It is rare that anyone knows a lot about another person's criminal history before getting to know them. Is Megan the dog-walker convicted of identity theft? Could outgoing next-door neighbor Sam be a parolee convicted of assault?
A major part of the criminal justice system is the maintenance of criminal history records. Law enforcement agencies, police departments, and other criminal justice agencies are responsible for keeping arrest records. Many states also have some form of criminal justice information system. This is a system that provides the public with access to criminal record information for free or a small fee.
In general, a criminal history record will include case information on any misdemeanor and/or felony convictions. In some cases, a conviction may have been deleted from the public record due to a pardon or expungement. You can also access a person's criminal record through your local clerk of courts or a criminal background check. In contrast, arrest records are harder to obtain. The fact of an arrest does not mean there was a criminal conviction.
Read on for practical tips about how to conduct an arrest record search.
Searching for Arrest Records: Things to Consider Before Starting
Conducting a criminal arrest record check is not without risk. State laws govern an employer's ability to verify the criminal record (or rap sheet) of a job applicant. The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires employers to get a job applicant's written consent when requesting criminal history information from a consumer reporting agency. The same is true of landlords requesting a background check on a potential tenant. These potential risks do not apply to an online search for information about a neighbor.
Arrest records are usually available through your state Department of Correction's website. You can also request arrest records from the FBI through the Freedom of Information Act. If your state has an online public records search service, you can search for an arrest record by entering a name, case number, or other information. It is important to note that, in some cases, the public records request may be denied due to an exemption. An exemption may exist to protect records that could compromise public safety or contain trade secrets.
Sex Offender Registries
The most accessible type of criminal history search is the sex offender registry. States maintain sex offender registries. These registries are used to track individuals with past sex offense convictions. Sex offender registries are public information. This means you do not need to submit a record request form to access sex offender record information. A state registry will provide the sex offender's photograph, phone number, date of birth, and address. Offenders must keep their contact information up to date or face criminal penalties.
The United States Department of Justice's National Sex Offender Public Webpage is a good place to start your search. It links to the public registry sites for all states. Users can search a specific jurisdiction or run a national search.
Other Criminal History Information
Information about other criminal convictions can be more challenging to locate. Not every arrest results in a criminal conviction. Thus, finding arrest records is very different from finding criminal records or court case information.
Some states have created a statewide website to help residents search for criminal records. Other jurisdictions have declined to create a public access system over privacy concerns. This means you may need to get a court order or go to the county courthouse in person to access a person's arrest record.
Let's say a parent in Minneapolis wants to find out whether their child's new soccer coach has a criminal record. This is possible via the Minnesota Public Criminal History Search website. Entering the coach's full name and birth date will reveal whether the coach has a criminal record in Minnesota.
State criminal record systems vary. It may be easier to access a person's arrest record in Minnesota versus New York or California.
Commercial Background Check Websites
Many companies offer criminal background checks for a fee. They rely on private databases gathered from federal, state, and local government court records.
These sites may be a desirable option in some situations. For instance, a landlord putting an apartment up for lease may want to use a commercial background check on future tenants. The website requires a prospective tenant to voluntarily log in and provide their social security number and other personal information. This information is used to create a report that is sent to the prospective landlord. The report will reveal the prospective tenant's criminal background information.
Have Questions About How To Search Arrest Records? Ask an Attorney
If you need help obtaining someone's criminal record or wish to find out if it is possible to expunge your own record, you should consult an attorney. Contact a qualified criminal defense lawyer near you to learn more.