How can you find what’s on your background check?

How do I find out what shows up on my background check?

Many people ask what shows up on their criminal history.  Sometimes, it’s because they were detained by the police, but weren’t sure if they were arrested.  They may have been arrested, but never went to court.  Or – their case was resolved in some way and they want to know exactly what will show up if they go for a background check.

Whatever your reason for wanting to know what’s on your criminal history, you have a right to know.  The California Department of Justice is the agency that maintains criminal histories in California.  They receive entries from law enforcement agencies as well as the courts for their database that eventually ends up on your “rap sheet.”  Those records are not public records, but can be accessed by law enforcement or other agencies.  You can also agree to have your records released (for example, in an employment background check) to a third party.

So what exactly shows up on yours?

Your “rap sheet” contains entries every time there is some sort of interaction with an agency that reports to the Department of Justice.  If you are arrested and booked into jail, when you’re fingerprinted, those records are input into the system by the police when you do the electronic fingerprinting.  That will create an entry indicating the date of the arrest, the agency that arrested you and the charge.  Ultimately, it is supposed to be updated with the resolution – that no case was filed and it is deemed a “detention only” or if there was a case filed in court.  From there, if charges are filed, that will also show up, along with the case number, the court branch and the charge or charges filed against you.

Other things can create entries, too.

If you submit an application to a licensing agency or other organization that requires certification, etc. (such as to be a security guard, real estate agent, teacher, securities agent), an entry will be made indicating that you were an applicant.

How are they linked?

Criminal histories are linked by fingerprints, name, date of birth and social security number as well as an “index number” or CII number.  If you are fingerprinted by live scan (those electronic prints), that incident is guaranteed to be linked to you.  Some incidents, such as an arrest that does not involve being booked, may just link by name.

How do you get a copy of your criminal background?

First, you’ll need a copy of the Department of Justice’s “Live Scan Form” found at the link below.  Take that form to the Police Department, Sheriff’s Department or other authorized Live Scan location (link to list of locations and fees found below).  There will be a fingerprint fee (typically around $20, but I’ve seen them anywhere from $12 to $50) and a $25 processing fee to the Department of Justice.  They will then mail you a copy of your background.  They will also include information about what to do if you find inaccuracies on the report.

Department of Justice – Request your own criminal background

Live Scan Locations and fees

Live Scan request form (PDF)

I hope this helps.  If you find inaccuracies on your report, want to discuss trying to remove items under Penal Code 851.8 with a petition for factual innocence or – if you find an old warrant you didn’t know about, give me a call or send an email.

Joe Dane, Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney


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