Ask the County Law Librarian – Criminal Background Checks
Q: I met a guy who I really like, but a friend told me she heard he had a “record.” How can I do a background check to find out for sure?
A: Unfortunately, running a criminal background check is not as simple as one might think. Criminal convictions are generally public records, and anyone can go to a court clerk’s office and search the files for records of conviction for a certain person. However, there’s no publicly available single database you can search for California. If you wanted to find out if someone had a criminal record, theoretically you would have to visit the courts of every county in your state — and in the country, if you wanted to be really thorough.
The California and federal Justice Departments do have more comprehensive records. However, individuals cannot search those records. Only other state agencies and some employers have access to these databases.
If you were looking for your own California criminal records, you could submit a request to the California Attorney General’s office, along with your fingerprints. For more information about that, visit "Criminal Records – Request Your Own" on the Attorney General’s website.
Here’s an in-depth article on criminal records searching from www.llrx.com, a website run by and for law librarians: "Navigating the Maze of Criminal Records Retrieval." You can also visit the Law Library for books on using public records to check into people’s background, including “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating,” which has a whole chapter on background checks.
Best of luck!
Do you have a question for the County Law Librarian? Just email firstname.lastname@example.org. If your question is selected your answer will appear in next Thursday’s column. Even if your question isn’t selected, though, I will still respond within two weeks.