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Are Domestic Violence Cases Public Record?

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Jun 10, 2024

A common question is whether domestic violence cases are a matter of public record in California. Being arrested and charged with a domestic violence crime can be highly disruptive to your life, even before you're convicted.

Domestic violence (DV) charges carry significant implications that can profoundly affect your personal and professional life.

Are Domestic Violence Cases Public Record?
Domestic violence cases are generally considered public records accessed through the court.

Even if you're charged with a minor offense and manage to avoid jail time, there are legitimate concerns about the case becoming a matter of public record, potentially affecting your ability to find work, obtain housing, and other issues.

Domestic violence is a serious issue that affects many individuals and families in California. When DV incidents occur, it's essential to understand the legal process that follows and whether or not domestic violence cases are considered public records.

In California, domestic violence cases are generally considered public records. This means anybody can access information about them through the court system, but certain restrictions may apply depending on the case's specifics.

While domestic violence case records are public but subject to confidentiality rules and regulations, specific details or documents within the case might be sealed or kept private to protect the safety and well-being of the people involved. For example, personal identifying information or sensitive evidence might not be accessible to the general public.

Notably, while domestic violence case records are public, it does not mean that every case detail will be readily available online. Sometimes, people might need to visit the courthouse or request specific documents to access certain information.

If you want to access domestic violence case records in California, you should contact the court where the case was filed and ask the clerk about the process for obtaining these records. Each court could have its procedures and requirements for accessing public records.

What are the Implications of Domestic Violence?

The laws of California are stringent when it comes to domestic violence. Penal Code 13700 PC defines the crime of domestic violence as an act or attempted act to inflict injury on a current or former intimate partner.

It also encompasses direct and indirect threats, such as acts that cause the victim a reasonable fear of imminent harm. This legal definition is vital because crimes of violence against intimate partners are treated differently under the law than the same crimes committed against others. Consider the following:

  • A typical domestic violence charge in California is Penal Code 273.5 PC, as any willful infliction of corporal injury resulting in a traumatic condition upon a current or former spouse, cohabitant, dating partner, or parent of one's child. The term encompasses a range of abusive behaviors, including physical assault, emotional abuse, threats, and other forms of coercion.
  • Domestic battery, Penal Code 243(e)(1) PC, is willfully inflicting physical force on an intimate partner, whether or not injury occurs as a result. This is the most basic form of domestic violence and is usually a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail.

The legal consequences of domestic violence offenses in California can be severe. Misdemeanor penalties may include up to one year in county jail, fines, mandatory counseling programs, and community service.

Felony convictions can result in longer prison sentences, more substantial fines, and more stringent probation conditions. Beyond legal penalties, a conviction can tarnish one's reputation, complicate employment prospects, and disrupt family dynamics. The accessibility of domestic violence case records can impact the people involved, such as the following:

  • Employment and background checks.
  • Custody and divorce proceedings.
  • Personal safety and reputation.

What are the Privacy Concerns?

Public records are documents or pieces of information not considered confidential and thus accessible by the general public.

In California, public records include court documents, criminal records, and other documents filed with governmental agencies. The California Public Records Act (CPRA) governs their accessibility, aiming to ensure transparency and accountability in government.

In California, criminal records are generally available to the public. However, access to certain types of information may be restricted based on privacy concerns or legal protections.

Criminal records, including arrests, charges, and convictions, are typically maintained by law enforcement agencies and the California Department of Justice. Employers, landlords, and other entities conducting background checks can access these records, significantly impacting an individual's opportunities.

Is Domestic Violence Arrest Public Records?

As noted, in California, domestic violence charges, like most criminal charges, become part of the public record once they are filed with the court. This means the case details, including the charges, court proceedings, and outcomes, are generally accessible to the public.

Arrest records, police reports, restraining orders, and other court documents related to domestic violence cases can be obtained by interested parties, often through online databases or by request from the relevant agency.

Some information may also appear in criminal background checks, generally run by employers and landlords.

However, there are nuances in how different types of records are treated. For example, arrest records are typically public, but specific personal information may be redacted to protect the privacy of individuals involved. Conviction records, on the other hand, are more straightforwardly accessible than public records.

What Are Some Frequently Asked Questions?

  • Can you access domestic violence case records online? Sometimes, domestic violence case records might be available online through the court's website or a public records database. However, not all courts provide this online access, and certain information may be limited or restricted.
  • Can you request to have domestic violence case records sealed or expunged? Sometimes, it might be possible to request the sealing or expungement of domestic violence case records. However, the eligibility and process for sealing or expunging records will vary depending on the jurisdiction and the case's specifics. You should consult with a lawyer for guidance on this issue.
  • How long do domestic violence case records stay on file? The length of time will vary depending on the court and the case's specific circumstances. Typically, these records are maintained for a significant period of time, but they might eventually be archived or destroyed according to established retention schedules.

What About Restraining Orders?

In California, restraining orders can be shown on criminal background checks. While most restraining orders are civil matters, their issuance can be included in background check reports because they are court records.

Additionally, if a restraining order is violated, the violation is considered a criminal offense, which will undoubtedly appear on a criminal background check. Therefore, the presence of a restraining order or any related violations can be visible to employers, landlords, and others conducting background checks.

What are the Options for Limiting the Impacts of Domestic Violence Records?

While the implications of domestic violence charges are far-reaching, there are still strategies a California criminal defense attorney can implement that may either reduce the impact on your public record or remove the records from public view. These include the following:

  • Negotiating Charge Reductions or Plea Deals: Reducing domestic violence charges to lesser offenses may not carry the same public record implications.
  • Seeking Dismissal: If insufficient evidence warrants a trial or conviction, dismissing the case makes it easier to clear records later.
  • Pre-Trial Diversion Programs: Certain pre-trial diversions may be available, especially for first-time offenders. Completing the terms of a diversion program results in the dismissal of the charges. Your attorney may evaluate your eligibility for one of these programs.
  • Petitioning for Expungement: California law allows certain offenses to be sealed from public view after a certain amount of time, including arrests or charges that didn't result in a conviction or expungement after the defendant has completed their sentence. Your attorney may explore whether you are eligible for record sealing or file a petition for expungement based on the circumstances of your case.

As noted, domestic violence cases in California are generally considered public records, although certain restrictions and confidentiality rules might apply. The accessibility of these records can impact people in various ways, including child custody and divorce proceedings.

Contact the relevant court for more information on accessing domestic violence case records. Our California criminal defense law firm, Eisner Gorin LLP, is in Los Angeles.

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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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