California Public Records

In 1967 the Freedom of Information Act took effect across the entire United States of America. This act was signed into place by Lyndon B. Johnson, who was the President at the time. This act was created to keep the American public in the Know regarding the on-goings of their government.

Thanks to this Act the public has the right to request information in the possession of any federal agency.

What Are the California Records Laws?

California Public Records Act was passed by Ronald Regan when he was governor of California in 1968. This act was extremely similar to the Freedom of Information Act except in the California records law the people are also given the right to request information regarding the people’s businesses, as well as that of the government’s business.

This act was put into place with the belief that all citizens have the right to request any information that will keep them in the know of conduct of businesses in their community.

In 2004 amendments were made to make retrieval of records easier for the public. These amendments were also known as the Sunshine Amendments.

What is the Open Meetings Law?

The Open Meetings Law is the law that states every citizen has the right to attend the meetings of federal agencies and businesses. These meetings have to be announced in a reasonable amount of time, and the public not only has the right to be present for the meetings but also the right to speak at the meetings and ask questions.

What is Considered Public Records in the State of California?

The State of California has an open records policy for most of the information regarding information in businesses that are government-related. This information includes things such as court records, criminal history, vital records, land records, genealogy records, etc.

The types of records you can request include anything that is information in writing, recordings, graphs, maps, videos, emails, etc.

What Information is Exempt from Public Records Requests?

All records regarding government information are public records unless it is exempt by law. Some records that can be exempt from being released include but are not limited to:

  • Investigation records
  • Personnel records
  • Legal advice
  • Personal health information
  • Any records that could lead to invasion of privacy
  • Some court cases and rulings
  • Criminal cases that are considered open.

How Do You Request Public Records in the State of California?

You can send your Public Records Act Request to the State of California Department of Justice in a few different ways.

By Phone:(916) 210-6183

By Mail: Attorney General’s Office, Public Records Coordinator, P.O. Box 944255, Sacramento, CA 94244-2550.

Online: https://oag.ca.gov/contact/publicrecords_form

You can use this form to fill out a records request and mail it to the address listed above in order to be certain you have provided all the necessary information.

Is There a Fee for Public Records?

There is a $0.10 per page fee for all records requests. Also, you may be charged for the employee’s time to gather the information and duplicate it once it is retrieved. No business is allowed to charge for the time spent researching, redacting, or compiling information.

How Long Does it Take to Receive Records?

Once a records request is received by the Department of Justice, they have 10 days to obtain the information and send it to the requester. Another fourteen days for an extension can be applied, however, if this is not possible the department will reach out and let you know they are going to need more time to gather the information and will let you know when to expect it.

How Do I Obtain Criminal History Records in California?

In the State of California, criminal history reports are not covered under the open records law. These records can only be transferred to those in law enforcement facilities that are connected to the person on the records, or the record holder themselves can request a copy of their criminal history report.

How Long Does Information Stay on Criminal Records?

The information on your criminal history report is mandated to remain there until you reach 100 years old. This information includes any records from law enforcement or the State of California courts in your lifetime including, including arrests, disposition, personal information, conviction, and detainment.

What Information is on a Criminal History Record?

The information that can be found on your criminal history report includes your arrests and convictions, what happened, where you were arrested when you were released or paroled, information regarding court cases and sentences.

How Do I Obtain Records on an Inmate in California?

You can obtain inmate records for the state of California by visiting the California Inmate search online or by visiting the website of each specific county you are looking for. Each county has different criteria in order to search for a specific inmate.

Some counties will let you research all inmates’ others require the first or last name of the inmates, and others require both first and last name.

What Information is on an Inmate’s Records?

When you pull up an inmate record you will find information describing the inmate, such as but not limited to:

  • Name
  • Date of birth
  • Sex
  • Race
  • Physical description (hair color, eye color, height, weight)

You will also be able to find information on the inmate regarding their stay and the crime committed. The information you will find for this on an inmate’s record includes but is not limited to:

  • Charges
  • Description
  • Bail Amount
  • Authority
  • Case Number
  • Level
  • Court
  • Bailout
  • Sentence Date
  • Sentence Days
  • Release Date
  • Arrest Date
  • Book date
  • Arresting Agency
  • Time of arrest
  • Book time
  • House Location
  • Agency Case

This information is released for the protection of the public. All citizens have the right to know what is happening in their community and what types of dangers they should be aware of.

How Do I Obtain Records on a Parolee in California?

In the State of California, everyone has the ability to locate information regarding the possible parole of an inmate. You can locate this information on the website Inmatelocator.cdcr.ca

The reason it is important for anyone to have access to parolee information is to keep the community and the victims safe and aware of when offenders are about to be released back into their communities.

If you are a victim or related to a victim, you have the right to request parole to be denied in a specific case. You can do this by contacting the Board of Parole Hearings community and also by visiting the victim’s services website.

As a victim, you also have the right to request notification of an offender’s custody status. You will be informed if the offender:

  • Is released
  • Dies
  • Escape
  • Has a parole hearing (Victims/Victims’ family members only)
  • Has a scheduled execution.

What Information is listed on Parolees Records?

The information you can find on a parolee’s record will pertain to what the offender has done, what their sentence was, and their release date. It may also include the current location of the offender.

Information on where a parolee is living after being released is usually only given to victims and victims’ families.

How Do I Locate a Warrant on Someone in California?

In order to locate a search warrant, you have to contact the county where the warrant would have been issued.

California’s Most Wanted/Outstanding Warrants

You can find a list of the most wanted criminals or those with outstanding warrants in the State of California by checking each county’s website or by searching for California’s Most Wanted. These websites allow you to obtain information regarding fugitives and also allows for people to submit tips safely and anonymously.

The information available to the public regarding wanted fugitives includes but is not limited to:

  • Crime committed.
  • Information about the crime
  • Race
  • Gender
  • Height
  • Weight
  • Hair color
  • Eye color
  • Age
  • Occupation
  • Place of Birth
  • The last known whereabouts
  • Information regarding a reward if there is one.

Note: Never try to apprehend a wanted suspect for any reason, please contact your local law enforcement agency. Many of these fugitives are considered to be armed and dangerous.

If you have a tip to submit or you are interested in following up on a previous tip you can do so by logging onto their website.

How Do I Obtain Information on a Sex Offender In California?

In the State of California, Megan’s Law is recognized as a set of rules regarding information being released to the public relating to sex offenders. Thanks to this specific law everyone has the right to know what sex offenders are living in their communities. To access information regarding sex offenders in the State of California, visit the Megan’s Law website.

What Information Is Listed on a Sex Offender Registry?

All citizens have access to the State of California’s sex offender registry. The information you can find on this registry includes but is not limited to:

Date of Birth

Physical Description:

  • Sex
  • Height
  • Weight
  • Eye Color
  • Hair Color
  • Ethnicity

Unique Features:

  • Tattoos
  • Scars
  • Piercings
  • Birthmarks

Offenses:

  • Last known offense
  • Level of offense

Incarceration Date
Release date
Residence after release
Known work addresses
Aliases

Rules Regarding Sex Offenders in the State of California

As of 2021, the rules and regulations regarding sex offenders have been updated. The law passed in January of 2021 (Senate Bill (SB) 384) has been put into place to set a strict amount of time one must register as a sex offender according to the lever of their conviction.

Tier One Sex offender: (Lowest level of sex crimes)

A tier one sex offender must remain on the registry for at least 10 years.

Tier Two Sex offender: (Mid-level sex offenses)

A tier two sex offender must remain on the registry for at least 20 years.

Tier Three sex offender: (Most serious cases of sexual offenses)

A tier three sex offender must remain on the sex offender registry for life.

Anyone on the sex offender registry in the state of California is required to register within 5 days of sentencing (if there is no jail or prison time served), release from jail or prison, or once there is a discharge from a hospital or mental institution.

Sexually violent predators are required to update their location every 90 days to keep the public aware of their whereabouts.

Sexual offenders must also inform any school or job they are working in about their crime to make the people around them aware of the incident.

How do I Obtain Court Records in the State of California?

In the State of California, court case records are public records and readily available to anyone who is interested in viewing them. You can access court case files by visiting the Superior Court of California website.

The Court Cases Available for Searches Includes:

    • Traffic Court Cases: These records are not available online and will need to be requested directly through the court in which the case was held. There are fees associated with receiving copies of these records.

Fees for most case records are $40.00 with additional fees for additional requests or services.

    • Minor Offense or Misdemeanor files: These records are not available online and will need to be requested directly through the court in which the case was held. There are fees associated with receiving copies of these records.
    • Fees for most case records are $40.00 with additional fees for additional requests or services.
    • Civil Court Cases: You can access these files online with the following information:

The name of the person associated with the case, a case number, or the District Attorney case number.

    • Criminal Court Cases (Felony and Misdemeanor): You can access these files online with the following information:

The name of the person associated with the case, a case number, or the District Attorney case number.

    • Family Court Cases: You can access these files online with the following information:

The name of the person associated with the case, a case number, or the District Attorney case number.

    • Mental Health or Probate court cases: You can access these files online with the following information:

The name of the person associated with the case, a case number, or the District Attorney case number.

    • Juvenile Court Case Files: All juvenile court case records are not for public viewing and can only be observed by law enforcement, the juvenile’s attorney, and the juvenile’s parents.
    • Small Claims Court Case files: You can access these files online, in person, or by mail.

When mailing in a request for court records you need to send in the fee if applicable and your request must include:

  • Case number
  • Names of the people involved.
  • Names of each document you want to be copied.

If you are interested in reviewing older court case files yourself, you can visit or mail a request to:

Central Courthouse Older Records
1100 Union Street, 14th Floor
San Diego, CA 92101

There is a $0.15 per page fee when copying any old cases.

How Do I Obtain Vital Records in the State of California?

When looking for Vital Records in the State of California you will want to visit the California Department of Public Health website. Here you will have access to all vital records and community health information.

Here you can find all information regarding diseases and conditions, health and safety, family health, personal health, etc.

The different types of information you can locate on vital records in the State of California include but are not limited to:

  • Birth certificates
  • Death certificates
  • Marriage certificates
  • Divorce certificates
  • Fetal Death/Stillbirth certificates

Mail:
California Department of Public Health
Vital Records – MS 5103
P.O. Box 997410
Sacramento, CA 95899-7410

Email:
CHSIVitalRecords@cdph.ca.gov (To obtain vital records certified copies)
VRmail@cdph.ca.gov (To register or request amendments to vital records.)

Phone:
(916) 445-2684

You cannot walk into this location to obtain copies of any vital records. There is no physical office available. You can, however, visit your local municipality building to obtain records that day.

Cost of Records through the Department of HealthL

Certified Copies:

  • Birth Certificate – $25
  • Death Certificate – $21
  • Fetal Death Certificate – $18
  • Public Marriage Certificate – $15
  • Dissolution of Marriage Certificate – $14
  • Stillbirth Certificate – $24

Amendments:

  • Acknowledgment of Paternity – $23
  • Adjudication of Facts of Parentage – $23
  • Adoptions – $20*
  • Affidavit to Amend a Birth Certificate – $23*
  • Affidavit to Amend a Death Certificate – $23*
  • Affidavit to Amend a Marriage Certificate – $23*
  • Correcting Gender Errors – $23
  • Court Order Name Change – $23
  • Gender Reassignment – $23

Delayed Registrations:

  • Delayed Registration of Birth – $23
  • Court Order Delayed Certificate of Marriage – $23
  • Court Order Delayed Registration of Birth – $23
  • Court Order Delayed Registration of Death – $23
  • Court Order Delayed Registration of Fetal Death – $23

Each additional copy requested will be at the same cost as the 1st.
(resource: California Department of Health)

Never mail in cash as payment for a records request. If this payment is lost in the mail, the department of health is not responsible to reimburse you.

You can also obtain vital records through the online forum Vital Check. Here you can obtain records 100% online and with a very quick turnaround time. Records are sent out within 24 hours of the request.

The Cost of these records are as follows:

  • Birth Certificate – $25
  • Death Certificate – $21
  • Fetal Death Certificate – $18
  • Public Marriage Certificate – $15
  • Dissolution of Marriage Certificate – $14
  • Stillbirth Certificate – $24

Another way to obtain vital records through the State of California is through your local county’s municipality. You can find information regarding these locations by visiting https://www.cdph.ca.gov

Who Can Request Vital Records?

If you are requesting vital records, you will need personal information regarding the person the records belong to as well as proof of ID and the fee must be paid upfront. You do not get your fee refunded if the office does not have the records you are looking for.

In order to request a birth certificate in the State of California you need to be:

  • The person on the certificate or their legal guardian or parent
  • The grandparent, child, grandchild, sibling, spouse, or domestic partner of the person on the certificate.
  • Someone who has obtained a court order, a legal representative, or someone from an adoption agency.
  • A member of a law enforcement agency conducting official business.
  • An attorney representing the person on the certificate or their estate.

In order to request a death certificate in the State of California you need to be:

  • The person on the certificate
  • The parent or legal guardian of that person
  • A child, grandparent, grandchild, brother or sister, spouse, or domestic partner of the registrant.
  • Someone who has obtained a court order, an attorney, or someone from an adoption agency.
  • A member of a law enforcement agency conducting official business.
  • An attorney representing the person on the certificate or their estate.
  • A funeral agency working in compliance with the law.

To obtain a marriage license in the state of California you need to be:

  • One of the two people on the license
  • Someone holding a court order.
  • A parent or legal guardian of one of the people on the license
  • A member of a law enforcement agency conducting legal business.
  • A child, grandchild, grandparent, domestic partner, sibling, or spouse, of one of the two people on the certificate.
  • A power of attorney to one of the two people of the certificate

To obtain a divorce decree you must contact the court in which you got the divorce.

How Do I Obtain Genealogy Records in the State of California?

You can obtain a lot of historical and genealogy information and records through the California State of Secretary website. There you can access a lot of information regarding your family history and the history of your state.

Census Schedules 1852 State, 1860 and 1880 Federal

When accessing archived Census schedules, you will be able to locate the information regarding the people on these documents including but not limited to:

  • Names
  • Ages
  • Sex
  • Occupations
  • Birthplace
  • Last known residence

County Records 1850–1987

The information you can find in the country records archives for 28 counties include the following:

  • Probate court case files
  • Wills
  • Naturalizations
  • Deeds
  • Homesteads
  • Vital records

Note: There may not be available information for all the areas listed above in every county.

Mental Health Records 1856–1934

Metal health records available for public viewing are based on multiple different hospitals and hundreds of case files that were recovered spanning from the years 1856-1934. Some of the information you can find in these files include:

  • Dewitt Hospital Inventory
  • Mendocino State Hospital Records
  • Modesto State Hospital Records
  • Sonoma State Hospital Records
  • Stockton State Hospital Records

Military Records 1850–194

You can make these requests through the Veterans Service archives. You can also request information pertaining to DD 214/ Separation Documents, Official Military personnel files, replacement medals, and medical and health records. You can also request information regarding the burial of a veteran through their website. A lot of information regarding old military information will need to be found in libraries and archives.

Prison Records 1850–1979

On archived prison records, you can access information from San Quinton and Folsom Prison. There is limited information provided however you can access inmate photos, pardons, and some case files.

Birth and Death Records

If you are interested in locating archived birth or death records in the State of California, you can log onto the Family Search website. This is a free search and available for public viewing. Please be aware that not all counties kept records dating before 1905.

The information provided if available includes:

  • Images of county death Indexes
  • Certificates
  • Registers
  • Coroner’s inquests

Immigration Genealogy Records

You can access immigration genealogy records from the National Archives in San Francisco. Here you can get information regarding naturalization records which are documents that show the process and compilation of an immigrant becoming an American. You can find a lot of information regarding these immigrants through this type of documentation.

You can also access ship logs and records through the National Archives at San Francisco which holds records pertaining to immigrants who traveled to the US by boat from the 1820s and on.

Here you can find details about these people including but not limited to:

  • Nationality
  • Birthplace
  • Ship name they came in
  • Date of entry into the US
  • Age
  • Height
  • Eye color
  • Hair color
  • Their Profession
  • Location of last known residence
  • Name and address of any relatives in the U.S they are coming to meet up with.
  • How much money they had on them when they entered the U.S

The Archives also hold a lot of information regarding American Indian records as well you can research this information on the Native American Research page This website can help locate American Indians from years ago. This includes information on tribal members, where they lived, Indian agents, federal officials, teachers, etc. The detailed information you can find regarding these people include but are not limited to:

  • Dates of Birth
  • When they died
  • Marriage certificates or dates
  • Divorce records and information
  • Health records or information
  • Land and property records or information
  • The possible education
  • There employment types
  • Inheritance if applicable

Finally, you can access immigration information through the Customs records to find information regarding seamen who have come in and out of California ports throughout the years. The
information you can find in these records include but are not limited to:

  • Birthplace
  • Town they lived in
  • A physical description
  • Relatives’ information including names and ages.

Other records may include:

  • Lists of each crew
  • Shipping Articles that have documentation of all payments
  • Records of Seamen’s Protection (issued for identification)
  • Deceased or deserted documentation for seaman
  • Marine Hospital Returns for seaman

Other types of information you can request or access in the California state archives include but are not limited to:

  • Supreme and Appellate Court Cases 1850–1970
  • Common School Reports 1862–1960
  • Articles of Incorporation 1850–1959
  • Trademarks 1861–date
  • Department of Professional and Vocational Standards/Consumer Affairs – Licensing Files* 1885–1968

Helpful programs you can also use to access information through the State of California includes but are not limited to:

How Do I Obtain Land Records in the State of California?

If you are interested in obtaining land records you can visit the Bureau of Land Management. Here you can obtain information regarding federal land and title records from 1788 until now.

Topics you can find here include but are not limited to:

  • Land Patents
  • Survey Plats and Field Notes
  • Land Status Records
  • Control Document Index Records
  • Tract Books
  • Land catalogs

You can also find information regarding land and property records by visiting the California State Land Committee. Here you can find information such as land types, shipwrecks, abandoned vessels, bankruptcy records, climate change information, etc.

How to obtain public land records through the California State Land Committee:

In order to obtain records from the California Land Committee, you must request the information you are looking for in clean, clear, easy-to-read writing. It must provide the exact information you are looking for. You need to include your name, address, and other relevant contact information preferably telephone #.

You should expect to receive your records 10 days from your request, although they do have the right to an additional 14 days.

The fees to access copies of this information includes:

  • $0.10 per pg. for black and white copies
  • $0.15 per pg. for colored copies
  • $0.50 per copy of CDs
  • $2.00 per copy of DVDs
  • $1.00 for record certification

You can submit your requests with a check or money order to:


California State Lands Commission
100 Howe Avenue, Suite 100-South
Sacramento, CA 95825
Or you can call our office at 916.562.0026 and submit payment by credit card. Please do not send money through the mail as our office is not responsible for any lost payments and will not reimburse.

When looking for public land records you will have to search your local county for any information.

How Do I Obtain Records Regarding Businesses or Charitable Organizations in the State of California?

You can access public records regarding businesses or charities located in the State of California by accessing the State of California Attorney General’s website. Here you are able to view information regarding:

Company Background:

You can access information regarding customer reports, reviews, complaints, etc.

Licenses and Registrations Companies Must Possess:

Here you can research the required licenses and registrations each individual company must possess according to the government.

Locate Legitimate Contact Information:

You can use this information to find out if a company holds a physical address, accessible telephone number, websites, etc.

Search the Files of the Registry of Charitable Trust:

This assures the public that each charitable foundation is complying with the rules and regulations set forth by the government. Information you can find include but are not limited to.

  • Annual registration renewal forms
  • IRS Forms 990
  • Raffle reports
  • Fundraising reports

Please note that not all information can be accessed online, and you may have to contact your local municipality in order to obtain the records you are looking for. It is also important to remember that due to issues including Covid-19, many offices and agencies may be closed or have strict hours. You should call the office before visiting.