Records of Traffic Citations

Records of Traffic Citations

Q: Can I obtain the records of traffic citations given by police officers

A: Under the California Public Records Act (“PRA”), the public has a right to inspect and obtain copies of documents collected or maintained by state or local agencies.  The PRA requires agencies to provide you with the documents requested, or notify you that your request has been denied, within 10 days.  (Gov’t Code § 6253).  If the written request is denied, the agency is obligated to back its denial by citing an exemption in the PRA or other state or federal law allowing it to withhold the records you seek.  (Gov’t code § 6255).  It is not immediately apparent whether any exemption would apply here.  Government Code section 6254(f) sets forth the so-called “law enforcement” exemption, which allows police agencies to withhold investigatory records.  It is not entirely clear whether traffic citations are part of investigatory records.  If they are, please note that the California Supreme Court has held that this law enforcement exemption operates to bar disclosure of the police investigatory records even after the investigation ends and there is no further prospect of enforcement.  See Williams v. Superior Court, 5 Cal. 4th 227 (1993).

However, notwithstanding this exemption, a law enforcement agency is supposed to release certain information about incidents and arrests.  Section 6254(f) requires agencies to provide: “the time, substance, and location of all complaints or requests for assistance received by the agency and the time and nature of the response thereto, including, to the extent the information regarding crimes alleged or committed or any other incident investigated is recorded, the time, date, and location of occurrence, [and] the time and date of the report, the name, age, and current address of the victim ….”  Gov’t Code § 6254(f).  With respect to arrests, agencies must disclose to the public “[t]he full name, current address, and occupation of every individual arrested by the agency, the individual’s physical description including date of birth, color of eyes and hair, sex, height and weight, the time and date of arrest, the time and date of booking, the location of the arrest, the factual circumstances surrounding the arrest, the amount of bail set, the time and manner of release or the location where the individual is currently being held, and all charges the individual is being held upon, including any outstanding warrants from other jurisdictions and parole or probation holds.”

If you have not already one so, I suggest you submit a PRA request for the records you seek.  A sample PRA request is available on CFAC’s website at:

Although what you are seeking is traffic citations, please note that with respect to crimes and arrests, a California court of appeals has held that the right of access to this information is with respect to contemporaneous crimes and arrests.  There is no right of access to information about events over extended periods in the past.  See County of Los Angeles v. Superior Court, 18 Cal. App. 4th 588 (2d Dist. 1993) (ruling that the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department need not produce information about selected arrests over a ten-year period).  It may be that the agency you are seeking records from may take the position that this holding applies to other types of law enforcement records such as traffic citations as well.