Everything You Need to Know About Criminal Record Checks

Everything You Need to Know About Criminal Record Checks

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Generally, employers are most concerned with convictions rather than arrest records and pending charges. This is because a sentence carries proof of guilt, while an arrest record and pending charge does not.

What is a Criminal Record Check?

A criminal record check is one of several types of background checks that companies can conduct on job applicants. These searches investigate the history of an applicant’s criminal charges, focusing on convictions and arrest records. They can reveal felony and misdemeanor convictions, infractions, active warrants, etc. They also may include domestic and global watchlists that show industry bans (like healthcare sanctions) and sex offender registries.

A criminal background check can also delve into civil court cases, like evictions and civil judgments. This type of information can be valuable for landlords and credit-oriented lenders. Consumer reporting agencies usually must provide a copy of their report at a reasonable fee.

Many states restrict how far back a criminal background check can go. For example, some limit the time frame to seven years for felonies and five for misdemeanors. Juvenile convictions are not included in criminal background checks, as they are usually sealed or expunged when an individual turns 18. Different state and local laws may impact how a criminal record check is conducted. 

What is a Federal Criminal Record Check?

Federal criminal background checks reveal high-level crimes that won’t appear on standard state or county records searches. Performing a national background check helps employers screen for crimes such as identity theft, bank robbery, illegal drug use, fraud, and embezzlement. It’s typically used for positions with access to sensitive or confidential information, such as TSA agents and forest rangers, or with a high authority level, like CPAs and financial industry executives.

Federal crimes are prosecuted in United States district courts or appellate courts (if they’re appealed). A national database that stores federal convictions is a key component of a federal criminal background check.

In addition to a nationwide database, a national search involves a social security number trace and an alias search. The name and date range provided by the candidate help researchers pinpoint counties where they have lived. It allows for the most thorough results possible.

Depending on the state and type of work, hiring managers may be limited by laws such as ban-the-box rules or expungement statutes that affect when and how early in the process an employer can ask about a candidate’s criminal record.

What is a National Criminal Record Check?

As the average person moves about eleven times in their lifetime, keeping up with criminal record checks based on state and county searches alone can be difficult. A national search can help you find records nationwide, flag potential issues, and comply with fair hiring laws.

The results of a national background check can include felony and misdemeanor convictions, pending cases, arrest records, and information about interactions with law enforcement that didn’t result in a criminal conviction (such as charge dismissals or not-guilty verdicts).

Performing a national search is also an effective way to surface incidents that would only show up at the county level, such as crimes against federal employees like TSA agents and forest rangers or offenses committed on federal property.

What is a State Criminal Record Check?

A state criminal record check searches local crime data sources, including state court and law enforcement records. Combined with a national and federal search, this provides a comprehensive view of criminal history. A state search often includes more detailed information, such as felony and misdemeanor convictions and open arrest warrants or pending cases.

These checks are also used to sift out more minor issues, such as petty violations of the law and traffic offenses. They usually don’t include juvenile records because those are sealed or expunged once an individual turns 18.

Employers may use civil court checks to look for lawsuits or bankruptcy filings, depending on the industry. These are generally not part of a standard background check but can be useful in some scenarios. Finally, many pre-employment screening protocols will include standalone sex offender registry searches.

Employers should work with an FCRA-compliant partner to ensure the process complies with applicable laws correctly. This is especially important when guaranteeing adverse action protocols are followed.

What is a County Criminal Record Check?

County criminal record checks are a type of background check that is conducted on the local level, where most crimes occur. These searches provide more detailed information than state and national searches because trials for misdemeanor and felony crimes (which make up the majority of crimes) are conducted locally and are filed in county courthouses.

These searches typically include all accessible felony and misdemeanor records, providing detail on the record’s disposition within the boundaries of the Fair Credit Reporting Act and state guidelines. It has convictions, adjudications withheld, and identifiers used to match the form to the candidate.

County searches may be performed through direct integrations or by a screener visiting the county courthouse to search individual records manually. Like a state and national search, a county criminal background check is often part of a more comprehensive pre-employment screening that combines multiple types of searches to provide an accurate picture of an applicant’s criminal history.

The scope of a county search is determined by the candidate’s current address and their previous addresses (if applicable). The search is typically limited to seven years but can go further depending on the county.