Free Background Check California: Search CA Public Records, Arrests

Background check repair icon.Written by Background Check Repair

Background Checks | May 10, 2024

Man wearing a yellow shirt and blue pants on the left looking towards a money trail that is blocked, illustrating a free background check, California state (CA) on the right with a magnifying glass hovering above while searching for California criminal records.

California Background Check for Free
Free California background check to look for criminal records, background history, court documents, and public records.

With an easy-to-use and free-to-access online database, when getting a free background check, California makes it easier than most states.

There are a number of free resources available to learn about someone’s criminal history, as well as other useful information. Keep in mind that a free background check will not be as thorough as a full background check from a reputable company, but it is a great place to start.

Finding Free Public Records California

There are a number of resources available that make finding free public records, in California easily accessible to the public. However, these are only public records that are available for free.

Graphic showing what records are available in a free background check California, including criminal and rental history, court records, employment and credit checks, as well as vital records and education verification steps outlined in California free public records search and on a free California background check.

This means that when running a California background check on an individual using only free public records, not all the important information will be available, such as a credit check or other sensitive information. Moreover, some agencies do require small processing fees to get paper copies of any reports.

With that being said, even free and public information can be extremely useful in many situations. So, what records are public and accessible? You can expect to find the following public records fairly easily in most states, including California:

  • Criminal History Information
  • Court Records
  • Vital Records (marriage, death, tax liens, property owned, and voting records)

In many situations, this is more than enough information when running certain kinds of background checks. However, the information that shows up on a background check performed by a certified company will have access to far more information such as:

  • Rental History
  • Education Verification
  • Employment Verification
  • Licenses
  • Credit Checks

These agencies have special access to far more databases than the free ones that are available to the public, but they are also heavily regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). This also means they must abide by the laws and regulations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which includes gaining written consent from the individual being searched.

Individuals who are performing screening for employment purposes or other more official reasons, rather than personal, should go through a legitimate background check agency to both ensure legalities and receive a comprehensive background check.

Free Records in California

Although much of the information that can be used to perform a basic background check on someone is available anywhere in the country, thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, California makes it easier than most states to search public records.

The Freedom of Information Act allows individuals to search and find California public records, and other state records, unless otherwise exempt.

The state-maintained online database for criminal records is a great and easy-to-use resource to quickly find criminal history information and anyone in the state.

It’s important to note that despite how many different kinds of records are easily accessible and totally free, there is no single website or database that will house all the records in one place. This means that different records will have to be accessed from different websites.

Also, although many of these records are free, in certain jurisdictions, a small fee will be required to gain a copy of the record. This is generally more common when dealing with local governments and jurisdictions, such as requesting certain information from the county court clerk. The fee is usually less than $10 and simply covers the cost of the search and the physical copy that is being requested.

Public records in California can generally be accessed from the following sources:

  • Office of the Attorney General
  • Local Court Clerk

The vast majority of public records that the average person will have access to will be available through one of these sources. Detailed steps for what can be accessed and a step-by-step guide to access these sources are outlined below. Although many require a small fee, this is as close as individuals can get to a free background check California.

Search Free Arrest Records California

When searching for free arrest records, California is far easier to navigate than many other states. This is because the California Department of Justice has a simple-to-use and regularly updated online database housing arrest records, which can be accessed from anywhere.

Detailed steps on how to use the database to perform a name-based search of someone’s arrest records are outlined below.

Step 1: Access the Website of the California Attorney General

Although the records are maintained by the California Department of Justice, in order to make a formal request for records, users will have to access the request form through the Office of the Attorney General. 

Step 2: Access the Public Records Page

On the homepage of the California Attorney General’s website, simply select the “resources,” tab at the top and select “public records,” from the drop-down menu.

This will take users to the public records home page. This page is filled with tons of useful information about public records in California, such as what records can be accessed, what can not be accessed, how to access the records, as well as a helpful FAQ section for any other questions.

Step 3: Access the Online Request Form

After looking through the information on what requests can be made, simply scroll down to the bottom of the public records page. The very last entry will have a link to an online request form.

Select the link to be taken to the proper form.

Step 4: Gather Information and Complete the Online Request Form

Now that the form has been accessed, be sure to gather all the necessary information to be able to fill out the form properly. If the form is incomplete, there is a risk that the results will be significantly delayed as it will likely take several business days before the Department of Justice notifies the individual that the form was filled out incorrectly.

After that, it will take several more days before the request can be processed properly.

Be sure to include as much information as possible to ensure the records are returned. This may include a case number, date, location of a crime, name of the person involved, etc.

Step 5: Submit the Request

The online form makes submitting the request extremely easy. Once all the information is filled out simply click the submit button and the request will be sent to the DOJ.

Users may contact the public records coordinator online, using the form provided, or download a request form to access free public records.

There are also detailed steps outlined at the bottom of the form for submitting the form via mail, which can be useful when supporting documents are included as part of the request.

Once submitted, the DOJ will have 10 days to determine if they can grant the records request, with a potential 14-day extension which may be utilized in special cases. This is done to ensure that the records being requested can be returned and are not part of the exempt list, which includes:

  • Personnel Records
  • Confidential Legal Advice
  • Sealed Records
  • Investigative Records

Step 6: Await Results

The DOJ should respond with the results within 14 days. If the request can not be granted within the 14 day period the DOJ will contact the individual who made the request and provide a time-frame for when the records will be available.

Should certain records be returned, the DOJ charges a fee of $0.10 per copy of the records. Information on how to obtain the records and pay the fee is provided by the DOJ when the request is completed.

California Background Check Laws

Like all states, California has specific laws involving background checks. These laws dictate things like:

  • What information can be gathered as part of a background check in California
  • How California background check information can be gathered
  • Who can gather background check information in CA
  • How far back can background check information go in CA

The following laws are used to control a free background check, California.

Fair Credit Reporting Act

Like every state in the U.S. California abides by all the rules and regulations set by the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The main intention of the Fair Credit Reporting Act is to protect the rights of the public and employers, so that background checks are not violating their privacy and employers are not discriminating against candidates.

One of the most important aspects of the FCRA is that a credit reporting agency can not perform a background check on individuals without their written consent. This means in California, for jobs that require prospective employees to pass a background check, the employer must gain written consent from the employee and provide this information to the agency performing the check.

Although there are online background checks that can be performed by companies that are not registered with the FCRA, they can only uncover publicly available information. Things like credit checks will not be included as part of these checks as that would require written consent from the individual being checked.

The FCRA also has other regulations set for the credit reporting agencies (CRA) performing these checks. For example, if the CRA reports information on an individual that is incorrect. (Such as criminal charges that were later dropped) it is the duty of the CRA to investigate the incorrect information and rectify it. This protects employees from being denied opportunities due to incorrect information being reported to their employer.


Similar to the laws and regulations set by the FCRA, California companies must also follow state laws set by the Investigative Consumer Reporting Agencies Act (ICRA) and the Consumer Credit Reporting Agencies Act (CCRAA).

These laws are fairly similar to those set by the FCRA but are slightly stricter in regards to how the individual is notified of the results as well as when the background check can take place. The CCRA also carries stricter rules regarding how CRAs are able to gather information on credit history.


The California Privacy Act is also a relevant piece of legislation when it comes to background check practices in the state.

There are two main parts of the legislation that involve background checks. The first being that employers are required to provide a clear written notice of a background check and what the background check will entail when the background check is being performed by a third party.

For employers that will conduct their own background checks, they must notify the employee as well as provide an option to opt in so that the employee can receive the results of the background check.

Ban the Box Laws

Like many states in the U.S. California also has what are known as Ban the Box laws. These laws refer to a box on a job application where applicants must mark if they have ever been convicted of a crime. The law seeks to ban this box so that employers are not immediately disqualifying candidates due to their criminal history, without even knowing if they are qualified for the job.

Employers can still ask this question later in the hiring process, the law only seeks to make it illegal to ask as part of the application.

In California the ban the box laws only apply to jobs in the public sector. This means that technically the ban the box laws do not apply to jobs with private companies.

However, California does have labor laws that do essentially the same thing, preventing employers from screening employees based on their criminal history before they have determined if the applicant meets the requirements for the job.

Specifically, California Labor Code 432.7 prohibits employers from asking about certain criminal history information, such as information about sealed convictions or charges that did not result in a conviction.

There is also the California Fair Chance Act that does the same thing that Ban the Box laws do in other states by prohibiting employers from asking about an applicant’s criminal history before they have determined if the applicant meets the job requirements.

Find Free Public Records California

Besides checking for criminal history and other background check information through the California Department of Justice, there is also the option to look for this information through local governments in California. Specifically, the Court Clerk in each county will have a wealth of public information that they can access upon request, including a warrant search in California.

Specifically, the county clerk can access public court records as well as some other public information such as voter registration records. A guide on how to request this information is outlined below. Keep in mind that the process may be slightly different from county to county, but the general process and an example will be outlined below.

Step 1: Access the Website of the Local Court Clerk

The first step is to access the website of the local court clerk. This will be the court clerk for the county where the person being searched resides. For individuals who have lived in multiple counties in California, it may be necessary to check the websites of several different court clerks.


For an individual who lives in Oakland, California, access the website for the Alameda Superior Court.

Step 2: Access the Record Request Page

Most websites will have a drop-down menu that says resources or services where there will be a link to a page with all the information regarding records and records requests. From here there will be information on how records are kept (online or only physical copies at the courthouse) as well as information on how to request specific information.

Most often this can be done using an online form or through an online portal, but in some cases, the information will have to be requested via phone, mail, or in person. The website of the court should make this clear on the records page.


To find and request records for Alameda County, simply select “search by name,” from the “online services,” drop-down menu on the website’s homepage.

Step 3: Follow Specific Steps To Make a Records Request

As mentioned before, each website and county will have a slightly different process to request records. However, there are a few things that every county will have in common. In general, the name of the parties being searched and the contact information of the requester will be needed at a bare minimum to complete the search and get a copy of any results. In some situations the name of the person being searched is not needed, instead, a search can be performed using information such as:

  • Court Date
  • Other parties involved in the case
  • Case Number

However, a name-based search is usually the most dependable.


Selecting the link on the “search by name,” page of the Alameda Superior Court website will take users to a page where they can perform a search using a variety of information such as name, case number, or the date of the case.

Simply select the search option and fill in the provided form.

Step 4: Await Results

Once the information has been entered into the proper form and the search request has been completed, the next step is to await results. The processing time for background checks in California will vary based on the county the background search is being conducted.

Counties with an online records portal may be able to provide records instantly, whereas other counties may have to mail results, resulting in the request taking several weeks before individuals receive results.

Keep in mind that most courts will require a small fee in order to process the search request, this is generally less than $15, and in some cases, the fee may be waived.

The County Clerk in each county is also a great resource for more records such as vital records. Simply follow the same steps outlined above for the court websites on the county clerk’s website.

California County Contact Site for County Clerk’s Office
OaklandAlameda County Clerk 
MarkleevilleAlpine County Clerk
JacksonAmador County Clerk
OrovilleButte County Clerk
San AndreasCalaveras County Clerk 
ColusaColusa County Clerk
MartinezContra Costa County Clerk 
Crescent CityDel Norte County Clerk 
PlacervilleEl Dorado County Clerk 
FresnoFresno County Clerk 
WillowsGlen County Clerk 
EurekaHumboldt County Clerk 
El CentroImperial County Clerk 
IndependenceInyo County Clerk 
BakersfieldKern County Clerk 
HanfordKings County Clerk 
LakeportLake County Clerk 
SusanvilleLassen County Clerk 
Los AngelesLos Angeles County Clerk 
MaderaMadera County Clerk 
San RafaelMarin County Clerk 
MariposaMariposa County Clerk 
UkiahMendocino County Clerk 
MercedMerced County Clerk 
AltruasModoc County Clerk 
BridgeportMono County Clerk 
SalinasMonterey County Clerk 
NapaNapa County Clerk 
Nevada CityNevada County Clerk 
Santa AnaOrange County Clerk 
AuburnPlacer County Clerk 
QuincyPlumas County Clerk 
RiversideRiverside County Clerk 
SacramentoSacramento County Clerk 
HollisterSan Benito County Clerk 
San BernardinoSan Bernardino County Clerk 
San DiegoSan Diego County Clerk
San FranciscoSan Francisco County Clerk 
StocktonSan Joaquin County Clerk
San Luis ObispoSan Luis Obispo County Clerk 
Redwood CitySan Mateo County Clerk 
Santa BarbaraSanta Barbara County Clerk 
San JoseSanta Clara County Clerk 
Santa CruzSanta Cruz County Clerk 
ReddingShasta County Clerk 
DownievilleSierra County Clerk 
YrekaSiskiyou County Clerk 
FairfieldSolano County Clerk 
Santa RosaSonoma County Clerk 
ModestoStanislaus County Clerk 
Yuba CitySutter County Clerk 
Red BluffTehama County Clerk 
WeavervilleTrinity County Clerk 
VisaliaTulare County Clerk
SonoraVentura County Clerk 
WoodlandYolo County Clerk 
MarysvilleYuba County Clerk 

Online Background Check Companies

Besides using the state-operated databases and records to perform a free background check, California also offers the option to use an online background check company that offers a free trial. There are tons of different companies that offer background checks that offer 7-day trials that are free or at a heavily discounted price.

Keep in mind that many of these websites are not registered with the FCRA. This means that the information gained from these websites can not be used to make decisions about employment, leasing applications, and other official uses. These websites are essentially meant for personal use, such as running a quick check on somebody that an individual met on the internet, or to find someone that individuals are having trouble locating such as an old friend or relative.

These websites offer only public records checks, so things like criminal history information will be available as well as other things like social media profiles, phone numbers, etc. However, confidential information that a pre-employment background check may uncover will not be available on these checks.

Since these checks are not performed by FCRA-registered companies, it also means that anyone is free to search any name on these websites and pay to see the search results, without the consent of the individual.

This information will not always be accurate, however, and any important findings should be verified, just in case the information is incorrect. Since these are not FCRA-registered companies, they do not have to abide by the same regulations regarding reporting information that is incorrect or outdated so it’s important to be wary of the results.

Background Check: California

What shows up on a California Background check will depend on a number of factors. For example, as discussed above, a free background check, California will only include publicly available information. In many situations, the publicly available information will be enough as it will include criminal history information, which is often the most important part of a background check.

Background checks that are run through a credit reporting agency will be far more thorough. For individuals who are undergoing a pre-employment background check, the following can be expected at a bare minimum:

  • Identity Verification
  • Education Verification
  • Employment Verification
  • Criminal History Information
  • Sex Offender Registry Check

For most entry-level jobs, such as those in the food and retail industries, the above is likely all that will be checked as part of the pre-employment background screening. However, there are several other checks that CRA’s may run, such as:

  • Credit Checks
  • Driving History Checks
  • Credential Verification
  • Drug Screening

Based on the industry, applicants may even be subject to more specific checks, such as performance reviews from previous hospitals for those in certain healthcare fields.

In California, as well as many other states across the country, background checks must abide by the seven-year rule. This means that a Credit Reporting Agency is not allowed to report criminal history information that is more than 7 years old. A conviction that happened 10 years ago may show up as part of the check, but it will not be reported to the employer

There are exceptions to this rule, generally depending on the annual salary of the position being applied for. However, even in these cases, the criminal history check can only go back as far as 10 years, rather than 7.

How To Access Public Records For Free

Unfortunately, there are very few public records that can be accessed totally free. However, most of these records can be accessed for very low prices, and most of the time the individual only needs to cover a small copy or processing fee.

County Records

County records can be accessed through the local courthouse in California or via the website of the courthouse. Records are often kept at the courthouse rather than online, although this will vary based on county.

State Records

State records in California can be accessed through the California Department of Justice. Steps on how to do this are outlined above. This is one of the cheapest options as the DOJ only requires a $0.10 fee for each copy of the records. However, some of the records that individuals may be looking for may only be available through local courts and the DOJ will not have access to them. In this situation, the DOJ will notify the individual of where the records are and the individual can then request those records directly from the proper agency.

Sex Offender Registry

The National Sex Offender Registry is a completely free service that is maintained and updated by the United States Department of Justice. Simply log onto the website and perform a search based on the name or address of an individual. The website also has the option to search a specific area for any registered sex offenders.

Basic information about the offender, such as their address, name, and physical description will be available on the site. There will also be information on the nature of the crimes that they committed. The National Sex Offender Registry is updated frequently but is dependent on the offenders reporting their movements to the agency. This means inaccuracies are possible, but not common.

There are plenty of resources available to obtain public records for free or very close to free. For individuals willing to pay, there are options that may be more thorough or quicker, however, free methods are effective in many situations. Just be sure to verify any information, and know that when performing a free background check, California has very specific laws and regulations.

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