Understanding the Basics: California Criminal Records Search

In California, accessing criminal records can be crucial for various purposes, from employment screenings to personal safety assessments. Understanding how to conduct a California criminal records search and what information can be obtained is essential. Here’s a comprehensive guide to help you navigate the basics of California criminal records search:

What Are California Criminal Records?

California criminal records contain information California criminal records about individuals who have been involved in criminal activities within the state. These records are maintained by law enforcement agencies, courts, and other government entities. They typically include details such as arrests, charges, convictions, sentences, and probation or parole statuses.

How to Access California Criminal Records

Access to California criminal records is governed by state laws and regulations to ensure privacy and security. Here are the primary methods to obtain these records:

1. California Department of Justice (DOJ)

The California DOJ maintains the official repository of statewide criminal history information. They offer several ways to request criminal records:

  • Live Scan Fingerprinting: This is the most common method for obtaining criminal records in California. Applicants get fingerprinted at a Live Scan location, and the prints are submitted electronically to the DOJ for a background check. Results are typically sent to the requesting agency or employer.
  • Request Form: Individuals can also submit a Request for Live Scan Service form directly to the DOJ, along with a processing fee. This method is commonly used for personal record checks.
  • Public Access Website: The DOJ provides an online portal called “California DOJ Criminal Background Check” where individuals and authorized agencies can access criminal history information. This service requires registration and payment.

2. County Superior Court Records

Each county in California maintains its own court records, which include criminal cases handled within that jurisdiction. To access these records, you generally need to visit the courthouse in person or use online resources provided by the county’s Superior Court website. Some counties offer online case search portals where you can look up criminal case information by name or case number.

3. Third-Party Vendors

There are private companies and online services that specialize in providing criminal background checks. These vendors aggregate data from various sources, including public records and databases, to generate comprehensive background reports for a fee. It’s important to use reputable vendors that comply with state and federal regulations regarding the use of criminal records.

What Information Is Included in California Criminal Records?

California criminal records typically include the following information:

  • Personal Information: Name, date of birth, aliases, and physical descriptors.
  • Arrest Records: Details of arrests, including dates, charges, and arresting agency.
  • Court Records: Information on court proceedings, charges filed, case outcomes (e.g., convictions, acquittals), and sentencing.
  • Probation and Parole Records: Status and conditions of probation or parole, including any violations.
  • Juvenile Records: In some cases, juvenile criminal records may be accessible, depending on the nature of the offense and the individual’s age at the time of the incident.

Legal Considerations and Privacy Rights

In California, individuals have certain rights regarding the access and use of their criminal records:

  • Privacy: The California Information Practices Act (IPA) and other state laws protect the privacy of individuals’ personal information, including criminal records. Access to certain types of records may be restricted or require specific authorization.
  • Expungement and Sealing: Individuals who have completed their sentence for certain misdemeanor or felony convictions may be eligible to have their records expunged or sealed. This process can vary depending on the nature of the offense and should be pursued through the court system.
  • Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA): When criminal records are used for employment or tenant screenings, federal laws such as the FCRA impose specific obligations on employers and background check agencies to ensure fairness and accuracy.


Conducting a California criminal records search involves navigating various legal requirements and procedures to obtain accurate and relevant information. Whether you are conducting a background check for employment purposes, assessing personal safety risks, or for other lawful reasons, understanding the basics of accessing and interpreting criminal records is essential. By following proper protocols and utilizing authorized channels, you can obtain the information you need while respecting privacy rights and legal guidelines