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California Court Records

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California Warrant Search

Warrants are legal documents or "writs" that permit law enforcement officers to perform an action related to the administration of justice that would otherwise be illegal or violate a person's rights, such as searching a residence or arresting a person. A California judge or magistrate may issue a warrant when a person fails to appear in court or heed a court order. A warrant may also be released when probable cause exists that someone committed a criminal offense. 

A California warrant search retrieves information about active or outstanding warrants within the state. It often reveals the subject of the warrant (including their date of birth/age and physical description), issue date, primary/lead charge, warrant degree (felony or misdemeanor), warrant number, court of issue, bail amount (if any), and whether a court appearance is mandatory. 

A warrant inquiry in California can be performed through official sources like a local sheriff's office or Superior Court of California. At the same time, a person can research these records by requesting their criminal history information from the Department of Justice, or they may utilize an independent or third-party service.

Are Warrants Public Records in California

Yes, warrants are part of California's public records per the California Public Records Act (CPRA). As a result, members of the public can obtain a great deal of information about warrants issued in the state, excluding information deemed exempt by the California Public Records Act (like Social Security numbers) and other applicable statutes.

For example, under Cal. Pen. Code § 1534, search warrants are confidential from the period issued to their execution, and executed search warrants are only disclosed publicly if not sealed. Case in point: in Sacramento County, executed search warrants that qualify as public records can be viewed or copied in the county superior court's Criminal Records lobby, Room 101.

Types of Warrants in California

Courts in California release different types of warrants, each having its issue prerequisites and serving a specific judicial or administrative purpose. Popular examples include: 

Arrest Warrants: An arrest warrant (Cal Pen. Code. § 813 - 829) is a written order signed by a judge or magistrate that directs a peace officer to arrest the named subject for a listed offense or crime. 

Search Warrants: A search warrant permits law enforcement to search a person, residence, vehicle, place of business, or other specified premises where they suspect ongoing or former criminal activity. 

Bench Warrants: A judge/magistrate can issue a bench warrant (warrant "from the bench") to enable the police to arrest or detain a person for missing their court date or disobeying a court order—for example, failing to complete volunteer work, pay spousal or child support, pay a court fine, follow a probation order, or finish a treatment program. Unlike a search or arrest warrant, a bench warrant is not issued upon probable cause.

Recall Warrants: A recall warrant is a court order that directs the removal of data about canceled warrants from the Department of Justice and state police computers to prevent unfounded arrests.

What is a Search Warrant in California?

Cal. Pen. Code § 1523 defines a search warrant as a written order signed by a magistrate that allows the police to search personal property, persons, or things for criminal evidence. The document also authorizes peace officers to seize evidence found at such locations and bring them before the court.

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects the people from unreasonable searches and seizures. As a result, a search warrant cannot be issued in California without probable cause (a reasonable ground for assuming a search and seizure is well-founded). Probable cause must be supported by an affidavit naming or describing the person to be searched or searched for and the specific property, thing(s), or place to be searched. Cal. Pen. Code § 1524 lists grounds upon which a search warrant may be issued in California to include: 

  • When property or things were used to commit a felony
  • When a warrant already exists to arrest a person
  • When property was stolen or embezzled
  • When property or things to be seized include a firearm or other deadly weapon owned or possessed by a person described in Section 8102 (a) of the Welfare and Institutions Code. For example, a person detained or apprehended for examination of their mental condition
  • When property or things to be confiscated are controlled substances or devices used to administer or use a controlled substance unlawfully
  • When property or things to be confiscated show child pornography

The applicant of a search warrant is typically the peace officer to whom the warrant will be issued. The officer must submit a written and signed affidavit or application to a jurisdictional court that presents probable cause for the search. An oral statement is also allowed in specific instances. When the place to be searched is owned or in the possession of an attorney, psychotherapist, clergy member, or physician, the application or affiant must also state it. The judge or magistrate will then sign and issue the warrant if they find sufficient grounds for it.

Generally, search warrants in California are executed between 7.00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. Upon the showing of good cause ("good reason"), a judge may permit the search to occur at any time of the day or night. 

However, a California search warrant must be executed and returned to the court within 10 days from the issue date (Cal Pen. Code § 1534). Upon the expiry of the 10-day deadline, a search warrant, if not executed, becomes legally void and confidential.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Search Warrant?

According to Cal. Pen. Code § 1528, a California magistrate or judge can only sign and issue a search warrant after certifying the existence of the grounds on the application, or the existence of probable cause. The law does not specify a time frame for such examination or verification. The timeline depends on how speedily the requesting peace officer can convince the magistrate/judge that the search and seizure is warranted. As such, the waiting limit for a search warrant may be some minutes or a few hours.

What is an Arrest Warrant in California?

The California legislature, in Cal. Pen. Code § 836, authorizes peace officers to arrest a person with or without a warrant. (Warrantless arrests may occur when an officer has probable cause to believe that a public offense occurred in their presence or a person has committed a felony.)

An arrest warrant instructs a law enforcement officer to bring a person to court to answer for a criminal charge. To obtain an arrest warrant in California, a requesting police officer must establish probable cause to a judge or magistrate. Probable cause to arrest refers to a situation where the totality of circumstances or "atmosphere" would cause a reasonable person to believe that the individual to be arrested is complicit in a crime. Generally, judges in California issue arrest warrants when a peace officer or District Attorney provides evidence or a grand jury indicts a person.

Cal. Pen Code § 815 requires all arrest warrants issued in California to carry the following details: 

  • A defendant's name
  • Issue date and time
  • The issue city or county
  • The magistrate, judge, justice, or other issuing authority's title of office and signature
  • The court or other issuing agency's name
  • The defendant's charges
  • Bail amount

A person subject to an arrest warrant in California has some options to resolve or address the warrant: the individual may surrender to law enforcement or the court or post bail on the warrant (if an option). Otherwise, the warrant continues to exist until the subject is captured, the court recalls the warrant, or the subject dies.

Arrest Warrant Lookup in California

The California government does not maintain a central database that the public can query to find arrest warrants within state borders. Since arrest warrants are issued regionally, local bodies like the courts and police departments maintain associated records and release access to them per the state's open record policies. 

Below are methods for looking up active or pending arrest warrants in California: 

  • Search a local sheriff or police department's online arrest warrant database. Usually, these platforms can be queried by name. For example, the San Diego County Sheriff's Department maintains a warrant search system that can be queried by a person's last, first, or middle name. Meanwhile, the Napa County Sheriff's Office provides an Online Warrant Search system that requires a person's last and first name to retrieve active arrest warrants.
  • Search a local superior court's case information website. For example, the Superior Court of California, County of Santa Clara, has a Traffic Case Info portal where individuals can look up a case to determine whether an arrest warrant was issued and its issue date. 
  • Access a private aggregate website that provides an arrest warrant search service.

How to Find Out If You Have a Warrant in California

Regardless of the type of warrant issued in a person's name, a member of the public generally has two places where they can find out if they have an active warrant in California. 

The first is the issuing court. Requesters may reach out to the superior court in the county or city where they have an open court case. The court clerk's office can provide information on active warrants, including how to resolve them.

The second location is a local sheriff's office. Typically, the authority to execute a warrant lies with law enforcement, and when a court issues a warrant in California, the corresponding information is shared with the police. 

As mentioned, many local sheriff's offices in California provide an online warrant search system for public inquiries. However, some sheriff's offices do not disseminate warrant information online, and others (like the Kent County Sheriff's Office) do not accept calls for active warrants. In such instances, a requester may visit the respective agency's front counter or lobby during regular business hours or use other available means (e.g., email) to inquire about their warrant status. 

Note: When making in-person inquiries at a law enforcement agency's office, the subject of a warrant will be asked to produce a copy of their photo ID. However, because one risks an arrest with an in-person inquiry, it may be advisable to consult an attorney beforehand.

Finally, to look up statewide warrant information, a person may request their personal criminal history information from the State Department of Justice (DOJ) for $25. The DOJ requires a person's fingerprints to process a request. The California DOJ can be emailed at recordreview@doj.ca.gov for criminal history record inquiries.

Free Warrant Search in California

Residents of California and other interested parties can call, visit, or search an online database provided by a court or law enforcement department to verify the existence of a warrant. One piece of information often required to facilitate the search is the subject's name or a case number. Typically, no fee is assessed to obtain warrant information through official sources in California. 

How to Find Out If Someone Has A Warrant Online

Most local courts and sheriff's offices in California provide online search applications for persons who want to look up warrant information. Typically, these tools are featured on agency official websites and accessible with a person's last or first name at no cost. However, users may utilize other search parameters if available, such as a birth year or court case number.

A California warrant search can also be conducted via an independent or third-party website. However, a fee may be assessed to obtain detailed information from such third-party providers. This fee varies by website, but the advantage of a third-party site is that a user's search often covers various counties and cities, including those outside of California. Like official government websites, a person typically requires a full name to perform an inquiry via an independent service provider.

How Long Do Warrants Last in California?

Generally, warrants do not expire in California to prevent people from evading the legal system. Except for search warrants that become void after 10 days (and which a judge may reissue), all other warrants disseminated by a court of law remain active until resolved or the subject's death. Resolution of a warrant may occur by a person's arrest and subsequent appearance in court, payment of a fine, or the court may quash or recall the writ if probable cause no longer exists.

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California Warrant Search