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HOW DO I SEARCH CALIFORNIA COURT RECORDS?

California Court Records are kept by different bodies within the California Court system and made available to the public in line with the state Public Records Act. Official records of court cases are kept in paper and electronic formats. These records are deemed public records unless sealed or expunged by law. Hence, citizens may request to view available California court records in any of these three ways:

  • Visit the local courthouse and request to inspect the paper records
  • Visit the local courthouse, request to view the electronic copies of available court records
  • Remotely access electronic court records via the internet for courts that offer this service.

To determine the location of any courthouse in the state, consider the ‘Find Your Court' search tool on the California Judiciary website. Note, there is a fee attached to copying available court records.

HOW TO GET CALIFORNIA COURT RECORDS ONLINE FOR FREE?

Truly free court records do not exist, though many options are inexpensive. Viewing electronic copies online is one way of accessing these court records for jurisdictions that make them available. When these electronic records are not provided and where a certified copy of a court record is required, the requestor will need to visit the local courthouse to access paper copies.

The public can access electronic copies of case records from the California Supreme Court and its six Courts of Appeal online via the California Courts website. This electronic platform allows the user to search for a court record with four options.

  • Search by Case Caption (e.g., "Louis v. Webber")
  • Search by Party
  • Search by Attorney
  • Search by Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, or Trial Court Case Number

To access electronic copies of case records from the 58 Superior Courts in the state, use the Find Your Court tool on the California Courts website or visit the county's courthouse website by selecting the relevant county from the list below.

Court records are considered open to the public and are usually accessible through government sources, though they may also be accessed through third-party websites. These websites offer an easier method in most cases, as they are not limited by geographical area, or by limitations in search engine technology. They can often serve as a starting point when looking for a specific record, or multiple records. Interested parties must usually provide:

  • The name of the person listed in the record. This may not apply to records on juveniles.
  • The assumed or known location of the person listed in the record. This will most often be a city, county, or state.

Because they are not government-sponsored, record availability on third party websites may vary when compared to government sources.

HOW DOES THE CALIFORNIA COURT SYSTEM WORK?

The California Court System operates on three levels, namely; the Supreme Court, the Courts of Appeal, and the Superior Courts. These courts belong to two categories, the superior courts are the trial courts while the Courts of Appeal and the California Supreme Court serve as the appellate courts. These courts are governed by the Judicial Council chaired by the State's Supreme Court Chief Justice.

There are 58 trial courts (Superior Courts) in California, one in each county. The State is organized into six (6) judicial districts with each district having a Court of Appeal. There is a single Supreme Court in the state serving as the highest court of appeal. The state's Superior Courts decide on over 4.5 million cases annually, while annual decisions from the six Courts of Appeal are over 20,000. The California Supreme Court decides on more than 6,000 cases and issues some 80 opinions yearly.

WHAT ARE CALIFORNIA TRIAL COURTS?

California has a unified trial court system that means all court proceedings are conducted in the Superior Courts. Each county in the state has a Superior Court. While some counties may have several courthouses across different cities, they are all part of the same superior court in the county. Hearings and judgments at these courts are done by a judge or a jury. These Superior Court judges are elected by the voters in that county at a general election for a term of six (6) years. Cases handled by the trial court include:

  • Civil cases (family, juvenile, probate, etc.)
  • Criminal case (felonies, misdemeanors, and infractions)
  • Small claims cases, and appeals of small claims cases
  • Appeals of civil cases with claims of $25,000 or less, and
  • Appeals of infractions (like traffic offense) and misdemeanor cases.

At each county level, the Superior Court is organized into divisions based on the type of case. These divisions may include Civil, Criminal, Family, Juvenile, Probate, Small Claims, and Traffic. Find location, contact, and jury information details of each county's superior court via the California Courts portal.

In most counties, the Superior Court has a specialized Drug Court division or program to facilitate the rehabilitation of certain drug offenders. These Drug Courts also serve as an alternative to jail time for these offenders. Note in addition to Superior Courts, the state of California has independent Tribal Courts.

WHAT ARE CALIFORNIA APPELLATE COURTS?

Decisions of a Superior Court are reviewable by the Court of Appeal in its appellate district upon appeal by persons who lose a case or part of a case at the lower court. The six appellate districts in the state have headquarters located at:

Cases whose decisions can be appealed at this court include family law, probate, juvenile, felony, and civil cases with claims above $25,000. Note, the Courts of Appeal in California do not review death penalty cases. While a Court of Appeal will only review case records of a Superior Court to decide if a legal mistake was made, some certain trials begin at this court. These cases include petitions for extraordinary writs, such as mandamus, prohibition, and certiorari, in unlimited civil cases.

Decisions at the Court of Appeal are made by a panel of at least 3 judges, one presiding justice, and two or more associate justices. These justices are appointed by the Governor in line with the rules that determine the selection of Supreme Court justices. Decisions of the Courts of Appeal in California that are not restricted by law are available online for public view.

California Supreme Court is the state's highest court and it reviews cases decided by the Courts of Appeal. The court's decisions are made by seven (7) justices where at least four (4) must agree. These seven justices include a Chief Justice and six (6) associate justices, all appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Commission of Judicial Appointments. Each justice appointment must also be confirmed via a retention referendum/election.

Note certain cases go directly to the Supreme Court without a hearing in any Court of Appeal in the state. These kinds of cases include death penalty appeals and disciplinary cases involving judges. Decisions of the Supreme Court are binding on the other lower courts. These decisions are published in the California Official Reports and online on the California Courts website.

WHAT ARE CALIFORNIA TRIBAL COURTS?

Federally recognized tribes across the United States are allowed to have their own court systems. California has 19 tribal courts serving some 40 of its 107 federally recognized tribes. Each of these tribal courts operates under its jurisdiction codes and constitution. Cases heard in tribal courts differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. California tribal courts decide on matters including guardianship, child welfare, civil disputes, and violation of tribal ordinances. For more information on these tribal courts visit the California Courts website.

HOW MANY CASES DOES THE CALIFORNIA COURT SYSTEM HANDLE ANNUALLY?

Approximately six to 10 million cases are filed in the California court system yearly. For example, in the 2017-2018 fiscal year, the California Court Statistics Report shows that over 6.1 million cases were filed at the superior courts across the state. This total represents 823,563 civil cases, 4,772,284 criminal cases, 428, 456 family and juvenile cases, and 99,810 probate, mental health, appeals, and habeas cases.

In the same year, 18, 281 cases were filed at the Courts of Appeal, and 20, 984 dispositions were issued. The total filings include 12,137 records of appeal and 6,144 original proceedings while the dispositions total consist of 14, 920 appeals, and 6,064 original proceedings. For the California Supreme Court in the 2017-18 fiscal year, a total of 6,812 cases were filed and 6,761 dispositions were issued.

California Supreme Court Total Filings and Dispositions, Fiscal Years 2008-09 through 2017-18

FY09 FY10 FY11 FY12 FY13 FY14 FY15 FY16 FY17 FY18
Total Filings 9,485 9,760 10,329 9,232 8,029 7,907 7,860 8,081 7,317 6,812
Total Dispositions 9,674 9,529 10,196 9,720 8,492 7,774 7,549 7,951 6,992 6,761

Data Provided by Judicial Council of California

California Courts of Appeal Filings for All Districts, Fiscal Years 2008-09 through 2017-18

Record of Appeal Filings Original Proceeding Filings
Total Civil Criminal Juvenile Total Civil Criminal Juvenile
FY18 12,137 4,414 4,762 2,961 6,144 1,658 4,087 399
FY17 12,313 4,004 5,401 2,908 6,404 1,803 4,249 352
FY16 13,296 3,840 6,523 2,933 6,921 1,781 4,791 349
FY15 13,607 4,275 6,463 2,869 7,054 1,834 4,803 417
FY14 13,182 4,374 6,082 2,726 7,016 1,851 4,742 423
FY13 13,020 4,609 5,775 2,636 7,371 1,916 5,005 450
FY12 13,498 4,601 6,145 2,752 8,396 1,982 5,945 469
FY11 13,950 4,747 6,522 2,681 9,071 2,122 6,533 416
FY10 13,738 4,539 6,549 2,650 8,777 2,017 6,305 455
FY09 13,617 4,422 6,458 2,737 8,413 2,139 5,788 486

Data Provided by Judicial Council of California

California Superior Courts Caseloads, Fiscal Years 2008-09 through 2017-18

Fiscal year Filings Dispositions
FY18 6,124,113 4,777,033
FY17 5,839,351 4,798,084
FY16 6,153,749 5,441,692
FY15 6,843,839 6,360,442
FY14 7,494,259 6,731,146
FY13 7,735,192 6,625,491
FY12 8,558,964 7,576,781
FY11 9,435,235 8,553,501
FY10 10,070,730 8,783,381
FY09 10,248,435 8,768,510

Data Provided by Judicial Council of California

Civil Filings and Dispositions, Fiscal Years 2008-09 through 2017-18

Total Civil Unlimited Civil Limited Civil Small Claims
Total Unlimited Civil Motor Vehicle PI/PW/WD Other PI/PD/WD Other Civil Complaints & Petitions Small Claims Appeals
Filings
FY18 823,563 221,090 41,839 23,402 151,720 4,129 444,146 158,327
FY17 774,238 210,052 38,838 22,342 144,422 4,450 400,611 163,575
FY16 710,970 201,721 35,103 21,518 140,384 4,716 350,898 158,351
FY15 720,106 192,324 32,807 21,202 133,201 5,114 377,165 150,617
FY14 836,258 193,674 31,846 22,079 134,436 5,313 487,056 155,528
FY13 924,149 200,119 30,159 23,114 140,295 6,551 555,967 168,063
FY12 999,281 205,017 29,468 22,545 153,004 7,044 602,608 184,612
FY11 1,090,902 211,286 27,812 21,649 161,825 7,646 686,000 193,616
FY10 1,141,583 209,288 28,964 20,928 159,396 8,443 720,308 211,987
FY09 1,218,573 202,349 28,945 21,142 152,262 9,206 783,883 232,341
Dispositions
FY18 645,845 193,615 37,035 21,222 132,035 3,323 293,875 158,355
FY17 703,645 180,356 32,298 20,525 124,268 3,265 363,361 159,928
FY16 677,880 183,539 32,708 19,994 127,475 3,362 343,075 151,266
FY15 748,692 179,736 28,669 18,755 128,740 3,572 410,900 158,056
FY14 840,831 173,795 25,386 17,533 126,631 4,245 507,752 159,284
FY13 938,938 190,600 27,364 19,589 138,764 4,883 569,368 178,970
FY12 1,028,563 201,053 27,685 21,216 152,152 5,184 638,611 183,715
FY11 1,171,737 210,332 28,060 19,884 162,388 5,806 753,405 202,194
FY10 1,112,136 187,048 27,294 18,821 140,933 6,817 703,350 214,921
FY09 1,113,499 169,600 26,123 18,583 124,894 6,619 711,169 226,111

Data Provided by Judicial Council of California

Criminal Filings and Dispositions, Fiscal Years 2008-09 through 2017-18

Total Criminal Felonies Non-Traffic Traffic
Misdemeanors Infractions Misdemeanors Infractions
Filings
FY18 4,772,284 190,520 463,486 256,528 292,669 3,569,081
FY17 4,525,773 189,046 462,214 231,185 301,948 3,341,380
FY16 4,887,321 192,444 496,520 234,351 343,158 3,620,848
FY15 5,570,385 216,085 446,373 274,694 478,097 4,155,136
FY14 6,097,828 272,487 402,241 285,135 515,670 4,622,295
FY13 6,241,542 261,307 392,096 275,950 536,004 4,776,185
FY12 6,956,268 244,036 426,070 356,552 649,972 5,279,638
FY11 7,717,664 241,239 506,653 341,550 763,138 5,865,084
FY10 8,272,890 248,453 491,903 351,704 833,811 6,347,019
FY09 8,359,266 261,768 530,320 352,893 866,747 6,347,538
Dispositions
FY18 3,696,747 161,690 308,621 118,002 199,270 2,909,164
FY17 3,587,764 172,460 314,955 113,588 216,336 2,770,425
FY16 4,311,427 182,523 352,455 148,779 282,097 3,345,573
FY15 5,134,154 224,471 358,709 200,923 401,514 3,948,537
FY14 5,406,597 254,027 336,816 196,322 404,887 4,214,545
FY13 5,185,043 240,797 322,481 222,426 417,237 3,982,102
FY12 6,017,929 226,272 371,562 313,170 500,651 4,606,274
FY11 6,832,311 228,587 398,068 304,600 541,625 5,359,431
FY10 7,116,605 238,751 430,281 327,829 591,455 5,528,289
FY09 7,082,731 235,399 444,480 291,589 612,022 5,499,241

Data Provided by Judicial Council of California

First names in California