What is an Arrest Record?
The California Penal Code defines a criminal history record as the record maintained by the California Attorney General that contain information such as an individual’s name, date of birth, physical description, fingerprints, photographs, date of arrests, arresting agencies and booking numbers, charges, dispositions, and other data related to the identification and criminal history of that individual. While similar information is included in all arrest records, this is the description of what is maintained by the State of California pursuant to individuals who have been involved in the California Corrections and Rehabilitation Department. Other criminal records are maintained by local law enforcement agencies in CA and must be obtained through those individual agencies.
What is an Arrest Warrant?
Arrest warrants are issued by judges and enable law enforcement officers to arrest an individual named in a warrant for a specific crime they are believed to have committed. A warrant does not mean that an individual is guilty of committing a crime; it means that they are being accused of committing one. For this to happen, the person requesting the warrant—either an officer of a law, a victim, or a witness of a crime—must swear under oath describing the circumstances of the alleged crime. Then, the judge must determine whether there is probable cause to arrest the alleged offender. However, it remains to be proven in court that the individual committed a crime.
In California, a warrant is called an active warrant before the warrant has been executed and an arrest made. A warrant becomes outstanding after it has been active for a certain amount of time and no arrest has been made. This can happen for a variety of reasons. Oftentimes, individuals who have committed offenses will evade arrest to avoid going to jail. Their warrants remain active, but also become outstanding warrants. It is also possible for individuals to unintentionally evade arrest when they are unaware that a warrant for their arrest exists. In some cases, law enforcement agencies lack the time and resources to deliver all of the warrants, and warrants for lesser offenses go undelivered. For example, warrants for offenses like failing to pay parking ticket fines or traffic fines will likely take a backseat to warrants for assault or theft. These are all reasons for warrants to become outstanding.
Another type of warrant is a called a bench warrant. A bench warrant is issued when an individual misses a court date. Although people sometimes fail to appear in court in hopes of avoiding a jail sentence, when a bench warrant is issued as a result, these people end up being arrested and put in jail anyway.
How to Search For an Inmate in the California Prison System
If you are searching for an inmate of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, you can use the Inmate Locator database provided by the State of California. The Inmate Locator tool can be found here: inmatelocator.cdcr.ca.gov. With this tool, you can search for a person using their inmate number or last name. A first or middle name can also be entered into the search tool, as well as a partial name. Search results will show an inmate’s CDCR#, age, admission date, and the location of the facility where they are being housed.
If you would like to visit an inmate, call the facility to make sure that the information in the database is accurate, as it takes a few days to update when an inmate is transferred to a different location. The Inmate Locator will only show information for adult offenders in California state prison facilities.
A statewide database for locating inmates in county jails does not exist. In order to discover the whereabouts of these inmates, you much contact the county sheriff’s office. Knowing where an individual committed a crime is essential to finding out where they are serving jail time. Offenders are tried and sentenced in the county where they committed a crime. Even if an offender is a resident of Fresno County, if he or she commits a crime in El Dorado County, El Dorado County will have jurisdiction over the case; not Fresno County. Knowing where the police report was filed is a good clue to figuring out where the individual is serving jail time.
Many counties do not provide online databases of inmates in their jails, but some do. If the county you need inmate information about does not have an online database, call the county sheriff’s office and ask for the records department. Most sheriff’s offices have records department that keep track of warrants, police reports, inmate information, and other law enforcement records.
Who Can Search For Arrest Records and Warrants in CA?
In California, private citizens are only allowed to request information about their own criminal history records, while outstanding warrant information is often made available to the public. The State of California requires official agencies to gain clearance to conduct background checks through the state system. Even for employment purposes, not just anyone can look at an individual’s criminal history record. In the interest of expediting the justice process, individual law enforcement agencies sometimes make outstanding warrant information public so that citizens can provide tips on the whereabouts of wanted persons.
How to Request Records Under the California Public Records Act
While a written request to view records under the CA Public Records Act is not mandated by law, a written request may become necessary if the agency you are attempting to work with is hesitant to cooperate with an informal request. You can find a sample California Public Records Act request at this website: firstamendmentcoalition.org/cpra/frequently-asked-questions-about-the-cpra/sample-cpra-request-letter/.
Some government records are exempted for the CPRA, such as ongoing litigation, personnel information, and ongoing investigation information. For an exhaustive list of exemptions, please visit this website: http://ag.ca.gov/publications/summary_public_records_act.pdf.
How Long Does An Arrest Record or Warrant Stay On File In California?
Arrest records stay on file forever in CA, unless they are expunged or sealed and destroyed. You must contact a lawyer to begin either of these processes. Warrants stay on file until the individual is arrested or dies.