Driving with a suspended license
- Reckless driving
These records are mostly a collection of documents and information made and kept by different government agencies. You can access traffic records in California if you ask for them. If you want to see or make copies of them, visit the local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office or the Traffic Division in your county's Superior Court.
California Probate Records
California Probate Records pertain to the estate of a dead individual, whether the estate is "testate" (via a will) or "intestate" (without a will). There is a significant probability that a probate file exists in a local court that handles the division of property, guardianship of a minor, or payment of debts, regardless of the size of the decedent's estate.
Probate files often contain beneficiaries' names, addresses, and relationships to the deceased. In addition, you can find personal facts about the dead's employment and way of life from the estate's inventory. There may also be deeds, references to debts, and other papers associated with the estate's settlement.
In California, estates under $166,250 may employ simplified methods. But if the property is bequeathed to a beneficiary, probate may not be necessary. For example, life insurance plans with beneficiaries go straight to them.
You can learn more about the probate process in California through this page.
If you want information from the California Probate Records, ask your county's Probate Division Clerk of the Superior Court. Also, most of the county Superior Courts have Probate Division web pages where you can learn more about probate proceedings in the area.
California Family Records
California Family Records are public records you can look at and copy unless the law or the court seals them. These records include marriage, birth, death, and naturalization records.
Under the California Uniform Parentage Act, cases about parenting are private by law, and only the people involved or their lawyers can see this record. But if a person engaged in a parentage case gives written permission and a copy of their valid state or federal photo ID to someone not involved, that person can look at and copy the file.
Also, documents in a California Family Record, such as drug test results, mediation reports, psychological evaluations, and so on, are private. Only the parties or their attorneys of record can look at and copy these papers.
If you want to look up any information or documents from California Family Records, ask the Family Division of the county Superior Court or visit their website to find information on how to request this record properly. But some records are accessible through the California State Archives of the Secretary of State.
California Bankruptcy Records
Unlike any other California Court Records, these records are not in the state's jurisdiction of the Superior Courts. Federal courts set up bankruptcy to help people and businesses who can't pay their debts.
Declaring bankruptcy in California lets honest debtors get out of financial trouble and settle their debts by selling their assets or making regular payments to their creditors (reorganization).
People or businesses that file for bankruptcy in California leave personal and financial information in their bankruptcy records. They give information about the creditors and other vital facts about the case.
There are several bankruptcy filings in California, and the most common are the following:
California Chapter 7 Bankruptcy
Chapter 7 is the most common way for a person to file for bankruptcy. In this filing, the court sells all the individual's assets (except those exempt) and uses the money to pay the debts.
California Chapter 11 Bankruptcy
Chapter 11 bankruptcy in California is often for businesses due to its complexity, although individuals may also petition. Typically, the debtor retains their assets and continues to run the company while working on a repayment plan.
California Chapter 13 Bankruptcy
This type is similar to Chapter 11, but primarily for people instead of companies. It is a repayment plan for those with consistent income. California Chapter 13 bankruptcy allows you to maintain your property while paying off your obligations for three to five years.
People and businesses file for California bankruptcy in the following federal courts in the state:
- U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Central District of California
- U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Eastern District of California
- U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Northern District of California
- U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of California
Thus, to get a bankruptcy record in California, visit any of the four U.S. Bankruptcy Courts in California.
The proper court to start a search depends on where the debtor lives, has a business, or has their main asset. For instance, residents of Calaveras, Tuolumne, or Stanislaus counties or those who own a company there file for bankruptcy in the Eastern District of California of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court (Modesto Division).
Does California Have a Case Search?
California does not have a single case search system to look for court records online all over the state. Instead, visit the courthouse or the government agency website in charge of the records. Most of the time, on this website, you need to click on the case information or case access page inside the online services portal to see California Court Records.
You can access all California courts' websites and contact information through the Find Your Court search portal. With this method, you can access electronic court records from your smartphones, computers, and tablets over the internet. Note that there may be a small fee charged for this service.
Some court documents you can view remotely include registers of acts (as defined by Gov. Code 69845), calendars, and indexes of all cases. However, you can't get full access to electronic records to some records below:
- Records of Family Court proceedings, including legal separation, dissolution, marital nullity, child and spousal support, child custody, and domestic violence prevention
- Criminal records
- Conservatorship/guardianship records
- Civil harassment records under the Code of Civil Procedure section 527.6
- Gun violence records under the Penal Code sections 18100-18205
- Private postsecondary school violence records under Code of Civil Procedure section 527.85
- Workplace violence records under the Code of Civil Procedure section 527.8
- Elder or dependent adult abuse records under the Welfare and Institutions Code section 15657.03
- Records to resolve the claims of a disabled person or a juvenile
Note that people who want to see electronic records but are not a party to the records they want to see might not be able to see them remotely. In that case, most of the time, people who wanted to see these documents must visit the courthouses that heard the case.
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
Courts in California
List of Content
- Which California Courts Maintain Publicly Accessible Records?
- What are the Common Public Court Records in California?
- Does California Have a Case Search?