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Why conduct a criminal records check?


This is a question that many prospective employers, landlords or business people ask when first considering an individual for employment, property rental or as a business associate. People often put too much faith in a resume, a simple background check or contacting referees. In today's society, it is necessary to follow through with a criminal records search to be absolutely certain that the person under consideration is as trustworthy as they may appear to be from an initial interview or check of their paperwork.


The following are examples of imperative reasons why a criminal history check is of paramount value:

Workplace Violence

Acts of violence against a co-worker or a member of the public can be devastating. Even the simple threat of violence can cause panic or havoc. Workplace or residential safety is a major concern to employers, landlords and those who work or reside on the premises. A background check may often reveal a history of past violence, which could be a deciding factor in deciding upon a person's character, as often there is a propensity to re-offend in the future. Prevention of workplace or neighborhood violence means thoroughly pre-screening all new applicants.

Negligent Hiring

Employers have been the subject of large jury verdicts for negligent hiring in cases where they hire a person with a violent history who later harms others. An employer who hires someone who is dangerous or unfit for a job, or who hires a person with a criminal history, can be found liable for negligent hiring.

Employers Legal Duty

To insure a safe workplace, employers should exercise due diligence in the hiring process by making reasonable inquiries about who they hire. As well as being an important preventative measure, checking records demonstrates due diligence. The same need for due diligence can be applied to landlords if they rent to a tenant who later is proven to have been responsible for property loss, damage or violence against others.

Childcare Institutions, Nursing Homes, and Hospitals

Caregiver institutions should exercise extra caution when recruiting personnel. Does the prospect have a history of child molestation or a history of violent behavior or drug abuse? Once again, these institutions can be held liable for any harm brought to their clients or patients by an employee who was not properly screened. And jury awards in such cases can be devastating to the institution.

Government Contractors

Industries that execute government contracts will not hire employees with an anti-establishment disposition or with a felony record or a terrorist connection. Such contractors should conduct background checks for both national security and to guard against loss of their contracts.

Neighborhood Communities

Community watch groups or homeowner's associations should conduct background checks to assure that individuals planning to move in do not have a criminal background or a history of complaints to local law enforcement authorities. Such checks help to insure the continuation of a peaceful and safe residential community.

The Internet

The biggest dangers one confronts online are frauds and sex crimes. Face-to-face meetings set up after online acquaintances develop can end up as an unpleasant or dangerous experience for one party. A  offender check helps one to avoid such a scenario.

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A criminal history check provides the following basic information:

Subject's name
Aliases used
Subject's gender and race
Date of Birth
Offenses and dates
Dispositions or convictions and dates

Criminal history information is obtained from sources that include county and state court records, federal fugitive files, state Department of Corrections (DOC) files, prison parole records and sex offender databases. Each level of search provides important information, as detailed below:

County Criminal Searches

The county search offers the most current detailed information, as it is being retrieved from the source. Note: If a crime was committed in county "A,"¯ a search of the records in county "B"¯ will not reveal the crime committed in county "A.'" Search the records in each county where the applicant is known to have lived or worked.

County Criminal Databases

Not all counties maintain their own database. Arcane and fragmented record keeping systems still exist in many jurisdictions. Databases may not be current or accurate. If a name match is made, the actual records must still be retrieved for review from the county courthouse. In many jurisdictions, older records have been placed in storage. Therefore it is important that one's search be thorough so as to not overlook any possible information of value.

Felonies & Misdemeanors

Most counties maintain separate records for felonies and misdemeanors. In some counties felony and misdemeanor records are maintained in a combined index. Felonies are the more serious crimes that carry a greater potential punishment, but misdemeanor convictions can include assaults, threats, weapons charges, and drug or alcohol related crimes. Check both categories and not assume that misdemeanors are simply related to traffic laws or noise ordinances.


If one is conducting a search, the task can seem daunting. Keep in mind that there are public record researchers at every courthouse in the United States. It is their job to provide assistance for those not familiar with utilizing court records. The minimum information one must have to initiate a search is the subject's full name, possible aliases and date of birth.

The United States Department of Justice reminds those conducting courthouse searches that crimes are usually committed near the perpetrator's home. Forty-three percent of inmates spend time in prison for crimes committed in their own neighborhoods.

Criminal records are indexed by defendant's name and date of birth. Therefore, having the CORRECT SPELLING of the FULL NAME and being POSITIVE that the date of birth is correct are critical to obtaining accurate results. If the person has used other names, those names should be checked. Be sure to run a database name search and address history BEFORE attempting criminal history searches.

In 1998, Congress amended the Fair Credit Reporting Act to eliminate the seven-year limitation on felony reporting, but left intact the portion of the law that said if states had more restricted rules in their statutes, the more restricted rule would apply. Since many states, such as California, passed laws that copied the provisions of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, including the seven-year limitation in certain instances, there is currently no workable national rule. These limitations are not meant to restrict the searches conducted by prospective employers, landlords or any concerned parties conducting background checks.

Statewide Criminal Checks - Statewide court records are available from 35 states. State criminal indexes receive their data from the counties. If a county fails to report data to the state, the statewide index may not be up to date. It is necessary to cross check data from statewide court records with the county of concern, or at least contact that county's courts to ascertain if they have updated the state files.

Some commercial public records providers, who claim to provide statewide criminal records, actually provide statewide inmate searches, and call them criminal searches. If the subject has been placed on probation, released from prison, or is sentenced to the county jail rather than state prison, the search will likely yield a "no record."¯  Ask: "Which jurisdictions are included within the state I am searching"¯

"No Record“ Some states have procedures to judicially "erase" a criminal offense. In California, for example, if the matter was a misdemeanor and a person received a certificate of rehabilitation under Penal Code 1203.4 from the court, then that old conviction is not reportable.

Criminal Docket Index

The court may provide access to its docket index, which is often in a book or on microfiche. The index usually contains dates, case numbers and names of defendants. If the subject has a common name, many records will be found for that name. Penal code violations may or may not be listed. Case disposition is rarely included. Some of these databases include felony convictions only. Find out what's included. Statewide searches are excellent for due diligence research, but are not a substitute for county level searches.

Computerized Records

Most jurisdictions have computerized their records, but the majority do not allow off-site access. One can search the public access terminals in the courthouse or state records depositories. Many county courts do not offer public access terminals, as they have not developed systems that separate public records data from nonpublic records. In these jurisdictions, it may be necessary to submit a request to the clerk and return in a day or two for the results.

Free Records Search

A few courts will perform a free check by phone. The clerk may or may not provide correct or complete information. Most courts will respond to written requests, but may take weeks or even months to get the results to the requestor.

Criminal Records Accuracy

Not all statewide records depositories are accurate. Some statewide systems are only clearing houses for those counties that choose to deposit records. There are no guarantees that all counties are up to date or are even participating. Once again, cross check with the concerned county.

Driving Records

Department of Motor Vehicle driver history records (driving records) are available if requestor has a permissible purpose for requesting the records. These records are very important if the prospective employee will be driving as part of their job performance, especially if using a company owned vehicle.

Department of Corrections (DOC)

The DOC search yields information about current and past incarceration. This is an instant database search of 47 states' DOC, which are tied to the National Department of Corrections database.

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In reviewing criminal records, the following terminology should be understood because it may have important implications regarding the charges listed on the person's report:

Nolle Prossed

From Latin term "Nolle Prosqui" meaning "We shall no longer prosecute." It is an admission by the prosecution that there is a lack of evidence to pursue the case. It is also used in plea bargains. It is different than a "dismissal" because it is the prosecution that drops the charge, not the judge.


This is an agreement between the defendant and the courts to clear the charge from the docket. For this to occur, the defendant has agreed to complete some sort of arrangement, such as a fine, community service, etc. If the defendant fails to hold up his or her end of the agreement, then he or she will be convicted of the charge and sentenced accordingly.


The final settlement of a matter. This represents a judge's ruling, regardless of the level of resolution. In a criminal procedure, disposition is the final settlement of a case.

Sentence The punishment for the crime, a judgment formally pronounced by the court or judge upon the defendant after his/her conviction in a criminal court, which dictates the punishment to be assigned. It can vary from a fine to incarceration or probation. The term "sentence" is only used in criminal proceedings. In civil cases, the terms "judgment", "decision", "award", "finding", etc., apply.


United States District Courts

The federal court system is entirely separate from the state court systems. Federal crime can be offenses such as large-scale drug cases, bank and financial fraud, or other violations of federal laws. Depending upon what county and state records searches uncover, it may be important to check into federal records to gain a full and accurate picture of a subject's illegal activity.

Thousands of criminal indexes are maintained at county/parish, township/city levels throughout the United States. As noted, above 29 states offer statewide records files, but they vary as to their degree of accuracy. Numerous investigative firms advertise "Comprehensive Nationwide Criminal Search."¯ This can be highly misleading since such a search would require checking with every state in the union.

National Crime Information Center (NCIC)
Contrary to popular belief, there is no national database of criminal records available to private citizens or employers, therefore, there is no such thing as a national criminal records check. There is one "nationwide" criminal database, the FBI's National Crime Information Center (NCIC). This is not a public records database. It cannot be legally accessed by anyone other than criminal justice agencies. The FBI and state law enforcement have access to it, but it is illegal for a private company or individual to obtain criminal information from this database.

Black Market for Data

There is an enormous black market for the information found in the NCIC database, information often obtained by individuals who were formerly in law enforcement and who have an "old boy" network of associates with access to NCIC. There are strict penalties for unauthorized access to this data, and penalties for buying information illegally obtained.

National Wants and Warrants

The Nationwide Active Warrants search is conducted through the FBI's NCIC database. One may search for individuals who have outstanding and extraditable Federal and State warrants in the United States, which are usually issued for more serious felony offenses such as bank robbery, violent crimes, sex offenses, military desertions, and terrorist activities.


If one is planning to use the services of an information provider, it is best to sign up with a good public records research company that has direct connections to multiple proprietary databases and a nationwide network of skilled on-site court researchers. Engage an established, credentialed information provider with extensive experience in conducting in-depth criminal background checks. Information Providers conduct criminal background checks for people in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.


The simple fact of a prospective employee's name showing up in a criminal database does not necessarily mean that this person should not be hired, especially if he or she is qualified in every other manner. An employer should not automatically deny employment based upon discovery of a criminal conviction, but should consider the nature of the offense, whether it is job related, when it occurred and what the person has done since. To automatically bar employment to a person solely because of a criminal history can be a form of discrimination.

Most employment applications contain language that the conviction for a crime will not automatically result in a denial of employment. Automatic disqualification could be a violation of state and federal discrimination laws. An employer may deny employment if it can be justified as a business-related reason or if there has been a lack of honesty during the application process. Denial based upon a history of violence,  offenses or other serious criminal acts may be justifiable depending upon the nature of the business and the prospective applicant's duties if hired.

Often, it is not the criminal report itself that disqualifies the applicant, but rather the lack of honesty regarding the completion of their application.

The following are valid questions that an employer may ask on the application for employment:

1. Have you ever been convicted for a crime?
Yes ___ No ___ If yes, please briefly describe the nature of the crime, the date and place of conviction and the legal disposition of the case.

2. Are you currently out on bail, the subject of warrant for arrest, or released on your own recognizance pending trial?
Yes ___ No ___

A person with a criminal history faces greater challenges in seeking employment. The employment application will ask if a person has a criminal history. If the person lies, they risk being terminated if a criminal record is later discovered. If the person admits the past misconduct, there is a risk of not being hired. The applicant is under no obligation to report arrests not resulting in a conviction or that are not currently pending

The best indicator of future job performance is past job performance. An ex-offender is anxious to get back into the workforce to start making a living. Past job performance evaluations from former employers should also be taken into consideration along with the criminal information garnered.

 More Background Checks Articles

For more information regarding the various types of background checks available, please read the in-depth articles from the following links: Employee Background Checks, Tenant Screening, Business Background Checks, Asset Searches and Criminal History.

Article provided by: Investigative Professionals LLC, '©2012 Information Providers.

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