Criminal Justice Webpages
Some counties have judicial records online and available to the public. These official government web pages, which I’ll collectively call Criminal Justice Webpages (CJW), generally come in two categories: Superior Court webpages and Sheriff’s Department webpages. The Kern CJW’s are some the best in the state.
Kern County’s CJWs are especially impressive in that they appear to be written in-house whereas multiple counties use commercially available CJWs, such as Tyler Technologies, Inc. used in Fresno, San Bernardino, and some other counties. Tyler is also used for Kern County’s online civil and family law systems.
The court’s CJW is available here: https://www.kerncounty.com/SuperiorCourt/crim_index_case_info_cal.asp
The jail’s CJW is available here: https://www.kerncounty.com/apps/detentions/display_inmate/inmate_srch.asp
I offer my personal preferences for a CJW to explain why Kern County’s CJW are superior to most.
Existence and Expense
My first criteria for a CJW is that one must exist without a fee. Many counties don’t have a CJW, and others have fee-based systems. The absence of a CJW, or a fee-based system, can be costly to a county in that the inability of the public to access basic inmate and case information invites an excessive number of calls to the superior court clerk and to the sheriff’s jail. Defendants’ friends and family will naturally want to know what their loved one is charged with when he has court, what bail is required to secure his release. If such information is not readily available online, family and friends will naturally burden the court clerk and jail personnel with such questions.
Both of Kern County’s CJS sites, court and sheriff, are without expense.
It appears obvious that CJW systems should be accurate, but there is an unfortunate dearth of accuracy in CJW systems. Pacer, the CJW for federal courts, is astoundingly inaccurate. Pacer may show a defendant charged with a misdemeanor to be charged with a felony or may even show a defendant convicted of an infraction to be a convicted felon. Records and even entire cases simply vanish from the system if such cases are inconvenient to the court or the US Attorney. Because litigants can directly file without judicial or clerical oversight, nearly anything can be filed, whether or not the document has merit or is simply defamation. This appears to be the heart of the problem – Pacer is not an independent display of court records, but rather is simply a collection of records that Pacer users wish to display. Much like popular bulletin board systems, users can submit valid content or they can make personal attacks against those they dislike, but attacks through Pacer enjoy immunity from slander and defamation actions because of the court records exception.
Tulare County Sheriff’s CJW also suffers from inaccuracies. The site only displays one of the charges against a defendant along with the number of charges, but the number of charges is almost universally wrong. Wrong information on official court and sheriff webpages appears to be common, but both of Kern County’s CJW systems appear to be accurate most of the time.
A CJW should not invite speculation. Some CJW, such as the one used by San Diego County Superior Court’s CJW are especially frustrating because they invite speculation about the defendants. The San Diego Superior Court’s CJW gives little information beyond the defendant names, aliases, case numbers, birth years, and the location of the case file. Most frustrating is that it does not give the case disposition or any information about the charges or future hearings. Santa Clara also gives case number and filing date, but no disposition or charges
This invites speculation from potential employers, suitors, and others as to the nature of charges and the disposition. Is the potential employee a felony child molester, or was his misdemeanor trespassing charge dismissed? Was the potential boyfriend previously convicted of felony domestic violence; was he convicted of drug trafficking, or was a reckless driving charge against him dismissed?
The Kern County Superior Court’s CJW indicates the case disposition, including where the defendant is to serve a sentence.
I think it is good to show the case disposition, but bad to show the location the sentence was served for several reasons. First, defendants who suffered from mental health issues during their prosecution may have a sentence location of “Patton.” An annotation that the defendant served part or all of their sentence in Patton reveals that the person suffered from mental illness, yet mental health records are confidential under the Standards for Privacy of Individually Identifiable Health Information section of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and other provisions. The sheriff’s department may possibly be exempt from these privacy laws, but it still appears to be improper to publicly disclose that a person has been confined to a mental institution.
Disclosing where a defendant is to serve a sentence is also confusing to some users because the sentence location is often listed as “Wasco,” “VSPW,” or “CCWFM.” A defendant serving a sentence at VSPW (Valley State Prison, formerly called Valley State Prison for Women) or CCWFM (Central California Women’s Facility aka CCWF) will typically serve her entire sentence at the listed location. However, defendants sentenced to Wasco will typically stay at Wasco only during the classification process. After that, the defendant will be transferred to a different prison. This confuses some users of Kern County’s CJW because the defendant is not necessarily at the location listed on the CJW.
A CJW should not disclose confidential information.
The San Diego Sheriff’s CJW is extremely robust and has more information than any other county I am aware of. In addition to general case information, the San Diego Sheriff’s CJW has defendants’ birthdates, race, height, weight, and other information that could be used to identify someone.
The Tulare Sheriff’s CJW also has an abundance of information for in-custody defendants, including date of birth, race, gender, booking date, arresting agency, and next court date.
Kern County Superior Court’s CJW doesn’t have a date of birth, but if a date of birth is known, it can be used to distinguish between people with the same name. The Kern County Sheriff’s CJW does have a date of birth.
Disclosure of date of birth and other personal identifying information is not proper. Such information should be kept confidential to prevent misuse. Penal Code §§530.55 & 964, and many other laws maintain that a date of birth and other such personal information is confidential, and no exception is given for CJW sites.
Many CJW systems, including Kern County Superior Court’s CJW, include case disposition for dismissed cases, including cases that were dismissed in the interest of justice and cases that were dismissed under Penal Code 1203.4, et. seq. There appears to be no reason to include this information, and such disclosure tends to promote violation of the law.
Labor Code §432.7 holds that
(a) (1) No employer, whether a public agency or private individual or corporation, shall ask an applicant for employment to disclose, through any written form or verbally, information concerning an arrest or detention that did not result in conviction, or information concerning a referral to, and participation in, any pretrial or posttrial diversion program, or concerning a conviction that has been judicially dismissed or ordered sealed pursuant to law, including, but not limited to, Sections 1203.4, 1203.4a, 1203.45, and 1210.1 of the Penal Code, nor shall any employer seek from any source whatsoever, or utilize, as a factor in determining any condition of employment including hiring, promotion, termination, or any apprenticeship training program or any other training program leading to employment, any record of arrest or detention that did not result in conviction, or any record regarding a referral to, and participation in, any pretrial or posttrial diversion program, or concerning a conviction that has been judicially dismissed or ordered sealed pursuant to law, including, but not limited to, Sections 1203.4, 1203.4a, 1203.45, and 1210.1 of the Penal Code. As used in this section, a conviction shall include a plea, verdict, or finding of guilt regardless of whether a sentence is imposed by the court. Nothing in this section shall prevent an employer from asking an employee or applicant for employment about an arrest for which the employee or applicant is out on bail or on his or her own recognizance pending trial.
2 California Code of Regulations § 11017.1 also explicitly prohibits employers “from utilizing certain enumerated criminal records and information (hereinafter “criminal history”) in hiring, promotion, training, discipline, lay-off, termination, and other employment decisions…”
By posting cases that are dismissed, whether with or without a conviction first being entered, some CDWs invite potential employers to improperly consider a defendant’s record in violation of the Labor Code and the Code of Regulations.
Penal Code §31 holds that “All persons concerned in the commission of a crime… aid and abet in its commission… are principals in any crime so committed.” Aiding and abetting a general intent crime does not require a specific intent (People v. Torres (1990) 224 Cal. App. 3rd 763, 770; People v. Hammond (1986) 181 Cal. App. 3rd 463, 468–469). CWJ sites that post information about dismissed cases appear to be aiding others to violate the law.