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California Public Records

In 1968, the California Public Records Act was passed by the State Legislature and signed by the Governor, requiring the disclosure of governmental records to the public upon request, unless otherwise exempted by the law. Under this policy and the California Constitution, Californians have the right to access public information maintained by local and state government agencies, including the Department of Justice. Within this Act, public records are broadly defined to include "any writing containing information relating to the conduct of a public's business prepared, owned, used or retained by any state or local agency regardless of physical form or characteristic." Due to this broadly encompassing definition of what counts as a part of the public record, only purely personal information unrelated to the conduct of a publicly retained business' could be considered exempt from this definition. There is quite a bit of information and intelligence that can be discovered via public records; the only thing necessary is to simply inquire or search for it in the right place.

On November 2, 2004, California voters approved Proposition 59, commonly called the Sunshine Amendment, to the California Constitution. This amendment read in part that "the people have the right of access to information concerning the conduct of the people's business, and, therefore, the meetings of public bodies and the writings of public officials and agencies shall be open to public scrutiny”.

So if you want information on how any governmental body operates in the state of California you can simply request it under the CPRA. This includes stuff like budgets, bidding processes for contracts, salaries of government employees and even government records on UFO sightings. The following are some of the questions people have about the most common types of California public records requests.

Are California marriage records public?

California is unique in that it offers both confidential and public marriage licenses. Roughly one in five marriages in the state was confidential in 2012 and in 1982 it was one in three. The state has offered confidential marriages since 1878. Anyone can request an informational copy of a public marriage license in the state. For confidential marriages, only the people named on the marriage license can access it.

How do you get a certified copy of a marriage license in California?

You can order a certified copy of a public marriage license from July 1, 1905 to the present (excluding 2000 to 2008) from the California Department of Health – Vital Records (CDPH – VR). You can request the copy either in person or by mail. You can also order certified copies online via a third-party, VitalChek. For public marriages that occurred 2000 to 2008, you will need to request a copy from the county recorder’s office in the county where the marriage occurred. Confidential marriage licenses are only available at the county clerk’s office where the marriage occurred and can only be ordered by the people named on the license.

Are divorce records public in California?

The vast majority of divorce records are public in California and can be viewed by anyone. There are some cases where the divorce court records are sealed and not available to the public.

Where can you order a certified copy of a divorce decree in California?

In California, certified divorce decrees can only be ordered from the Superior Court for the county where the divorce was finalized.

Does California have divorce indexes?

The California Department of Health – Vital Records has limited divorce indexes for marriages that occurred 1962 to June 1984. There is a fee required to search these indexes and the search will return a certificate of record that includes the names, location, dates and court case number.

Are California birth records public information?

California birth certificates are considered public records. Anyone can order an informational copy. Certified copies for the purpose of establishing identity may only be ordered by the registrant, immediate relatives and certain organizations authorized by law to order them.

How can you get a certified copy of a birth certificate in California?

Certified copies of birth certificates can be ordered from the California Department of Health – Vital Records and from the county recorder’s office for the county where the birth occurred. You can order certified copies online through VitalChek (a third-party processor authorized to issue certified copies of vital records).

Are California death records public?

Informational copies of death certificates are considered public records in California and anyone can order one. Certified authorized copies of death certificates are not available to the public and only immediate relatives and other legally authorized individuals or organizations may order them.

How do you order a certified copy of a death certificate in California?

You can order certified copies of death certificates from 1905 to the present from the California Department of Health – Vital Records and from the county recorder’s office for the county where the death took place. You can also order them online through VitalChek.

Are adoption records public in California?

Adoption records have been sealed in California since 1935. Adoptees, their siblings and their birth parents can only access them with a court order or through the Mutual Consent Program. This requires an agreement to waive confidentiality on behalf of the adoptee and their birth parents or their sibling. Adoptees and birth parents can also access non-identifying background information through the California Department of Social Services or through the agency that handled the adoption.

Are criminal records public in California?

Statewide criminal records searches can be done at the California Department of Justice, however they are not available to the general public. Only certain governmental agencies, authorized private organizations and the individual themselves may request a statewide criminal records history in California. This applies to local criminal court records as well.

Where can you look up sex offenders in California?

Since 2004, the public has been able to search an online database for information on registered sex offenders at California’s Megan’s Law, a department of the state DOJ. This information was previously available only by personally visiting police stations and sheriff offices or by calling a 900 toll-free number. California has required sex offenders to register with their local law enforcement agencies since 1947. Signed by the Governor on September 24, 2004, Megan's Law provides the public with certain information on the whereabouts of sex offenders so that members of local communities can protect themselves and their children.

Are California civil court records public?

California civil court records are public, however these records can be especially challenging to find as there are many different jurisdictions in the state. To obtain a transcript of a California Local or Superior Court Record, you will need to contact the court with jurisdiction over the specific case.