Arrest Records in California

Table of Contents

California is by far the most populated state in the United States with a population of 39.5 million, as well as the 11th most densely populated. The state’s capital is Sacramento, and its largest city is Los Angeles. In total, there are 58 counties in California, with the most populated being Los Angeles County, which has over 10.1 million people, and the least populated being Alpine County, which is located in the Sierra Nevada mountains. 

Crime rates in California vary considerably between municipalities, but the state’s overall 2018 violent crime rate of 4.47 per 1,000 is a bit above the national rate. The state’s most dangerous city is Emeryville, which has a violent crime rate of 14.15 per 1,000, followed by Stockton with a violent crime of 14 per 1,000. Owing to its size, California had the most arrests in 2018 of any state in the nation.  

California Arrest and Crime Statistics

  • In 2018, over 1 million arrests were reported by 700 law enforcement agencies in California, including 42,958 arrests of minors under the age of 18.
  • 110,236 arrests were made for violent crimes, including 1,409 arrests for murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, 2,539 arrests for rape, and 16,670 arrests for robbery. 
  • Drug abuse violations were the leading identified cause of arrests, accounting for 219,251, followed by driving under the influence with 127,250 arrests, and aggravated assault with 89,618 arrests. 
  • 58,286 arrests were made for drunkenness, and 5,948 for violation of liquor laws.
  • California has over 106,000 registered sex offenders.  

Sources: FBI: 2018 Crime in the United States, State of California Department of Safety

What is a public arrest record?

An arrest record is a report produced by a law enforcement entity after the arrest or apprehension of an individual which contains the details of the incident, the individual’s personal information, and occasionally includes additional information about the individual’s criminal record.

An arrest record is often a key document in a criminal case and may play a significant role in an ensuing trial. The arrest record may remain in the public record for a long time regardless of whether the suspect is ultimately convicted of the crime(s) for which they were initially arrested. This means that it can be accessed by the general public.  

What is included in a public arrest record?

  • Description of the incident: An arrest record will include a chronological account of the alleged crime produced by the arresting officer that may utilize information provided by first-hand witnesses and/or victims of the alleged crime. 
  • Date and location of the arrest
  • Physical description: The height, weight, hair color, sex, and race of the arrested person, along with other distinguishing characteristics such as tattoos, scars, or birthmarks. 
  • Personal information: The name, age, date of birth, phone number, address, social security number, and other contact information of the arrested individual, as well as any other names the person may go by. 
  • Photographs
  • Fingerprints
  • Criminal charges filed
  • Classification of the crime: Whether the alleged crime is a felony or a misdemeanor.
  • Bail
  • Court date
  • Police interrogation details

What are the types of charges that may appear on an arrest record?

Generally, charges are classified into three main categories:

  • Infraction – An infraction is a minor violation of the law that is regulated at the state level. Punishment for an infraction is typically a fine or a written warning, rather than a jail or prison sentence. Examples of infractions include minor traffic violations, public nuisance offenses, and littering. 
  • Misdemeanor – A misdemeanor is a crime that is more serious than an infraction, but less severe than a felony, and generally punishable by a term of imprisonment of less than a year, or a term of probation. An individual convicted of a misdemeanor is more likely to serve time in a county or local jail than a federal or state prison. Examples of misdemeanors include driving under the influence, most drug abuse violations, and petty theft.
  • Felony – A felony is the most serious type of crime and generally results in a term of imprisonment of more than one year in a state or federal prison. Having a felony on one’s record may result in limitations of employment and the acquisition of specialty licenses. Examples of felonies include rape, murder, and arson.  

Who can access arrest records?

As in most other states, arrest records (also known as arrest reports) are public records in California and can be accessed by anyone upon request to a law enforcement agency, and may come up during a routine background check. 

Other examples of California public records include:

  • vital records such as birth and death certificates
  • marriage licenses
  • mugshots
  • court records
  • voting records
  • property records 

Where are physical copies of arrest records kept in California?

Arrest records are typically held by the law enforcement agency responsible for the arrest, usually a local police department or county sheriff’s office. They also may be kept in the archive of a state government agency, or circuit court. However, there is no official repository for arrest records. 

Why can’t I access an arrest record in California?

There are a number of reasons why you may not be able to access an arrest record. Although the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requires federal agencies to release arrest records and other public records, records that fall under certain exemptions can be withheld from the public.

The FOIA includes nine exemptions that allow agencies to withhold documents, such as arrest records, and not release them to the public. They are:

  1. The information is classified to protect natural security. 
  2. The information focuses on the internal rules and practices of the agency.
  3. Another federal law prohibits the release of the information.
  4. The information includes confidential trade secrets and/or commercial and financial information. 
  5. The information includes privileged, confidential communicative exchanges between two agencies. 
  6. The information could pose a danger to another person’s privacy if released.
  7. The information is reserved for law enforcement purposes in a court case or an investigation or could reveal a confidential source. 
  8. The information includes confidential information about financial institution supervision. 
  9. The information includes geographical information about wells.

Additionally, some state laws limit the availability of arrest records due to the fact that they are perceived as one-sided documents that do not include the arrested person’s account of the incident. 

What is the difference between an arrest record and a criminal record?

Compared to an arrest record, a criminal record is a more thorough document that details an individual’s entire criminal history, including arrest warrants, arrests, third party complaints, convictions, and even dropped cases. 

What is the difference between an arrest record and an arrest warrant?

An arrest warrant is a document issued by a judge or magistrate that grants law enforcement the authority to arrest an individual suspected of a crime or to search and seize the individual’s property, whereas an arrest record is a document of an arrest that is only created after an arrest or apprehension has already occurred.  

In order for a judge or magistrate to issue an arrest warrant, they must conclude that there is probable cause for an arrest. Probable cause must be backed by sworn testimony or an affidavit that provides sufficient information supporting the need for an arrest. An arrest warrant must also specify one individual that should be arrested, rather than a group of individuals or a rough description of a suspect. 

How many Americans have been arrested?

While crime has steadily dropped in the United States over the past several decades, arrests have gone up, particularly for younger age groups. Typically, law enforcement makes around 10 million arrests each year. Here are some key statistics on arrests in the United States:

  • In 2018, around 10.3 million arrests were made nationwide.
  • 73% of arrested persons in 2018 were males.
  • The more recent an American was born, the greater the likelihood that the individual has been arrested at least once. The following is the percentage of Americans in various age groups that have been arrested: 
    • 6.4% of Americans  born before 1949
    • 10.7% of Americans born between 1949 and 1958
    • 13.8% of Americans born between 1959 and 1968
    • 18.7% of Americans born between 1969 and 1978
    • 23% of Americans born between 1979-1988

Sources: Federal Bureau of Investigation, RAND Corporation

How to search for Arrest Records in California

How can I get copies of public arrest records in California?

The California Department of Justice allows individuals to request a copy of their own criminal history record, complete with any existing arrest records, but prohibits direct access to other people’s criminal histories.

Follow these steps in order to retrieve a copy of your California criminal history:

  1. Open the Live Scan Form (Spanish) on the California Department of Justice website
  2. Select Record Review under Type of Application
  3. Enter Record Review in the Reason for Application space
  4. Complete the rest of the form by filling out your personal information
  5. Print the completed form and take it to a designated Public Live Scan site such as a local police department or sheriff’s office in order to add your fingerprints (list of Public Live Scan sites
  6. Be prepared to pay a $25 processing fee and a fingerprint rolling fee ( fee varies depending on the site)

If you choose to submit your application manually, mail it along with your fingerprint card, and a $25 personal check, certified check, or money order made out to California Department of Justice to the following address:

California Department of Justice

Record Review Unit

P.O. Box 903417

Sacramento, CA 94203-4170

If you have any questions about the form or need assistance obtaining a blank fingerprint card, call the DOJ Record Review Unit at (916) 227-3849.

How can I search for a California arrest record on the internet using a background check service?

Since tracking down physical copies of arrest records can prove challenging, searching for them online is a viable option. There is a wealth of online services that allow you to search and access California arrest records and other public records via numerous government agency databases in exchange for a fee. 

However, despite the fact that users must pay to obtain an arrest record from an online service, it’s nevertheless a convenient means of getting these documents. The offices of government agencies are often marred by inconsistent service and take a long time to process requests to view documents. 

Sometimes it’s worth it to pay a fee to use an online background check service, rather than endure the extended delays typical of government offices.  

What can I do if my arrest record has a mistake?

Upon receiving your Record Review response from the California Department of Justice, if there are any inaccuracies or false information regarding an arrest record or other aspects of your criminal history, you may submit a challenge to the contents of the record. 

To do this, you must follow these steps:

  1. Complete the Claim of Alleged Inaccuracy or Incompleteness form which comes with the Record Review response.
  2. Clearly state the basis of the challenge and include any documents you have that support your challenge. 
  3. Mail the form, along with a copy of your criminal history record, and any documents that support your challenge to the address specified on the form. 


If you’re worried that someone you know or love has a criminal record and maybe hiding it from you, run a quick background check online with Thanks to public records laws, almost all California arrests, criminal and civil records are available online, as well as comprehensive background checks and secret data. You can even find California marriage records, secret divorce records as well as birth and death records.

Violent Crime rate 

Property Crime rate 

Murder Crime rate 

Forcible Rape rate 

Robbery rate 

Assault rate 

Burglary rate 

Theft rate 

Motor Vehicle Theft rate