Obtaining records of traffic citations
Q: Everyday, 4 different agencies issue traffic citations in San Diego. These citations are then fed into the computers at the traffic courts.I would like to obtain weekly records from the traffic courts, containing details of all the citations issued during the previous fortnight.How could I go about ensuring that I can obtain this information in California?
A: Pursuant to the California Rules of Court regarding public access to electronic trial court records, you can request bulk distribution of a California Superior Court’s electronic calendar, register of actions, and index for traffic court cases. (Cal. Rule of Court 2073(g).) Please note, however, that California Rule of Court Rule 2073 does not require the Superior Courts to provide this information (as indicated by the use of the word “may”) because it provides as follows:
- A court may provide bulk distribution of only its electronic calendar, register of actions, and index. “Bulk distribution” means distribution of all, or a significant subset, of the court’s electronic records.
The electronic court calendar must include the date of court calendar, the time of calendared event, court department number, case number, and case title. Cal. Rules of Court 2077(b)(1). The register of actions is a “summary of every proceeding in a case” and must include information such as the date the case was commenced, case number, case type, case title (unless made confidential by law), party names (unless made confidential by law), party type, date of each activity, and description of each activity.
Cal. Gov’t Code section 69845; Cal. Rule of Court 2077(b)(3). Please be aware that certain information is required to be excluded from court calendars, indexes, and registers of action, such as driver’s license numbers, dates of birth, social security numbers, arrest and search warrant information, victim and witness information, and other personal information. Cal. Rule of Court 2077(c). Notably, address information is not required to be excluded. Under California Rule of Court 2076, the court may impose fees for the cost of providing public access to electronic records.You may also be able to access information regarding traffic court calendars through public computer terminals at the courthouse to the extent that information has been made available by the pertinent courts.
California Rule of Court 2073(b) provides that “[t]o the extent it is feasible to do so, the court must maintain court calendars, indexes, and registers of actions available to the public by electronic means.” “To the extent it is feasible” means that the court is required to provide electronic access to the extent the court determines that it has the resources and technical capacity to do so. Cal. Rule of Court 2073(d). “Electronic access” means computer access to court records available to the public through both public terminals at the courthouse and remotely. Cal. Rule of Court 2072. In other words, courts are not required to make this information available.If the information you seek is not available electronically pursuant to the California Rules of Court discussed above and is comprised of information regarding and derived from court records and proceedings that are subject to the public’s right of access, then your alternative is to request them on the grounds that they are court records that must be made available for inspection and copying by the public under the First Amendment and California law. Court records are those documents that are filed with the court. You should be aware that with respect to criminal court records in particular, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and California Law give the public a right to obtain access to records of criminal court proceedings. See NBC Subsidiary (KNBC-TV), Inc. v. Superior Court, 20 Cal. 4th 1178 (1999); Associated Press v. United States Dist. Court, 705 F.2d 1143 (1983).
These rights have been expanded to cover access to virtually all criminal and civil legal proceedings and the vast majority of documents filed with the courts. The California Rules of Court now provide that court records are presumptively open to the public. Cal. Rule of Court 243.1(c). However, the right of access to court records and proceedings is not absolute. Courts can limit or deny access if necessary to protect an overriding interest. The most frequently asserted are the right of a criminal defendant to a fair trial, the privacy of parties, crime victims, witnesses, and jurors, and the protection of proprietary business information. Each of these interests is sufficient to justify sealing of records, if they are actually threatened. However, the showing one seeking to deny access must make is a very heavy one. As we discussed previously, you are seeking access to the names and addresses of people who have received traffic tickets in order to market a service to those individuals.
An added bonus would be access to information regarding the statute allegedly violated. The names of those individuals should be included in any of the court records described above. Please be aware that, to the extent that the address information is in these court records (it may not be in the court records unless the traffic citations themselves are in the court records), you may be faced with a privacy objection regarding the release of addresses. You may want to simply ask to review court filings generally (as opposed to specifically asking to look at the names and addresses only and highlighting the potential privacy concerns) to maximize your chances of obtaining that information.