How to Obtain Court Records in California
California court records are documents that provide detail on a variety of civil and criminal activity in the state from small claims and traffic violations to property transfers, divorce, adoption, juvenile issues, bankruptcy, and class action suits. Finding the right document is a matter of knowing where to look.
California Superior Courts
Despite their name, the superior courts are the lowest level of the state judiciary. This is where evictions, petty theft, name changes, divorce, juvenile cases, traffic tickets, and such are decided. The state has not digitized all records and assembled a searchable database, so individuals seeking records must find the court where the case was decided and request records from the clerk. Use this list to find the correct court: http://www.courts.ca.gov/find-my-court.htm. Once you find the right court, individual counties may have searchable indices of cases and ways to request records online.
Probate courts handle the distribution of property and other inheritances through wills. These specialized divisions of California superior courts allow the public to trace the possessions of a deceased person as well as to find out who the heirs were. Requests for records should start at the courthouse in the county where the person lived or owned property.
Appellate court records
When parties disagree with the decisions of superior courts, they may appeal to the state appellate court with jurisdiction. The appellate court may completely overturn the decision of the lower court, resulting in no conviction, a reduced sentence, or a retrial. To get copies of appellate court records from all jurisdictions you may search this unified database: http://appellatecases.courtinfo.ca.gov/index.html.
The state office of Vital Records can provide some documents but if you need a certified copy of a divorce decree you need to get it from the superior court where the divorce was granted. Divorce decrees are necessary when remarrying, for financial documentation (mortgages, student loans, etc.), and more. https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CHSI/Pages/Vital-Records-Obtaining-Certified-Copies-of-Marriage--Divorce-Records.aspx
Federal courts records in California
Use the Pacer site to access U.S. District court records and information including bankruptcies, class action suits, and lawsuits involving more than one state: https://pcl.uscourts.gov/pcl/index.jsf. This is also the place where federal criminal cases like bank robberies, interstate drug deals, kidnapping, and extortion are tried.