Requesting, Reading, and Correcting a Department of Justice Background Report
The best way for most people to learn about the extent of their criminal history is to request a California Department of Justice (DOJ) background report. While the FBI report is useful for criminal records in other states, it is not as detailed as a report from the California DOJ. For instance, the FBI report often does not have accurate case numbers for California cases; case numbers can be very useful when filing a petition to dismiss or motion to reduce a felony in the superior court, particularly when the case is older and the court file has been destroyed.
The DOJ report contains all of a persons arrests and convictions. Notably, not all convictions and arrests are forwarded to the DOJ. We have seen many instances where an arrest was noted but not a conviction, and vice versa. Nonetheless, in general the California DOJ report is accurate.
It is important to distinguish the DOJ report from a general background check by an employer. Most background check companies for private employers or private housing landlords do not have access to the DOJ report. Instead, they contract with companies who provide background check services. These background check companies in turn send their employees to the local courts clerks office and look at other public records to check whether a person has any convictions. DOJ records are private and only limited agencies and employers have access to them. The employers with access to the DOJ record includes certain jobs dealing with sensitive clientele, like nursing, teaching, or law enforcement; these jobs wil usuallyl require a livescan and the employer will view information directly from the DOJ record. The same is true of an application for a professional license like real estate, nursing, or law. Accordingly, knowledge of the accuracy and extent of the DOJ record is very important.
The DOJ background report is requested by going to the California Department of Justice website under the section "request your own criminal background." (https://oag.ca.gov/fingerprints/record-review) For in state residents, the form on the page needs to be downloaded, filled out, and brought to a livescan location. The website lists local livescan locations. Some of our clients go to the local sheriff’s station for a livescan, but we recommend going somewhere else (such as a private business) because sometimes the sheriff’s office will only run a record check for that specific county, not everywhere else in the state. After getting fingerprinted, paying a small fee (about $40 total), and submitting the form, the DOJ will mail back a report in a week to two weeks. For out of state residents, livescan locations are unavailabl. Accordingly, out of state residents will have to mail a fingerprint card and a separate form to the DOJ. The information for out of state residents is available on the same web page.
Reading a DOJ report can be difficult. We help our clients make sense of it. The important part is following the pattern of arrest to conviction, and knowing which count resulted in the conviction. Following the arrest record closely and corresponding it to the following criminal cases is the easiest way to read the record. Sometimes, after the first section of the report, there is an additional section for information “loosely” matched to the name on file; this may or may not be the same person. Nonetheless, we have found that often it is the same person and it is just a continuation of the criminal record. The common abbreviations in the report are the following:
Even though the superior court has granted a dismissal or reduction, the clerk of the superior court sometimes does not forward this information to the Department of Justice as is required under the Penal Code. We have seen many instances of people who have had a felony reduced to a misdemeanor but are still technically a felon on their DOJ record. This can cause problems with obtaining a firearm or a professional license. The same lack of an update to the DOJ record can occur for a dismissal under Penal Code section 1203.4. The best way to deal with these errors is to make a manual correction request to the California Department of Justice. Each background report provided by the DOJ comes with an attached form; this is the appropriate form to use to request an update or amendment to the DOJ record. It can be helpful to have a lawyer help correct the DOJ record because the proper documentation needs to be submitted with the request. Nonetheless, we have seen people correct their own record without an attorney.
Knowledge of what is on the DOJ report is a crucial starting point for those seeking to clean their criminal record. It can also be helpful for those applying for professional licenses or jobs with livescan requirements to know what certain employers or licensing agencies will see. For any questions regarding a DOJ background report, contact the Law Office of David Reagan.
About David Reagan
A Bay Area native and top graduate of Santa Clara University School of Law, Mr. Reagan uses his passion for justice to clean all types of criminal records.
"Mr. Reagan handled my court isuses in such a professional manner and had his briefs prepared so well that the Judge in Superior Court of Alameda County gave him kudos in "open court " That was the first time I have ever seen or heard of that happening. It made me very proud to be his client." -J.
Law Office of David Reagan
725 Washington Street, Suite 200
Oakland, CA 94607
210 North Fourth Street
San Jose, CA 95112