Criminal Law — Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Where can I find information I need about my criminal case?

A: We do not have information about individual criminal cases. Contact the court in the county where your case is being heard and ask them for any information you need about your case. If you have a lawyer, you should contact your lawyer or the public defender in your county.

Q: What is bail or bond?

A: “Bail” is money or property that a defendant puts up as a promise to return for future court dates. When setting the amount of bail, the judge takes into account the seriousness of the crime, whether the defendant is a risk to the community, and whether he or she is a “flight risk” and likely to run away.

Bail can be paid:

  • In cash.
  • With a pledge of property (if the court allows it).
  • With a bail bond, which requires only a portion of the bail amount set by the judge. Usually, a professional bail bondsman is paid 10 percent of the bail amount and the bondsman then promises the court that he or she will pay the remainder of the bail if the defendant fails to appear at future court dates.

Once the bail is exonerated—meaning that the prosecutor decided not to move forward with the case and the case was dismissed, or the defendant won (was found to be not guilty), or the defendant lost and has been placed in prison or county jail—the bail bondsman must release all collateral (property) used to secure the bail. It is important to get a release of lien from the bondsman on any real estate you pledged for the bond.

If the defendant fails to appear and the bail bondsman must pay the court the full amount of the bail, anyone who cosigned or pledged collateral (property) for the bail can lose the collateral and/or be sued for the money the bail bondsman had to pay to the court. This is why it is very risky to post bail for someone, especially if you cannot be absolutely certain the defendant will come to court.

Q: I am a crime victim. Can I get money from the person who hurt me?

A: You may be able to recover for some of your losses. You can ask the court to order someone to pay “restitution.” There is also a State Restitution Fund for victims of violent crime.

For more information, read Information on Crime Victim’s Compensation.

Also contact the Victim/Witness Assistance Center in your county.

There are court forms and instructions that can help if you decide to file for an order for restitution:

Q: How can I find out if the defendant has assets so I can collect restitution?

A: You can ask the judge to order the defendant to fill out a Defendant’s Statement of Assets (Form CR-115). Form CR-117 has Instructions: Defendant’s Statement of Assets.

Q: How can I find someone who is in jail or prison?

A: For California State Prison: Call the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) Inmate Locator. You must have either the inmate’s CDC number or the inmate’s full name and date of birth to get information. Click to find a list of California adult correctional facilities.

For Federal Prison: You can search the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Inmate Locator database using the inmate’s first and last name or the inmate’s Register Number, DCDC Number, FBI Number, or INS Number. Or find a list of federal correctional facilities. Fill in whatever information you know (like the state or city you are looking for) and hit “submit.”

For County Jail: Call the jail. You can usually find the phone number and address for the jail by calling the county sheriff. Click to find the address and telephone numbers of the county sheriffs in California.

Q: My driver’s license was suspended. Can I get it back?
Q: Where can I find the public defender in my county?

A: Check the California County Public Defender website.

Q: Where can I find the victim/witness program in my county?

A: The local Victim/Witness Assistance Center can help crime victims apply for compensation for losses including medical, funeral, and burial expenses; loss of income or support; and job retraining.

If you can not find a center in your county, check the white pages of your telephone book under "County Government" and look for "Victim Services" and "Victim Witness Assistance," or call toll free: 1-800-842-8467.

Clean Up Your Record — Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What happens if I was referred to a “diversion” program?

A: If you were referred to a “diversion” program, your record will already be changed in 1 of 2 ways. If you successfully completed all of the diversion program requirements, your record should already be changed to show a dismissal. If you did not complete your requirements or were not actually given diversion, then the conviction will be on your record.

Q: What if I was convicted of marijuana possession?

A: If you were convicted of possession of marijuana for personal use, then you do not necessarily need to get a dismissal for the offense. Under California Health and Safety Code sections 11361.5 and 11361.7, all convictions for possession of marijuana for personal use, after January 1, 1976, are erased from your record after 2 years. BE CAREFUL! The conviction cannot be for cultivation, sales, or transportation. If it is, it will be on your record.

Q: Do my juvenile records appear on my criminal record?

A: Yes. Your juvenile records do appear on your criminal record. But, as of your 18th birthday, you are eligible to petition to have your juvenile records sealed. Note that your juvenile records are NOT automatically sealed when you turn 18; you MUST petition the juvenile court to have them sealed. Once your records are sealed, no one can gain access to them and they will be completely destroyed 5 years from the date of sealing.    

To petition the juvenile court to have your juvenile records sealed, fll out and and file a form with the juvenile court in the county where you were convicted. Contact the juvenile court in the county where you were convicted and ask them to send you a copy of the form used in that county. Check to see if they have any special filing requirements, such as additional photocopies or the need to serve copies of the petition on any government agencies, and get the correct information for filing by mail. Usually, there is no fee.

If you graduated from the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Division of Juvenile Justice, your juvenile convictions will have been dismissed as part of your graduation. If you do not petition to have your juvenile records sealed and destroyed, they will remain on your record until your 38th birthday; then they will be destroyed.

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