From Arrest Records to Police Records to Criminal Records to Felony Convictions.

This website’s focus is on the United States of America and its respective criminal reporting systems along with the type and kind of criminal records available, information contained in such reports, and the varying means of performing criminal background checks in the USA.

The USA is comprised of 50 individual states (and the District of Columbia) and each state is made up of counties, which are geographical/political subdivisions of the states that they are a part of.  There are currently 3,143 counties in the USA, (some of these are actually Parishes, Independent Cities or other Community Formations).   Currently you can conduct a county criminal conviction background check in any county in the USA.  Statewide criminal searches are also available online in every state except Massachusetts and Delaware.  National criminal searches are also available and can include between 23 and 46 instant state searches, along with other searches like a national sex offender check.

What happens when someone goes to court for a proposed crime?
That person (the one whom is being charged for the proposed crime) becomes the defendant in a court case which is heard in a court room, usually at the county court house or other court house, whichever has jurisdiction of the area in which the proposed crime was committed in.  If the defendant is found guilty of a crime, than a conviction record is created, and it is this court record which is stored typically at the county court house.  If the defendant is found “Not Guilty” then there is NO Criminal Record for that person, and the document in question simply remains an “Arrest Record”.  Arrest records cannot be used in the hiring or firing of employees, as in the USA Judicial System, you are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

Felony vs. Misdemeanor vs. Infraction
The term felony is used in US common law to define serious crimes.  In general, a felony is a grave offense such as murder, rape or grand larceny and usually involves imprisonment for more than a year.  A misdemeanor on the other hand is considered to be a much less serious offense that involves a much lighter punishment. The United States Court System identifies crimes punishable by more than five days up to a year in jail to be a misdemeanor, while considering crimes punishable by greater than a year in prison to be a felony.  And for crimes resulting in five days or less in jail, or no jail time at all, are considered infractions.  In the United States, the key characteristic of an infraction is that the punishment seldom includes any amount of incarceration in a prison or jail or any other loss of civil rights.  Punishments involved in infractions are typically only a fine, although sometimes other regulatory actions are possible such as revocation of a license or permit, or an order to remedy or mitigate the situation.  Infractions include minor offenses, minor violations, petty offenses, or frequent citations, usually just a violation or regulatory offense considered by law as less serious than a misdemeanor.  Typically, an infraction is a violation of a rule or local ordinance or regulation.  An infraction is generally not associated with the loss of liberty, or even social stigma. Infractions are often considered civil cases, in which case an infraction is not even considered a crime.

Criminal Conviction Records, Arrest Records, and a little bit of US law.
In US law, “a conviction is the verdict that results when a court of law finds a defendant guilty of a crime.”  This means that if someone was arrested by the police for a supposed crime, then went to court, and then was found, “Not Guilty” than this police record simply stays an “arrest record” NOT a criminal record.  This means that not all police records are in fact criminal records.  Using an arrest record or non conviction police record as part of a decision to hire, fire or otherwise harm or harass an individual is wrong, and also opens you up to huge legal risks.

Criminal history records along with police background records are maintained and updated by many varying sources.  Typically, criminal history information is first generated by law enforcement agencies such as your local police departments.  Local police departments, sheriff’s offices, and other police agencies usually maintain their own internal databases. On the state government level, state police, state troopers, highway patrol, correctional agencies, and other law enforcement agencies also maintain separate databases. Law enforcement agencies often share these police records with other similar law enforcement agencies and this information is not usually made available to the public.  Just remember, a police record may just be an arrest record, and until an actual criminal conviction for say a felony offense is made, there is no criminal record.  Making decisions solely on police records including arrest records is not a good idea.

What is the difference between Police Records & Criminal Court Records?
In the United States Criminal Justice System, which public servants work in (also known as the police), maintain their own criminal data repositories.  Police through their own information systems have different access to people’s backgrounds and can even see previous arrest records that are not used or seen when running a criminal check on a person for Employment Screening purposes.  On the Internet today the terms “Police Records” and “Criminal Records” are often used interchangeably, when in fact they are not the same, and we will explain the differences now.  Police records can include any past histories of an individual where there was confrontation with the law.  Whereas criminal records or more specifically criminal history checks are primarily concerned with actual court conviction records at the felony level and in some cases the misdemeanor level.  It has become common practice in most county level court searches to go back a standard of 7 years when researching a person’s criminal past.  If a crime was committed more than 7 years ago, most county researchers will not return those records (of course if they are still an inmate in prison or serving out the remainder of their sentence that information would be available).

The online statewide criminal searches available on the Internet today, can in most states, be performed instantly through various online criminal gateway sites by querying existing criminal data repositories containing such criminal records.  One current problem with this system is that many criminal databases still contain some arrest records and/or criminal records that date back much further than the seven year threshold.  This means…  If you are using an online service to find criminal history information, be careful that the records you find are real convictions and not just arrest records.

The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) is a point of sale system Mandated by the Brady Bill, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) is used by the FBI to screen potential firearms buyers. In addition to searching the NCIC databases, NICS maintains its own index to search for additional disqualifiers from gun ownership and for determining eligibility to purchase a firearm. Federal Firearms License holders are required by law to use the NICS when selling a firearm in the United States. The NICS determines if the buyer is prohibited from buying a firearm under the Gun Control Act of 1968.  Currently the NCIC files are for law enforcement eyes only and not for the general public, and are not provided in any criminal online report being offered.

National Crime Information Center
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) manages the official national criminal history database through the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). The NCIC stores information regarding open arrest warrants, arrests, stolen property, missing persons, and dispositions regarding felonies and serious misdemeanors.  The FBI’s compilation of an individual’s criminal identification, arrest, conviction, and incarceration information is known as the Interstate Identification Index, or “Triple-I” for short. This is basically the FBI’s rap sheet. It contains information voluntarily reported by law enforcement agencies across the country, as well as information provided by other federal agencies. It contains information on felonies and misdemeanors, and may also contain municipal and traffic offenses if reported by the individual agencies.  Again, these files are for the use of FBI agents and other law enforcement agencies and are not made available to the public.

Obtaining Copies of Federal Criminal Records
It is possible to obtain copies of criminal records maintained by Federal agencies under the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act. In general, you may only obtain records concerning yourself, deceased individuals, or living individuals who have given you their permission to obtain their records.

Criminal background check searching
This is the process of looking up official criminal history records about a person.  This can in most cases be done online for a fee, or can be done manually by physically going to a court house or other place where criminal records are stored.  Doing it yourself by going to the court house is free, but if you value your time it makes a good deal of sense to pay a fee for convenience and time savings purposes.  These criminal backgrounds are available to the general public because they are classified as “public records”, as in the USA, currently; criminals are not a protected class.   Running such a background check makes sense when screening someone applying for a job that requires high security or interacts directly with children like a bank, school, nanny, or day care provider.  Most parents want to rest assured that the people teaching their children are not registered sex offenders or on the US Most Wanted List.   Criminal background check searching has traditionally been done by law enforcement, more specifically the police, but is now most often purchased as a service or criminal report product from a private business or online information provider.  For online access to criminal history reports we recommend, just Click Here and we will route you to their site.

For a complete criminal report, check to see that all the following is searched:

  • Court Records – (felony & misdemeanor convictions)
  • Corrections Department Records (Dept. of Corrections, DOC)
  • Sex Offender Registry check (National SOR search)
  • Terrorist Database Background Check
  • USA Most Wanted Report Search

Information contained in a criminal report usually includes the following:

  • Court Records – Current and historical felony and misdemeanor conviction records.  Reports show: defendant name, alias names, date of birth, state identification number, physical description, county, county case number, charge or charges, sentence and disposition.
  • Corrections Department information (DOC) – Current and historical felony and misdemeanor information for inmates and parolees with the offender’s criminal history registered with a particular state’s Department of Criminal Justice.  Reports show: State identification number, TDCJ number, offender’s name, race, sex, date of birth, height, weight, hair color, eye color, unit of assignment, receive date, minimum expiration date, offense description, date, county, case number, sentence date, and sentence duration.
  • Sex Offender Registry Check – Each state in the nation has a sex offender registry which maintains a database of sex offenders.  The information stored varies from state to state, but in general most state sex offender background reports include high-risk offenders and persons who have been convicted of, found guilty of or plead guilty to committing or attempting to commit sexual offenses.  Records show: Offender’s name, date of birth, physical description, address, crime and crime location, offense, count, and county.  Most of these records include mug shots & photos when a match is found.  Many online criminal providers offer national sex offender searches covering the whole nation.
  • Terrorist Database Background Check – The terrorist database check is an instant national search that query’s the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN’s) and Blocked Persons list maintained by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. OFAC administers and enforces economic and trade sanctions based on United States foreign policy and national security goals against targeted foreign countries, terrorists, international narcotics traffickers, and those engaged in activities related to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. As part of its enforcement efforts, OFAC publishes a list of individuals and companies owned or controlled by, or acting for or on behalf of, targeted countries. It also lists individuals, groups, and entities, such as terrorists and narcotics traffickers designated under programs that are not country-specific. Collectively, such individuals and companies are called “Specially Designated Nationals” or “SDNs.” Their assets are blocked by law and American individuals and companies are generally prohibited from dealing with SDNs.  Record show: Full name, date of birth if known, address, country, title, program, remarks like Aka’s. These records are screened individually and carefully, and reported to the proper law enforcement entities when a match is made.
  • US Most Wanted List – This search is comprised of several state agencies most wanted persons such as: Top Ten FBI Most Wanted, FBI Most Wanted Fugitives, US Marshals Most Wanted, US Marshals Major Cases, Alabama Department of Public Safety, Mississippi Department of Public Safety, Kansas Most Wanted, AFT Most Wanted, US DEA Wanted Fugitives, DTIC Fugitive Top List, US Secret Service Most Wanted, Americas Most Wanted, Connecticut Department of Public Safety and Texas Most Wanted.

Expungement of Criminal Records
In the United States, criminal records can be expunged, though laws vary by state and are also subject to the federal system. Many types of offenses may be expunged, ranging from parking fines to felonies. In general, once sealed or expunged, all records of an arrest and/or subsequent court case are removed from the public record (however, some independent criminal data providers may still have an expunged record in their database, which they by law have to delete, but only upon notice), and the individual may legally deny or fail to acknowledge ever having been arrested for or charged with any crime which has been expunged.

In the common law legal system, an expungement proceeding is a type of lawsuit in which the subject of a prior criminal investigation or proceeding seeks that the records of that earlier proceeding be sealed or destroyed, thereby restoring the subject’s name, and making that person in effect have no criminal history. If the expungement process is successful, the records are said to be “expunged”.  Expunging a criminal record is the process by which a criminal conviction record is destroyed or sealed after a court ruling. While expungement deals with an underlying criminal record, it is a civil action in which the subject is the petitioner or plaintiff asking a court to declare that the records be expunged.  Each jurisdiction whose law allows expungement has its own policies relating to the expungement process. Generally, expungement is the process to “remove from general review” the records pertaining to a case. In many jurisdictions, however, the records may not completely “disappear” and may still be available to law enforcement.

Eligibility for an expungement of an arrest, investigation, detention, or conviction record will be based on the law of the jurisdiction in which the record was made. Ordinarily, only the subject of the record may ask that the record be expunged. Often, the subject must meet a number of conditions before the request will be considered.

Requirements for expungement of a criminal record include, but are not limited to:

  • Satisfying the terms of any previous sentence
  • The number of past incidents on file
  • That the subject has completed all probation requirements without any incidents
  • Satisfying a certain waiting period between the incident and expungement
  • Having no incidents that interfere or intersect with the incident at hand
  • The seriousness and/or type of offense committed
  • Not having any other ongoing or pending criminal investigations or proceedings
  • That the incident was disposed of without a conviction ruling (in this case it would simply be an arrest record not a criminal record)

**In some jurisdictions, all records on file within any court, detention or correctional facility, law enforcement or criminal justice agency concerning a person’s detection, apprehension, arrest, detention, trial or disposition of an offense within the criminal justice system can be expunged.  View individual state policies when trying to get an expungement as each state sets its own guidelines for what records can and cannot be expunged.

Juvenile Criminal Records:
Most jurisdictions have laws in place that allow and even require the expungement of juvenile records once the juvenile reaches a certain age.  When a juvenile that has a criminal record from their youth turns 17 or 18, the records are destroyed or at least sealed.  This policy allows a minor who was accused of criminal acts, to erase his/her record permanently. The underlining thought behind this is to allow the juvenile offender to enter adulthood with a clean slate, protecting them from the negative effects and stigmas of having a criminal record.  Thus allowing them to enter the work force without having to check off “I have a criminal record” on their interview application.

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