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Criminal Records in California

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


In California, a person’s criminal record outlines a person’s criminal activity. These records contain information such as arrest date, offense arrested for, time of arrest, and more. 

California is well known for having an excellent policing and judicial system, accounting for the high level of accountability with criminal records in the state. The state-managed online depositories store all the criminal records of every person arrested, convicted, and tried in the State of California. 

The public has access to their own criminal records but may not request a record of other people. Criminal records are not considered public in the state. However, court records are considered public, so they can be accessed at any time.

What is a criminal record?

A criminal record is an official document detailing a person’s criminal convictions, pending criminal cases, prior arrests, and other interactions with law enforcement agencies.

Additional names for a criminal record include criminal history record, rap sheet, and police record.  

As with marriage records and court records, criminal records are generally public records in the United States and can be accessed through a criminal background check. However, public access to specific criminal record information varies from state to state.

In the state of California, a person can request his or her own criminal record, but not a record for someone else. Criminal court case records are available to anyone at any time through an online portal.  

What is included in a California criminal record?

As criminal records are kept by law enforcement agencies at all levels of government in the United States, a California criminal record may vary in format and content depending on the law enforcement database from which it is accessed.

Generally, a California criminal record will include the following information: 

  • A person’s full name and possible aliases
  • Personal information such as age, date of birth, sex, ethnicity, height, weight, and other physical characteristics
  • Fingerprints and mugshot
  • Misdemeanor criminal offenses and convictions
  • Felony criminal offenses and convictions
  • Traffic records
  • Past and outstanding arrest warrants
  • Prior arrests
  • Pending and dismissed charges

Why would someone access a criminal record?

There are many reasons to access a criminal record, but the most common reason is to run a background check on an individual. Local law enforcement agencies also may run them to locate people involved in crimes that remain on the books, or by court systems that need the information to determine the proper sentencing after a conviction has taken place. 

There are also times when an individual may want to access their own records as well for any discrepancies. If there are any errors, there are steps to take to have the record corrected.

What’s the difference between an infraction, misdemeanor, and felony?

When you access a criminal record, the person listed on the record may have an offense listed. Criminal offenses are usually broken into three categories: Infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies. 

An infraction is a minor violation, a misdemeanor is more serious, and a felony is the most serious type of crime.

To better understand the information listed on a criminal record, here’s a quick overview of each offense and its severity:

  • Infraction: A small traffic violation or littering are considered infractions. An infraction is a minor violation of the law. Usually, punishments are a warning or a fine. Typically, no jail time is associated with an infraction. 
  • Misdemeanor: If someone were to get a DUI or a drug violation, it’s considered a misdemeanor. A misdemeanor is more serious than an infraction but less severe than a felony. Jail time of less than a year or probation are usually associated with these types of crimes. Likely, the offender will do time in a local or county jail.
  • Felony: Murder, rape, and arson are considered felony charges. A felony is the most serious type of crime. Offenders are typically sentenced to jail for more than a year and are likely held in a state or federal facility. 

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

An arrest record is an official document including the details of a specific arrest. A criminal record is a more comprehensive document that includes a person’s entire criminal background known to law enforcement agencies. 

Both types of documents are usually public records in the United States, although information about specific arrests may be sealed and rendered inaccessible to the public for a variety of reasons.    

Whether an arrest record or a criminal record is accessed, the information listed is for state crimes only. If a person is involved in a federal crime, this information is not listed on a state record. 

How do I search for a California criminal record?

In California, a person can request to look at their own criminal record, but that’s it. Any request to see someone else’s record will be denied. 

To request your own record, the state provides a list of instructions on the attorney general’s website. To obtain a record, a person must have their fingerprints taken through the local police department or at a live scan facility, fill out a form, and pay $25. A list of fingerprint locations can be found on the website as well. 

If you want to request your criminal record, but live outside of the state, there is a separate set of instructions. The biggest difference being a manual fingerprint card must be submitted.

Forms, fingerprints, and payment are all sent to:

California Department of Justice

Bureau of Criminal Identification and Analysis

Record Review & Challenge Section

PO BOX 160207

Sacramento, CA 95816-0207

How do I obtain a physical copy of a California criminal record?

To get a physical copy of your own California criminal record, the requester should go to the Sheriff’s office. There is also the option of calling the office on (408) 808-4700 to book an appointment. 

The physical copy of the record will be sent to the requester in the mail. 

How do I search for California criminal case court records?

Court records are considered public records, which means the public can access them. There are three ways a person can search for a California criminal case court record. 

  1. A person can use the state’s Public Portal. The search is conducted by entering the name of the defendant and the month when the case was filed. If the case was filed before 2004, then an online search won’t produce any results. In such a situation, the individual making the request can either write a letter to the office of the clerk or visit the office directly. 
  2. A person can also send a letter to the office of the clerk, requesting the criminal record of anyone. In the letter, enter the name of the defendant, the birth date of the defendant, and the years that the requester wants to be searched. Cases filed before 2004 are more difficult to find. There is a fee for every criminal case court record request, depending on the amount of time it takes for the office to find the record. 
  3. The last option is to go to the courthouse where the case was filed. 

Cases that occurred before 2004 are kept on microfiche. For help, reach out to a court clerk. To access records, you need to know the defendant’s name, date of birth, and year the case was filed. 

Does California allow criminal records to be sealed or expunged?

In California, criminal records can be expunged. Under the California penal code 1203.4, an individual expunged has been “released from all penalties and disabilities” that comes with the conviction.

A person who has been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony can be expunged, given that the convicted person meets the following requirements:

  • The person has fully served the probation time for the offense
  • The person did not serve time in state prison for the offense
  • If the crime was commuted and the person was convicted after the implementation of the realignment act, the person had served time in state prison but would have served in a county jail  

All crimes that involve marijuana would be looked at and sealed by the California Department of Justice, provided the crimes are not punishable under the new California Assembly bill 1793 (2018). The time it takes for the court to expunge a case depends on how busy the court is. It could take from around four days to as much as four months. And most times, there is no need for a court sitting. 

How can I have false information on a California criminal record corrected?

To correct any piece of false information on a California criminal record, the requester must complete a “Claim of Alleged Inaccuracy or Incompleteness” form (Form BCIA 8706). The form will be attached to the requester’s criminal records. The completed form should be sent to the office of the public defender via email: [email protected].

The Department of Justice will then look into the request and mail the requester an amended criminal report if it’s approved.

How long are California criminal records kept on file?

According to the law, until the subject with the criminal record reaches 100 years old, the criminal record is still kept in a file.