It is fairly rare that anyone knows much about another's personal history before getting to know them. Is Megan the dog-walker actually an identity thief? Could outgoing next-door neighbor Sam be a parolee who was convicted of assault?
Often those who have had their own run-ins with the police will want to verify that their juvenile arrests have been deleted from the public record (in legal jargon, "sealed" or "expunged") so that no employer will ever discover it.
For practical tips about how to search for arrest records, read on.
Searching for Arrest Records: Things to Consider Before Starting
Searching for arrest records is not without possible risks. Employers are governed by laws that may affect their ability to verify the background of a job applicant. The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act requires employers to follow certain procedures and obtain a job applicant's written consent when ordering a criminal history check from a consumer reporting agency. The same is true of landlords who request a background check on a potential tenant.
These potential liabilities would not apply to an online search for publicly available information about a neighbor.
Sex Offender Registries
The easiest type of criminal history search to perform involves finding out whether someone is a convicted sex offender. The federal government and the states maintain sex offender registries, which are used to track and monitor individuals with past sex offense convictions and warn residents in the community about them. The registries typically provide a photograph of the individuals, leaving no doubt which Jonathan Smith or Karen Howard has the criminal past. Additionally, those individuals who are subject to the registry must keep their records up to date or face criminal penalties.
The best place to start is the U.S. Department of Justice's National Sex Offender Public Website. It links to the public registry sites for all of the states. Everyday users can search a specific jurisdiction or quickly run a national search that queries all the registries.
Other Criminal History Info
In contrast to sexual offenses, information about other criminal convictions can be more challenging to locate. As a starting point, not every arrest results in a criminal conviction, so finding arrest records is often very different from finding criminal conviction data.
While some states have created a statewide website to facilitate searching for residents' full criminal records, other jurisdictions have declined to create such a system or have rejected the idea over concerns like privacy or cost. In such places, it may be necessary to pay a personal visit to the county courthouse (or numerous courthouses) in order to determine whether someone has arrests or convictions.
If, for example, a parent in Minneapolis may want to find out whether their child's new soccer coach has a criminal record. With the coach's name and exact birth date, this is possible. An internet search for "Minnesota criminal records" leads to the user-friendly Minnesota Public Criminal History Search website. Entering the coach's full name and birth date would reveal whether he has any record of conviction, at least in the North Star State. Similarly, a city-level internet search for "Minneapolis criminal records" would lead to the Minneapolis Police Arrest/Contact Summary Records website.
States and cities vary in how easy they make it to learn about other people's past misdeeds. For instance, it is simpler to do this type of online research in Minnesota than in New York or California. The federal government does not provide quick public access to anyone's federal criminal record, either.
Commercial Background Check Websites
A quick search would reveal that numerous companies advertise on the internet that, for a fee, they'll search for someone's criminal history. They rely on private databases gathered from federal, state and local government records.
These sites may be a desirable option in some situations. For instance, anyone putting an apartment up for lease may want to use a commercial background check website that requires a prospective tenant to voluntarily log in and provide their social security number and other personal information, which will be used to create a report that will be sent to the prospective landlord. The report could reveal criminal background information that the individual may have in their history.
Have Questions About How to Search Arrest Records? Ask an Attorney
If you need assistance in obtaining someone's criminal record or wish to find out if it is possible to have your own record expunged so it would not be discoverable by potential employers, it is worth taking the time to speak with an attorney knowledgeable about the process. Contact a qualified criminal defense lawyer near you to learn more.