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Background Checks in California

Table of Contents

Need more information? Check out our guides to California arrest records and California public records.


What is a background check?

A background check is an investigation into an individual’s criminal record, employment history, driving record, education, finances, or other aspects of their personal history. 

Background checks are often performed by an organization or company in order to screen a subject before a significant financial or legal agreement. However, individuals regularly perform background checks on themselves to make sure that the public information on them matches their personal records.

For more general information on background checks, consult our Background Checks FAQS page.  

How do I run a criminal background check in California?

The California Department of Justice allows individuals to request a copy of their own criminal history record (including any misdemeanor or felony convictions and arrest records) but prohibits direct access to other people’s criminal histories for unauthorized persons.

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.

What can I do if my California criminal history record has incomplete or inaccurate information?

Upon receiving your Record Review response from the California Department of Justice, if there are any inaccuracies or false information 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. 

How do I search California court records?

California state law allows individuals to request judicial administrative records held by appellate courts by filling out and submitting this Fillable Intake Form. Requesters can send the request by mail, fax, or email to the Public Access to Records Project. The physical address and email address are listed at the bottom of the form

However, the following types of records can not be requested by this method:

  • Specific court case records
  • Divorce records
  • Traffic violations
  • Jury service information
  • Name change records

In order to view these types of records, you must contact the individual superior court that maintains the record. These courts have their own rules and procedures regarding the request of specific records, such as traffic tickets and court case files. Click here to search for your local California court.  

Where can I find California driving records online? 

The California Department of Motor Vehicles hosts a Driver Record database allowing individuals to look up their Driver Record online and print out a copy. 

Here’s some key information about the Online Driver Record Request system:

  • Users must first create an account in order to make a request.  
  • Printing a Driver Record costs $2 and may be paid by credit or debit card.
  • Driver records include departmental actions, accidents, and convictions for three, seven, or ten years.
  • Those experiences problems with the system can contact the California DMV Online Technical Support Call Center at 1-877-563-5213

Online Driver Records are not official documents. To request an official copy of your Driver Record, you must fill out form INF1125 and mail it to the DMV Headquarters address included on the form. The price for a mail-in request is $5.  

How do I look up California vital records such as birth certificates and marriage licenses?

Vital records are records of important life events such as births, deaths, marriages, and divorces that are kept by government agencies and accessible upon request. 

Vital records are not public records that can be viewed by anyone, but the subject(s) of the record and authorized family members can view them in-person or order copies through a number of means. Additionally, one or more vital records may be required to complete a background check. 

The California Department of Public Health – Vital Records enlists the services of the private company Vital Chek to enable individuals to order copies of vital records online. The government-endorsed service offers vital records from 50 U.S. states and territories. 

Individuals can choose between ordering informational copies or authorized copies of records. However, authorized copies of records are only available to authorized persons, such as the subject of the record, or a member of their immediate family. 

Available vital records include: 

  • birth certificates – $25 per copy
  • death certificates – $21 per copy
  • marriage records – $15 per copy

Click here to place an order with Vital Chek. For more information, contact the California Department of Public Health at (916) 558-1784.

How do I search for a person’s sex offender status in California?

California Penal Code 290 requires residents of the state that have been convicted of sex crimes to register as a sex offender. Additionally, California is one of just four states that require lifetime registration. 

Currently, the database has around 100,000 offenders, and the information is publicly available on the internet for safety purposes.  The State of California Department of Justice Megan’s Law Website allows individuals to search for sex offenders in three ways:

  • Name Search
  • Map Search
  • “Near My Device” search

What are the California background check laws for buying a gun?

California has some of the strictest background check laws for firearm sales in the United States. Some of the most important regulations include:

  • California is a point of contact state, meaning that firearms dealers must perform a background check on any individual that wishes to purchase a firearm. 
  • Individuals intending to buy a gun must submit an application to the Department of Justice through a licensed dealer.
  • A history of mental health treatment or residence in a mental health facility may prohibit a person from purchasing a firearm in the state.
  • California has a mandatory ten-day waiting period before a dealer can transfer a firearm to a purchaser. 
  • With a few exceptions, all firearm sales in California must be done through a licensed dealer.

How do I perform a credit history background check in California?

Performing a credit check in California follows the same process as in other states. A federal law known as the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) grants every American one free annual credit report each from the three main U.S. credit bureaus:

In order to obtain your free credit report from one of these three bureaus, you must provide the following information:

  • Full name
  • Address
  • Date of birth 
  • Social security number