Jonathan Kraut | Upsetting New Changes to L.A. County Records

Jonathan Kraut
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About two years ago, Sacramento County stopped providing case information about criminal convictions. This has made background checks in Sacramento County almost impossible to process. This was done by removing the date of birth verification portion at the court records search terminals. 

Now the same thing has just happened in Los Angeles County. In February, the Los Angeles County Superior Court record terminals no longer allow you to input the date of birth to confirm the identity of a convicted criminal. Those with common names with records cannot be segregated from those with no records. 

The reason for this is simple: Following the intent of the California Fresh Slate Initiative enacted on Jan. 1, 2023, policy is now shifting away from knowing the truth. Forgiveness for criminal acts, early release, and now hiding records, prevent landlords and employers from knowing who was convicted of a crime. 

This misguided notion is that if someone rents a unit or finds a job, they will suddenly become honest and law-abiding. 

Like the idea of putting a homeless person in housing, and then believing that they will instantly be free of drug addiction or mental illness, the state and local counties are trying to remove the stigma of criminal misconduct that otherwise may interfere with finding a place to rent or getting a job. 

Our politicians are encouraging a “fresh start approach” as though forgiving past behavior will correct future conduct. 

I can understand hoping, if given a chance, a person could be cured of selfish and criminal thinking. But statistics show that serial burglars, pedophiles, drug dealers and sexual predators, for example, often have impulses that are incurable. These folks should not be released from incarceration, no less living next door and putting our families or co-workers at risk. 

Obviously, DUI and unlicensed driver convictions, which are the most common criminal offenses, are not that important and also show on a driver’s record. But I think having a co-worker or neighbor convicted multiple times for aggravated assault, fraud, sexual misconduct, hard drug use, or murder would make us all nervous. 

Having overseen over a million background checks over my 25 years as a private investigator, I never thought this day would come — that public records would be withheld from the public. 

Most readers probably don’t know that criminal records in California are kept in separate database indexes for each county. There is no one California site to check for California records. 

State bureaus of corrections, the prisons, in kind also keep their records in separate data bases from every other state. 

Proper searches must be performed by hand, county by county and state by state. There is no valid “instant search” or “national search” online. If you read the fine print on a website for instant searches, a disclaimer will essentially say their search is invalid and for entertainment purposes only. 

How will this change in Los Angeles County data access impact us? 

Know that the majority of landlords, property managers, talent search firms and employers don’t do a background check at all. Those that do often run an “instant background check” online, which is a wholly ineffective method, does not meet federal or state law definitions as a valid search, and are valid for “entertainment purposes only.” 

There is a duty of every employer and landlord to keep those in their units or at their work safe. 

Obviously, our outrage will have minimal political impact. So how do we pivot from here? 

First, forget the cheap and useless instant online search products. Private investigations firms have access to confidential information and can get more data than are available only through the courts. Just realize a true search may cost somewhere between $50-$100 per person. 

Next, be patient. Since records are kept county by county and state by state, a true search process will take several days and often require an in-person visit by an agent at the court or by gathering and processing private, arrest, and other non-court information. 

Finally, don’t waste time calling personal references. These folks will always say nice things. Call the last two employers or last two landlords and speak with them. Be aware that on average only one in seven criminal acts results in a conviction and that most tenant issues are not found in any court system. A short conversation may reveal what you didn’t know you needed to know. 

And please be safe by taking that extra step. 

Jonathan Kraut directs a private investigations agency, is the CEO of a private security firm, is the CFO of an accredited acting conservatory, former college professor and dean, is a published author, and Democratic Party activist. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal or of other organizations. 

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