Every day, thousands of Americans scan public databases for arrest records. Some are checking their own records to see what pops up. Others are curious about the background of a neighbor, partner, friend, or coworker.
Checking someone’s criminal record is generally legal – as long as you’re doing it for personal reasons and not for employment or professional purposes.
Here are 10 tips and tricks you can use when checking someone’s criminal record.
Check Your Own Criminal Record First
Want to hone your criminal record checking skills? Try checking your own criminal record. Check the state criminal record databases for any states in which you’ve resided. Check any county courthouses. You may be surprised at the amount of information that pops up.
Even if you have never been convicted of a crime, for example, your record might show arrest records, marriage and divorce certificates, and other information.
After checking your own criminal record, you’ll be easily able to check anyone else’s criminal record as well.
There’s another advantage to checking your own criminal record: you can eliminate any mistaken entries or false data from your record. Someone may have used your identity to commit a crime, for example, or an erroneous entry may have been added to your record.
Get Consent If Checking Someone’s Criminal Record for a Job or Lease
Landlords will often check a tenant’s criminal record before renting an apartment to someone. Employers will check someone’s criminal record before offering a job. Checking someone’s criminal record is legal in these situations as long as you get the consent of the individual.
It’s generally legal to check someone’s criminal record for personal reasons – say, if you are just curious about someone’s background. However, if you are engaging in any type of business activity with that individual, it’s best to get consent before performing a background check.
Understand What’s Included on a Background Check
Many people know that a background check reveals crimes – like felony and misdemeanor convictions. However, some people don’t realize what else is on a background check.
A basic background check performed by a business for employment screening will consist of the following components:
- Criminal records check, including national and county record searches for any crimes, misdemeanors, or arrests
- Social Security Number (SSN) validation, which ensures the applicant is using a legitimate SSN and name
- Address history check, including any previous addresses used by the applicant
- US terror watchlist check, which screens the candidate against US terror watchlists (this is especially common for any security-related jobs)
- Sex offender registry check
If you’re unsure what information is out there, you may wish to perform a background check on yourself. You may be surprised at the information available to prospective employers. In rare cases, a mistaken entry – like a crime committed by someone else with the same name – may be preventing you from leasing an apartment or getting a job.
Understand Certain Records Are Off Limits
You may be surprised to learn that certain records will never appear on a background check.
Thirteen states, for example, make it illegal for employers to access criminal record information that’s more than seven years old. Most arrests or convictions older than seven years will not appear on a background check.
Some states have even gone so far as to pass ‘ban the box’ laws. These laws prevent employers from asking about any criminal record information until the later stages of the interview process.
You Can’t Access All Records, Even If They’re Newer Than Seven Years
Not all records are accessible during a background check – even if those records are newer than seven years old.
Laws vary from state to state. Many states only grant access to certain organizations, corporations, or private companies, for example, and ordinary people cannot access these records. In these states, you might have to rely on third-party criminal record search services to perform a background check.
Additionally, military service records are generally off limits.
Employers may be able to access your health records (and some will check this information), although they cannot use your health to deny employment. Generally, health records are only checked in positions where your health impacts your ability to perform a job – say, as a pilot or nurse.
Arrest Records Might Appear
A background check can reveal your arrest record. It’s a history of every time you’ve been arrested – even if you were never convicted of a crime. you might have a clean criminal record with no misdemeanors or felonies, for example, but an arrest still pops up on your record and affects your employment opportunities.
You Can Expunge Certain Arrest Records
Frustrated about certain records on your background check? You can expunge certain items to remove them permanently.
You can request expungement of your records if:
- You were arrested but not convicted
- Your conviction was overturned on appeal
- It has been at least one year since you were arrested or won your appeal
- No charges are pending against you
In this case, you can contact the county courthouse in the county where you were arrested to have your record expunged.
You Can Expunge Certain Convictions – Even Felonies
It makes sense you can expunge arrest records if you were never actually convicted of a crime. But you can also expunge certain convictions from your record.
Certain misdemeanors and Class D (Level 6) felonies can be expunged from your record, although some organizations (like police and lawyers) will always be able to view these records. More serious felonies will always remain on your public record, although they will be clearly marked as ‘expunged’.
To expunge a conviction from your record, you must pay civil filing fees. You are generally only allowed to file one petition for expungement in your lifetime. It’s recommended that you hire a lawyer before doing so.
Be Wary of Free Online Background Check Websites
Free online background check websites may sound like a great thing.
Unfortunately, many of them are too good to be true.
In reality, these websites often display the same information you could find using Google. Then, they dangle lucrative information in front of your eyes and demand hefty payments.
The site might claim that you can reveal “4 More Serious Convictions” for an individual just by paying a $100 fee, for example. In reality, the person has a clean record and the website is luring you into making a payment.
If you’re serious about checking someone’s criminal record or background, then you should be prepared to pay at least a small fee. Access to criminal record databases may cost money, and requesting a record from a county courthouse comes with a small fee, so you can expect this fee to get passed on to you.
Avoid Defamation Lawsuits By Not Spreading Falsehoods
You can check someone’s criminal record for personal reasons without that person’s consent. However, you are not immune from all consequences of your actions – like defamation lawsuits if you spread false information about someone.
Let’s say you’re suspicious about your child’s soccer coach. You run her name through a sex offender registry and find multiple serious convictions. You inform other parents of your findings, and they withdraw their kids from soccer practice. Unfortunately, you got the records for the wrong person. That person had the same name as the soccer coach. The soccer coach could sue you for defamation.
For that reason, it’s crucial that you avoid spreading falsehoods about people after running a criminal records check – especially if you’re not 100% sure the results are accurate.
Easily Find Criminal Records For Anyone
Finding someone’s criminal record is easier today than ever before. By following the tips above, you can make the background check process as easy as possible.