The majority of criminal proceedings are public in the US, and that includes criminal records. The idea of making them public is to allow everyone to see the justice system at work, thereby holding it accountable. These aims are also served by public access to court records, barring some exceptions.
You can go to the local court and look for someone’s records. They will sometimes be available at the court’s website. You can also search state agency databases. However, a background check service is the fastest route to take if you want to find out whether someone has a criminal record.
Telling the Good From the Bad
As you look for a reliable background check service, you’ll find there’s no shortage of providers. Some of them charge a fee to search for a criminal record online, while others don’t. Not all the information you find will be reliable. UnMask.com is a great source of additional information about background checks.
Online background check sites gather conviction data in different ways. They might check online, download batches of government data, or (the least likely) send someone to check court records physically.
More on Criminal History Databases
The courts, the FBI, central repositories, and state records offices keep databases of criminal history records. Only law enforcement, prosecutors, and other government employees have unrestricted access to these databases. The public has limited access. For pre-employment screening, an interim level of access might be possible.
When a record has been expunged (sealed) by the court, it is no longer publicly accessible. While expunging requirements vary from state to state, most states allow people with records to ask the justice system to seal them.
You can search for records of a conviction physically at the state criminal records office, as mentioned. Criminal history records are available online in many states. They may not be available in full, though. For example, the publicly accessible information in a conviction record may include the defendant’s name, the sentence (probation or jail term), the actual conviction (citation, offense, etc.), fees, or fines. The person’s medical history, Social Security number, and other sensitive information is considered private.
The risk of obtaining unreliable data isn’t limited to using private companies as providers. State records are not infallible. They can be outdated, for instance. If you’re considering hiring someone, there needs to be a procedure in place to make sure you’re getting the right file, such as checking fingerprints.
Does a Criminal Record bar Someone from Receiving Benefits?
Anyone who’s had any sort of contact with law enforcement should inquire into their criminal history if they want to find out whether they’re eligible for benefits or relief. Contact with police includes getting a citation for disorderly behavior in public, violating parole or probation, a DUI arrest, agreeing to a plea bargain, being stopped at the border upon trying to enter a country, sealing or dismissing a conviction, and more. An attorney can help evaluate the risk of enforcement.
Checking an Arrest Warrant
If you know what you’re doing, it’s easy (and free) to run an arrest warrant check. You can do this to see someone’s arrest records or outstanding warrants. You can check arrest warrants online, even at home.
Usually, people do this to check a new neighbor. This is understandable as peace of mind is very important, especially if you have children. If you can’t find any information online, go down to the court in person. Warrants are specific by county and filed and registered with the respective county clerk’s office or district clerk depending on the type of crime and the size of the county.