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What Is the CLETS System in California?

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Sep 27, 2023

The California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System, or CLETS, is an essential tool for law enforcement agencies across California.

This system plays a vital role in maintaining public safety. Suppose you have a criminal record, a restraining or protective order, or DMV violations. In that case, CLETS makes it easier for law enforcement to access these records quickly to see if you have prior offenses.

What Is the CLETS System in California?
The California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (CLETS) allows police access to databases.

CLETS is a computer network giving police departments access to national databases maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), and others.

The system also allows law enforcement agencies to deliver messages to one another. Notably, CLETS information can only be accessed by authorized law enforcement and criminal justice personnel. In other words, this system is designed for official use only.

Sometimes, authorities misuse CLETS by searching for information for non-official purposes, such as checking info for personal reasons or a friend. If this occurs, cases of misuse can be investigated by California's Department of Justice and the Attorney General.

If misuse of CLETS is confirmed after an investigation, the person could be terminated from employment, face criminal charges, and even civil liability.

California restraining or protective orders are often entered into CLETS, such as domestic violence and elder abuse restraining orders, civil harassment restraining orders, and workplace violence restraining orders. Let's review further below.

What is CLETS?

CLETS is a statewide computer network system that allows local, state, and federal criminal justice agencies to access, exchange, and share crucial information about individuals involved in the criminal justice system.

Managed by the California Department of Justice, CLETS was established to enhance the capability of law enforcement to protect and serve the citizens of California effectively.

Currently, CLETS allows authorized law enforcement officials and criminal justice personnel to access databases maintained by the FBI, DMV records, and some databases from other states. The system contains various types of information, including the following:

  • criminal histories,
  • driver's license data,
  • vehicle registration information,
  • restraining orders, and
  • missing persons reports.

Its primary purpose is to provide law enforcement officers with immediate access to this critical information, enabling them to make informed decisions when responding to incidents or conducting investigations. Authorized police can even access CLETS data in the field through a mobile terminal in their vehicles.

What Databases Are Accessible within CLETS?

Authorized users can access information from numerous state, FBI, and independent databases using CLETS. These include, but are not necessarily limited to, the following:

  • National Crime Information Center (NCIC): Managed by the FBI, the NCIC database includes nationwide data on stolen property, missing persons, wanted persons, and protective order records, among others.
  • International Justice and Public Safety Network (Nlets): Formerly known as the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System, this not-for-profit network allows local, state, and federal criminal justice agencies to exchange records and data with other agencies in the United States and internationally.
  • Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS): CJIS is a national network of databases that includes criminal history records, fingerprints, and biometric data.
  • California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV): The DMV provides vehicle registration, driver's license information, and accident reports to CLETS authorized users.

CLETS also gives law enforcement instant access to Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) within the state, which includes virtually all information on a person within the California criminal justice system, the following:

  • arrest records,
  • criminal charges,
  • pretrial proceedings,
  • sentencing,
  • incarceration,
  • parole and probation information,
  • rehabilitation programs.
  • social security information,
  • date of birth.

Who Is Authorized to Access CLETS?

Access to CLETS is not indiscriminate, nor is it accessible by the public. It's strictly controlled and limited to authorized individuals within law enforcement agencies who have undergone proper training and certification and their own fingerprinting and background checks.

This restriction ensures the security and privacy of the sensitive information contained within the system.

Personnel cannot operate CLETS or access the system until they have passed a background check and provided their fingerprints. Anyone accessing CLETS must be trained on the system within six months of employment.

What About CLETS Protective Orders?

In California, most protective orders are input into the CLETS system, known as CLETS protective orders.

CLETS Protective Orders
Most protective orders in California are input into the CLETS system for easy access by police.

This entry allows any law enforcement officer in California to verify whether someone has a protective order against them quickly.

For example, suppose a police officer encounters a situation where they suspect domestic violence or abuse. In that case, they can cross-reference the individuals involved with the CLETS system.

If a protective order is in place, the officer will know that the order is being violated and can make an arrest. This process enables law enforcement officers to enforce protective orders immediately, even if the person under the protection of the order does not have a physical copy of the order at hand.

A restraining order is a court order that prevents someone (restrained person) from harassing, abusing, stalking, or threatening another person (protected person).

What Happens If There Is Misuse of the CLETS System?

Due to the sensitivity of the information accessible through CLETS, there are understandable concerns among advocacy groups regarding misuse of the system.

CLETS is governed by stringent rules and regulations to ensure its use aligns with the law enforcement objectives it serves. Authorized users are expected to access the system for "official use only"— for legitimate law enforcement or criminal justice purposes.

Specifically, users can only access CLETS on a right-to-know and need-to-know basis. Any deviation from these guidelines is considered unauthorized use. Examples of unauthorized use might include:

  • Accessing files of family and friends for personal reasons;
  • Disseminating data obtained through CLETS to unauthorized individuals;
  • Looking up CLETS data on celebrities or other high-profile people for entertainment or other reasons, or
  • Any other access to information without a valid law enforcement reason.

Unauthorized use of CLETS is a violation of California law. The repercussions include disciplinary action, termination, legal penalties, and criminal charges. Even so, documented instances of CLETS misuse have been quite common among law enforcement statewide.

As with any other investigative tool law enforcement uses, the CLETS system cannot be used to violate an individual's rights under the law. Police can only conduct searches and arrests with probable cause, including using CLETS.

Suppose you have reason to believe your rights as a defendant have been violated by the misuse of the CLETS system. In that case, a skilled California criminal defense attorney may be able to argue on your behalf to get specific evidence suppressed or even get the charges dropped.  Contact our law firm for a case review. Eisner Gorin LLP has offices in Los Angeles, CA.

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About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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