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Are Criminal Records Public in California?

In California, criminal records are not subject to disclosure under the State’s Public Records Act; that is, the general public cannot view or copy anyone’s criminal history information. Only individuals in the state have the right to apply for a copy of their criminal records upon proper identification (i.e., fingerprints). Third-party requests are not authorized and are not processed.

However, the law of the state permits certain employers to access this information. Such employers include child care facilities, law enforcement agencies, public utilities, and security guard firms.

What Is Included In a Criminal Record in California?

A criminal record commonly referred to as a “rap sheet” contains a summary of criminal history on a subject as collated by local and state law enforcement agencies. It lists all arrests and convictions of the person. At any point where a person is fingerprinted in the process of a criminal investigation, such information is included in the person’s criminal records.

With regards to each arrest listed in a California criminal record, the associated information includes the following:

  • The full name (including known aliases) of the suspect
  • Biographical data including date of birth, race/ethnicity, and sex
  • A set of fingerprints
  • A mugshot of the suspect and other specific physical descriptors
  • Details of arrest and other outstanding warrants
  • Previous indictments
  • Conviction information

Note that conviction information will highlight the date of the conviction, the charges, the sentence, and the nature of the crime (felony or misdemeanor). If the district attorney decides not to prosecute the charges, the criminal record will show that. The rap sheet will also show if the subject has entered and completed a ‘diversion’ program.

How to Look Up my Criminal Records in California?

By law, sheriffs, police departments, probate departments, district attorney offices, and courts across California are mandated to submit records of arrest and corresponding dispositions to the state’s Department of Justice (DOJ). While access to criminal records maintained by the DOJ is restricted to law enforcement purposes and authorized applicant agencies, citizens may request to inspect their own records.

As an authorized party, a citizen may submit a personal criminal record request by submitting a completed Live Scan Form BCIA 8016RR (Spanish copy) and a set of fingerprints. Requestors are required to provide accurate personal information and check “Record Review” as the “Type of Application” on the form. To obtain a set of fingerprints, the applicant may visit the local police department, the Sheriff’s Office, or the nearest Public Live Scan site. The service provider may charge a fee for rolling fingerprints.

Applicants living outside the state of California or the country are required to complete a different form; the form BCIA 8705 (Spanish copy).. Such applicants may contact appropriate local law enforcement agency for fingerprinting using the FBI fingerprint card FD–258. The rolled fingerprint card must include the applicant’s full name, date of birth, sex, and return mailing address.

There is a $25 processing fee charged for this service. The cost is payable by a personal check drawn on a local bank, money order, or certified check. Payment checks are to be made out to the ‘California Department of Justice.’ Ensure to include “Fee for Criminal Record Request” on the memo line. Mail the completed form, fingerprint card, and processing fee to:

California Department of Justice

Record Review Unit

P. O. Box 903417

Sacramento, CA 94203–4170

ATTN: Records Review Unit

Note that the DOJ does not provide individual applicants with certified copies of criminal history records. For more information on completing a form, consult the instruction manual (Spanish copy) or call the DOJ at (916) 227–3849 or (916) 227–3835. Alternatively, send questions by email to recordreview@doj.ca.gov.

How Can I Get my Criminal Records for Free in California?

Applicants who cannot afford the $25 processing fee to request a copy of the criminal record may apply for a waiver. Waivers are only granted to eligible applicants. Qualification for a waive is extended to persons:

  • Without an income
  • With income lower for household size or area of residence
  • Receiving public assistance like Medi-Cal, CalFresh/Food Stamps, or Disability

Other relevant information may be required prior to final approval. The information includes the applicant’s EBT ID card number, estimated monthly income, mailing addresses, among other personal data. To apply for a fee waiver, visit the State of California Department of Justice website.

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching simpler, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for a specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
  • The location or assumed location of the record or person involved. This includes information such as the city, county, or state that the person resides in or was accused in.

Third-party sites are independent of government sources and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party websites may vary.

How to Search Criminal Records Online in California?

Law enforcement agencies in California are prohibited from making criminal records available online. While remote online access is not applicable, requestors may be able to view the records of criminal proceedings from courthouse electronic access terminal. These computer terminals are at courthouses that maintain their court records in electronic forms. Requestors may be able to determine if a particular court record of a proceeding is available by using the Criminal case Index Search tool on a local courthouse website. Note these records are not the official court record and may not suffice in place of an actual criminal record.

How Long Does a DUI Stay on My Criminal Record in California?

Like in most jurisdictions in the U.S., the crime of driving under the influence (DUI) is a serious one in California. The conviction for a DUI stays on the offender’s criminal record permanently unless expunged. It is the policy of the California Department of Justice (DOJ) to maintain any criminal history information until the subject reaches 100 years of age.

Penalties for the crime of DUI range from a misdemeanor to felony, depending on the nature of the offense. First, DUI offenders are charged with a misdemeanor unless harm is caused to a victim. Offenders who get a second DUI conviction within ten years of the first suffer higher penalties. However, a second DUI conviction that happens after ten years of the previous offense is treated as a first offense. Though, none of the DUI convictions is erased from the subject’s criminal record entirely. Law enforcement agencies and authorized employers can still access records of such convictions.

How to Get Criminal Records Expunged in California?

Eligible ex-offenders in California may appeal to have their criminal records expunged under the State’s Penal Code §§ 1203.4 and 1203.4a. Under this code, expunged records are no longer accessible for general law enforcement and public uses unless under certain exceptional circumstances. Note such situations will require a court order or statutory authorization before access.

Eligibility under this Penal Code is only extended to cases of misdemeanors and certain felonies categorized as ‘wobblers.’ Under Penal Code § 1203.4, qualification is given to an offender:

  • Granted probation on the case
  • Who have completed the entire duration of probation with full compliance with all probation conditions
  • Discharged from probation
  • Not serving a sentence for any other crime.
  • Not on probation for any other crime
  • Not currently charged with another crime
  • Who have completed all court restitution and fines

Furthermore, the Penal Code § 1203.4a granted eligibility to ex-offenders convicted of a misdemeanor under the following conditions where:

  • A year has passed since the judgment was entered.
  • The offender was sentenced, and probation was not granted.
  • The offender has completed the sentence and complied with all terms.
  • The offender is not on probation for any other crime.
  • There are no new charges.

However, offenders who have served state prison time and parole are ineligible for an expungement, though they may be eligible for a pardon. Other criminal records not eligible for expunction are listed in Penal Code §1203.4(b). Petitioners should recognize that the court has the final discretion on granting an expunction, and the actions of an applicant post-conviction are put into consideration.

Getting a criminal record expunged in California begins with the applicant completing a 'Petition for Relief' form. It is a request to the judge to vacate the conviction and dismiss the case against the subject. The completed form is submitted to the local Superior Court, where the conviction occurred. A filing fee of $60 for a misdemeanor or infraction or $120 for a felony is required. However, the court may waive this fee for indigent petitioners.

Additional paperwork may be necessary to complete the petition, depending on the type and nature of the offense. Generally, felonies require additional paperwork. Refer to the website of the local courthouse for other requirements to complete a petition. Typically, it takes the court a minimum of 8–10 weeks to decide on each appeal.

How to Get Criminal Records Sealed in California?

Arrests that do not result in a conviction or with conviction overturned remains on a person’s criminal record in California. However, such individuals may petition to have such criminal history information sealed under the California Penal Code §851.91 or Penal Code § 851.8. Criminal records eligible for sealing under these laws include:

  • Where the offender is arrested but no criminal charges were filed
  • where the charges were dismissed in court and the case cannot be refiled
  • Where a jury acquitted the arrestee
  • Where a conviction was overturned on appeal and the matter cannot be refiled

Petitions filed under Penal Code § 851.8 must prove the applicant was factually innocent; this is different from a plea of not guilty. Petition here must be filed within two years of such arrest or the filing of charges in court. On the other hand, petitions filed under Penal Code §851.91 are admissible within the time set by the State’s Statute of Limitations Penal Code §§ 799–805.

A petition granted under Penal Code § 851.8 permits the person to deny any record of prior arrest in all situations. While a request under Penal Code §851.91 does not allow the person a denial when directly asked during application for:

  • Public Office
  • A license by any state or local agency
  • Employment as a peace officer
  • Contracting with the State’s Lottery Commission.

When applying for a criminal record sealing under the Penal Code § 851.8 in cases where the prosecutor never filed charges, the person may petition the law enforcement agency for relief. To do this, complete the Department of Justice form BCII—8270 and submit to the District Attorney’s Office or the prosecuting agency in the county or city of the arrest.

However, in cases where the charges were dismissed or acquitted, or the law enforcement agency refused to grant relief as applied above, the person may petition the court for Sealing and Destruction of Arrest Records. It involves filing a completed SDSC Form #CRM–221 with the court. A copy of the completed form will be served to the law enforcement agency and the district attorney of the county or city where the arrest was made. This copy must be served not later than ten days before the hearing on the petition. At the hearing, the applicant must establish that there was no probable cause for the arrest.

Petitions under the California Penal Code §851.91 are filed differently with the court. It may be a written petition including:

  • The petitioner’s name and date of birth
  • The arrest date
  • The city and county of arrest
  • The arresting law enforcement agency
  • The case number of the arrest report or court record
  • A list of the charges

The petition must include a statement of application demanding the seal of one’s criminal record as a matter of right or in the interests of justice. Similarly, the petitioner must serve a copy of the petition to the law enforcement agency and the prosecuting agency but at least 15 days before the hearing.

Note, there is no fee charged by the court for a petition for the sealing of criminal records in California. Also, applicants may consult with the Office of the Public Defender at the county to complete a petition.

Who Can See my Expunged/Sealed Criminal Record in California?

The expungement of criminal records in California does not mean the case files are sealed. Such criminal records are marked as Dismissed, releasing the defendants from all penalties and disabilities consequent upon the offense. Hence, expunged criminal records in California remain available for specific law enforcement and civil uses. These include the use of such records for sex offender registration and immigration purposes.

Other limitations to criminal record expunction in California include the disclosure of the conviction when seeking a government job or license. Also, expunged convictions may be applicable in the punishment for future crimes and may count as a “strike” under the state’s three-strikes law.

However, defendants may resolve some of these limitations by securing a certificate of rehabilitation or the Governor’s pardon. Similarly, some felonies may be reduced to a misdemeanor to help in the restoration of some rights.

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