California Court Records
California Arrest Records
When an individual breaks the law or is suspected of engaging in criminal activity in California, the likely result is their temporary loss of freedom. The individual may be arrested by a police officer and subsequently held at a local jail pending their bail/bond payment or court appearance. Typically, each arrestee in California goes through a booking process that creates a few official documents, including an arrest record.
A California arrest record describes the incident of a person's arrest in the Golden State. It carries pertinent details about an apprehended person, the offense(s) leading to the arrest, and the officer/agency that made the arrest.
By reviewing arrest records, citizens, residents, and other parties can keep up with the activities of the police force regarding enforcing the law or maintaining public order and safety. In addition, someone who inspects an arrest record can determine why a person was arrested and where they are being held. An arrest record is also an important legal document for initiating criminal court proceedings. Typically, arrest records are maintained by local law enforcement agencies.
According to the 2022 Crime in California report, California's total arrest rate in 2022 was 2,535.2 per 100,000 Population at Risk (defined as persons between ages 10 and 69). Compared to the previous year, which had a total arrest rate of 2,606.3, the 2022 total arrest rate was 2.7% lower. The total number of arrests reported in 2022 was 780,888 (754,888 adults and 26,000 juveniles). Meanwhile, the total number of arrests made in 2021 was 792,797 (773,442 adults and 19,355 juveniles), representing a 1.5% drop in the next year.
Are Arrest Records Public in California?
Yes. In line with California's open records policies, enforced by the California Public Records Act (Cal. Government Code §§ 7920.000 et seq.) and other applicable statutes, the public is entitled to access to records generated by the California government.
The California Public Records Act (or "CPRA") facilitates the public examination of many government records, including arrest records preserved by local and state law enforcement agencies. Hence, any interested member of the public can view or copy information about arrests that took place within the state.
However, the CPRA excludes certain records from public release in California. This means that if a request is made for such confidential records, the requester can only obtain the documents or information they seek if they are an authorized party or can produce a court order from a court of competent jurisdiction. (Sometimes, supporting documentation like valid identification may be required.) Typically, certain portions of a record may be deemed confidential, or the entire file may be withheld from the public.
Cal. Gov. Code §§ 7923.650 through 7930.215 specify several exemptions to the CPRA, including:
- Identifying juvenile information
- Information that may endanger a witness or other person's safety
- Information that may threaten the successful completion of an investigation or related investigation
- Information that may deprive a person of a fair trial
- Identifying confidential informant information
- Local and state criminal history information
What is Included in California Arrest Records?
California arrest records may contain the following elements:
- Arrestee's Identifying Information: This includes a suspect's complete name (first, middle, and last) and date of birth.
- Arrestee's Physical Description: Sex, race, height, weight, and color of hair and eyes.
- Offense Details: The offense category (felony, misdemeanor, or infraction) and the statute of law violated.
- Arrest and Booking Details: The arrest date, time, and location. Also included is the arresting agency (sometimes, the arresting officer's name), information about the outcome of the arrest (i.e., whether the suspect was released or kept in jail), amount of bail set, booking time and date, and the time and manner of release.
- Outstanding warrants and probation/parole holds to which an arrestee is subject.
- The factual circumstances leading to an arrest
Find Public Arrest Records in California
Individuals can obtain public arrest records from local law enforcement agencies like a sheriff's office or police department. There are several different ways to submit public arrest records requests. Each agency typically prescribes its own unique method. However, the following steps are required across the board:
- Identify the Records Custodian: A query for a public arrest record should be addressed to the agency that made an arrest. Local police departments do not maintain records outside of their jurisdictions.
- Determine the Records Request Procedures and Fees: In many cases, an individual will find guidelines for obtaining public arrest records on a law enforcement division's website. When such information is unavailable, the person can contact the agency to determine request procedures and fees. The requester is also advised to confirm the availability of the records they seek.
- Submit the Request: Usually, law enforcement agencies provide in-person, mail, and online options for requesting records in their custody. Where in-person requests are permitted, the inquirer can visit an agency's physical location during regular business hours to submit a request (sometimes an appointment will be required). Where mail inquiries are encouraged, the requester can draft a letter containing information sufficient to identify the arrest record (e.g., a name or arrest date) and send said letter to the agency's designated mailing address. Meanwhile, if the arresting agency provides an online portal for submitting public arrest records requests, the interested party can access this portal through the agency's website to make related inquiries.
Note, however, that fees accompany direct requests for arrest records. These fees are typically assessed per page, and the amount and payment methods vary across agencies.
As noted earlier, the public has some access to arrest records held by law enforcement agencies. However, some records cannot be accessed by the general public. In cases where one requires access to restricted or non-public arrest records, especially regarding an established court hearing, it may be possible to subpoena the record.
A subpoena is a court order requiring someone to produce a record or appear in court as a witness. Subpoenas to provide an arrest report must be served in person on the records custodian during regular business hours. A non-refundable fee typically applies (often a minimum of $15), which must be paid at the time of service. More information about how to subpoena an arrest record can be obtained from the particular agency with the record in its custody.
How to Lookup Arrest Records Online in California
Inquirers may look up arrest records online in California through official and third-party sources. Individuals utilizing official sources can check the website of a local sheriff or police unit, which may feature some arrest information. A local law enforcement agency's website may also have an online database that the public can access to find out if someone is in jail following an arrest. Usually, such databases are accessible with a person's name or assigned booking number.
On the other hand, several third-party websites provide arrest records to interested members of the public. These websites may be found by inputting related keywords into a major search engine and are usually searchable with criteria such as a person's first and last name and an applicable U.S. state. However, verifying records obtained from a non-government source is essential to ensure the accuracy and completeness of records.
How Long Do Arrests Stay on Your Record in California?
Indefinitely. There is no set time frame for removing an arrest from a person's record in California. As the state establishes no specific deadline for sealing or expunging an arrest record, the records remain in existence according to agency retention schedules. Retention schedules are established to satisfy legal, liability, and audit requirements and are influenced by different factors, such as the record type and an agency's internal policies.
A case in point is the records of arrests maintained by the California Department of Justice (DOJ), which stay on file until a subject clocks 100 years of age. On the other hand, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department generally retains its records for 10 years.
Expunge an Arrest Record in California
Persons who want to seal their arrest records may file a petition under Cal. Pen. Code § 851.8 (where a person was determined factually innocent) or Cal. Pen. Code § 851.91 (sealing adult misdemeanor and felony arrest records where no conviction exists).
Sealing an arrest record under Cal. Pen. Code § 851.8
To seal an arrest record under Cal. Pen. Code § 851.8, one must submit a Petition to Seal and Destroy Adult Arrest Records (Form BCIA 8270). However, the petitioner must have had no charges filed against them, had the charges dismissed before trial, or were acquitted by a jury. One can use the BCIA 8270 form or seek a corresponding form from their local court (if available).
In California, a Petition to Seal and Destroy Adult Arrest Records can be submitted to an arresting law enforcement agency if no charges were filed against the petitioner. A copy of the petition must also be submitted to the respective county or city's prosecutor. However, suppose a petitioner had charges filed but got them dismissed, or they were acquitted, or they submitted a petition to a police agency and received no relief. In that case, the petition can be filed with a superior court of jurisdiction.
There is no court cost to file the petition. However, a petitioner must convince a judge that an officer had no reason to arrest them. A copy of the petition must also be served on the respective city or county's prosecuting agency.
Sealing an arrest record under Cal. Pen. Code § 851.91
Where an arrest did not result in a conviction, a record subject may be able to seal their California arrest record under Cal. Pen. Code § 851.91 (a Petition to Seal Arrest and Related Records).
Below are the eligibility criteria for sealing an arrest record under the specified statute:
- The individual was arrested with no charges filed
- The individual was arrested and charged, but the charges were dismissed
- The individual completed diversion, and the charges were dismissed
- The individual completed a deferred entry of judgment (DEJ), and the charges were dismissed
- The individual went to trial and was acquitted
Interested persons can find instructions for filing Form CR-409 in Form CR-490-INFO. More information about sealing California arrest records, including other ways to seal or limit an arrest record, can be obtained from the state judiciary's Record Cleaning: Arrest with No Conviction and Clean Your Record pages.
When an arrest record is sealed in California under a court's order, the effect is that the record will not be released to anyone except for the record's subject or a criminal justice agency. Subsequently, the subject is not expected to disclose the existence of the record unless applying for a public office, a state or local license, employment as a peace officer, or other applicable scenarios.
It should be noted that a person can file a Petition for Dismissal (California's expungement procedure) when there is a conviction. A Petition for Dismissal asks the court to reopen the case to set aside a conviction, withdraw a guilty plea, enter a plea of "not guilty," and finalize the case without a conviction. However, records of one's arrest and charges will still exist.
Furthermore, the procedure to seal a California juvenile arrest record differs from that used to seal an adult arrest record. In the former scenario, a person must petition a juvenile court and be eligible under Welfare and Institutions Code § 781.
How Do I Find Recent Arrests in California?
The public can find recent arrests within a California county or city through a sheriff or police department. These agencies often publish online arrest logs that provide summaries of recent arrests within a period. This period could be a few days, a month, or may date back to a few years. For example, the San Ramon Police Department publishes weekly (7-day) arrest logs, while the Lake County Sheriff's Office publishes an arrest log for the previous 30 days alone.
Are California Arrest Records Free?
Yes. Members of the public can access information about recent arrests ("arrest logs") from a local law enforcement agency's website for free. However, anyone requesting a copy of an arrest record or report from such agencies must pay the associated fee, which differs by agency. The same principle applies when sourcing documents from non-governmental websites—searching for a record at no cost may be possible, but a fee must often be paid for the generated record.