Does a Criminal Summons Go on Your Record? Don’t Guess, Use This Search

Background check repair icon.Written by Background Check Repair

Criminal Records | April 29, 2024

Does a criminal summons go on your record, a man with his hands on his hips questions while looking at a large computer screen on the left showing criminal records and considering a judge behind a courthouse on the right with an official court summons to appear in criminal court.

Does a criminal summons go on your record?

Knowing whether or not a criminal summons will be part of what shows up on a background check (and subsequently stays on your record for anyone to see) can be tricky. Fortunately, you don’t have to guess.

Do a background check on yourself and find out for sure if the court summons received will be part of the records that are reported on a background investigation.

A quick check shows exactly what employers will see.

Moreover, this comprehensive guide provides all the information about what kinds of summons and court information shows up on public records and how to ensure that they don’t negatively impact any searches you have to undergo.

Does a Summons Go on Your Criminal Record?

The difference between a criminal summons and a warrant is a common cause for confusion both in regard to what it means for the criminal proceedings and how it will affect a potential background check.

There is only a slight difference between a criminal summons and a warrant for the individual’s arrest. Regardless of which one is used, the end result is largely the same: an individual must appear in court in order to answer criminal charges. The main difference is that a criminal summons is generally used for less serious crimes and for less dangerous offenders. In both cases, the individual is being accused of a crime and must answer before a judge. Generally, after this summons, charges will be filed for the alleged crime and the legal proceedings will begin.

Criminal summons is usually used for less serious and non-violent crimes. In most cases, DUIs and low-level misdemeanors will result in the individual receiving a criminal summons, rather than a warrant for their arrest being filed. When the criminal summons is filed, the individual will receive the summons in the mail and will need to appear in court on the date indicated.

Screenshot of TN courts Rule 4 explaining arrest warrant and summons on a complaint.

Every state’s Justice Department or State Courts website will contain the legal rules concerning summons appearance and the penalties for refusing.

On the other hand, warrants are usually used for dangerous offenders, and for most felony and violent misdemeanor charges. A warrant will usually result in the individual being arrested before the charges are formally brought against them.

Does a Criminal Summons Go on Your Record?

A criminal summons will go on your record and will appear on most background checks. Many people may be under the impression that only conviction information will appear on a background check, however, this is rarely the case.

There are currently a handful of states that only allow conviction information to appear on a pre-employment background check, but the vast majority of states allow employers to view an applicant’s complete criminal history during the screening process.

Most private employers like Home Depot, Walmart, or Amazon will rely on a private background check service to perform their criminal history checks for them. Since these are private companies rather than government agencies, they will need to rely on public information to conduct their checks.

This is done fairly easily with so many records being digitized so the background check investigator will simply run the name of the applicant through dozens of court and law enforcement databases to find any and all information about the individual. Since a criminal summons is an official document filed by the courts, a check of the local court database will easily locate this information and it will appear on the background check report.

Does a Civil Summons Go on Your Record?

In most cases, a civil summons will not show up on your record. As mentioned above, private background check companies rely on public court documents to conduct the bulk of the background check investigation. This is why things like criminal charges and criminal summons will appear on a background check.

However, since a criminal history check is intended to find out if the individual has had any criminal charges or convictions, most background check services will only check criminal court databases. For most jobs, there is simply no reason to perform a search of civil court databases. Although this information is also public in most cases, it is not relevant enough information for an employer to spend extra time and money to check this source.

Can a Criminal Summons Be Dropped?

It is unlikely that a criminal summons would be dropped unless the summons itself was made in error or there was clerical mistake of some kind.

However, it is entirely possible for the criminal charges that the summons is about to be dropped. Criminal charges can be dropped at any time in legal proceedings. In most cases, they will be dropped before or during the arraignment hearing for the alleged crime, but they can technically be dropped far later in the proceedings, even during the trial.

Although possible, individuals should not depend on a criminal case getting dropped. There are plenty of reasons a criminal case could get dropped, but most of them are fairly unlikely.

Does a Criminal Summons Go on Your Record? (What Happens at a Criminal Summons?)

After receiving a criminal summons many individuals will have lots of questions like: “Does a criminal summons go on your record?” And “What happens next?”

After a criminal summons is served, which will appear on a background check, the next step is to appear in court. This step is known as the arraignment hearing and is the first step in a potentially long legal process. Individuals should familiarize themselves with the basic steps of criminal proceedings in order to better understand the process and know what to expect. Although it may sound complicated, the general steps are quite simple.

Screenshot of U.S. Marshals website page for criminal process with yellow arrow pointing to information on criminal summons.

A summons issued by the federal government can be performed by the U.S. Attorney’s office, ordering an individual to appear at a U.S. court.

After a crime is committed and investigated the county prosecutor will file charges against the individual. When this happens, based on the severity of the crime, either a warrant will be issued or a criminal summons sent to the individual named in the charges. Assuming a summons was sent, the criminal summons will have the date and time of the arraignment hearing before a judge.

At the arraignment hearing, a judge will explain the charges against the individual and ask the individual how they plead. If the individual pleads guilty, the next stage will be the sentencing of the individual for the crimes they committed.

If the individual pleads not guilty to the crime the criminal proceedings will continue until the defense and prosecutor work out a plea deal, or the case will proceed to trial in front of a jury who will make the decision if the individual is guilty or not guilty. Once again if found guilty the next step will be sentencing, while if they are acquitted the individual is officially innocent and the criminal proceedings are over.

It is extremely important that individuals consult with a lawyer as soon as possible. In the case of criminal summons, individuals should contact an attorney as soon as they receive the summons. The more time that an attorney has to understand the case and figure out how to proceed, the better the individual’s chances are of serving minimal jail time.

Summoned to Court but Not Been Charged

Individuals who receive a criminal summons may be confused to learn they have not been charged with a crime. Although this is true it is more of a technicality of the legal system. When charges are filed the individual is notified that this has happened and will receive a summons. They are not actually charged with the crime until they appear in front of a judge and the judge reads the charges to the individual.

Criminal summons is not the only kind of court summons that are sent out that requires an individual to appear. Civil summons is also sent for non-criminal issues. Most often this means that someone is suing the individual named in the summons and that individual still needs to appear in court to defend themselves.

Criminal Summons vs Warrant

The difference between a criminal summons and a warrant is very simple. Both documents are issued when an individual has had criminal charges filed against them and is required to appear in court to stand charges.

Screenshot of New York Courts website page for FAQs with yellow arrow pointing to what is a criminal summons and who issues it in New York.

Understanding the penalties for ignoring a criminal summons is important, and in New York, most people who receive them are not arrested or fingerprinted.

The main difference is that a criminal summons is used for non-violent crimes and offenders that do not pose a risk to the public. Summons are usually used for misdemeanors and other low-level crimes.

On the other hand, a warrant is used for more serious crimes, in an effort to get the individual off the streets and into a courtroom in front of a judge. Individuals who are issued a criminal summons and fail to show up will have warrants issued against them for contempt of court.

What Happens if You Get Summoned to Court and Don’t Go?

Individuals who are summoned to court and do not appear in court on their requested date will have a warrant issued for their arrest. Ignoring a court summons is known as contempt of court and will cause far more problems than the initial charges that were filed.

Screenshot of New York Courts website page for court help with yellow arrow pointing to information on summons in New York.

It is never a good idea to ignore a criminal summons. Follow the steps outlined in your state to avoid punishments and loss.

What Happens at a Summons Hearing?

A summons hearing is the same as an arraignment hearing and is the first time that an individual will appear in front of a judge after they have had criminal charges filed against them. At the summons hearing, the judge will read out the charges that were filed against the individual and ask the individual for their plea.

Although this is still early in the legal process, individuals should always have a lawyer present with them whenever they are in a courtroom. This is especially important at the arraignment hearing as the attorney will be able to advise the individual on how to respond to get the best deal possible. In many cases having an attorney before the arraignment hearing can make a huge difference in the overall outcome of the case.

Not only can the defense attorney work out a plea deal before the arraignment hearing with the prosecution, but in some cases they may even be able to argue to the judge that the case should be dropped.

Do You Have To Sign for a Summons?

It is possible that you will need to sign for a criminal summons upon receiving it but not especially common. Most summons is issued by mail to the individual named in the charges that were filed.

What Happens if You Get a Summons in a Different State?

Individuals who receive a summons in a different state are still required to appear in court. This is a fairly rare occurrence and would require the individual to move to a different state shortly after committing a crime. However, this does happen from time to time and can be a source of confusion for the individual.

Generally, even if the individual moved to a different state, the laws of the state where the charges that were filed will still apply. This means that if the individual fails to appear in court they can be charged with contempt of court and have a warrant issued for their arrest.

Individuals who receive a summons while living in a different state will need to appear in court on the date requested in most cases, even if this means flying across the country to the state where the charges were filed.

Since most criminal summons deal with low-level misdemeanors, there are some options available, however, Individuals should first contact an attorney to see what their options are and if it is possible to avoid appearing in court physically. This can be done in a few ways such as having the individual appear in court via video or phone call. Another option is to have an attorney appear in court on behalf of the individual.

No matter what option the individual is hoping for, they should always contact a lawyer first, especially before assuming that a phone call to the court will be sufficient.

What Is a Forthwith Warrant?

While trying to answer the question “does a criminal summons go on your record?” Many individuals will come across the term forthwith warrant and will be confused about what it means. Although this may sound like a different kind of warrant, it is exactly the same as a regular warrant.

In many state legal documents, the term forthwith warrant is used to describe warrants that can be issued immediately. This is usually used for serious crimes where a judge can issue a warrant without delay in order to get someone who is a danger to the public off the streets.

Forthwith simply means immediately or without delay and is a common legal phrase.

What Is a Magistrate Summons?

A magistrate summons usually refers to a summons given for a civil court case. In many states, such as Maryland, to help alleviate the caseload of judges, magistrates will oversee civil cases.1 A magistrate usually has the same powers as a judge but can be viewed as a slightly lesser judge that fills in for judges on family and other civil court cases, whilst the judges will preside over criminal cases.

Receiving a magistrate summons generally means that a civil suit has been filed against the individual and they need to appear in court to defend themselves.

What Happens When You Go Before a Magistrate?

Once in a courtroom, there is no functional difference between a judge and a magistrate. As mentioned, magistrates tend to deal with civil cases, instead of criminal cases. When going before a magistrate the procedures will be exactly the same as if appearing in front of a judge.

Criminal Complaint and Summons: What Does It Mean When a Criminal Complaint Is Filed?

In most cases, the criminal complaint will be the very first step in the legal process.2 After a crime has been committed, usually the state but sometimes an individual will file a criminal complaint against an individual accusing them of having committed a crime.

This complaint will often result in an arrest followed by a prosecutor filing formal charges against the individual. Essentially a criminal complaint is an initial charge that starts the process, but the formal charge must still be filed by the county prosecutor.

In most cases the state will be the one to file the complaint, often based on the testimony of a law enforcement officer’s investigation into the crime. However there are a few states that allow individual citizens to file a criminal complaint.

If I Get a Summons To Court Do I Have To Go?

Individuals who receive a court summons are legally required to appear in court on the day listed in the criminal summons. Since a criminal summons is a notification that criminal charges have been filed, the individual has already been accused of a crime and must plead before a judge.

Failure to appear is considered contempt of court and is cause for an arrest warrant to be issued against the individual.

Court Summons Lookup: Does a Criminal Summons Go on Your Record?

Performing a court summons lookup is extremely easy and highly recommended, especially for individuals unsure of if they have been summoned or for individuals wondering “Does a criminal summons go on your record?” Both questions can easily be answered by searching court records.

Since a court summons is filed by a judge, searching the court documents of the court where it would have been filed is the most reliable way to confirm if a court summons has been filed. Most courts have online records that can be searched via the court’s website, often with the docket or court records search, as is the case for the California courts system.3

Screenshot of California Courts website page for online services with yellow arrow pointing to databases for court records search in California courts.

Many states, like California, allow residents to check their court records using online data platforms.

Simply enter the name of the individual that could be listed on the summons to find any relevant court documents with that individual’s name. If no online search option is available, simply contact the court clerk directly to learn about how to make a record request.

Some common questions about what shows on your personal record are listed below:

Common QuestionsDoes It Go On Your Record?
Does A Restraining Order Go On Your RecordA restraining order can sometimes show up on your record, especially if it was connected to an actual arrest.
How Long Does A Misdemeanor Stay On Your RecordA misdemeanor does go on your record, and depending on the state where it was convicted, it can remain from 1-7 years.
Does A Dismissed Case Stay On Your RecordDismissed charges sometimes go on your record, but it depends on the state.
How Long Does A Felony Stay On Your RecordA felony goes on your record for life.
Does A Harassment Order Go On Your RecordHarassment orders can sometimes show on your record, but usually only if they are accompanied by an arrest or other incident.
Does A 72 Hour Hold Go On Your RecordA 72-hour hold will go on the record when it’s ordered in relation to a crime.
Do Warnings Go On Your RecordA warning usually will not go on your record.
Does Getting Fired Go On Your RecordBeing fired will only show up on your record when the firing was connected to a job-related crime. And only then, it will only be inferred.
Does Going To A Mental Hospital Stay On Your RecordA mental health visit is part of the health record, which is protected under HIPPA law.
Do Wellness Checks Go on Your Criminal RecordsThis can show up, depending on the circumstances and the state law where the visit occurred.
Does Being Detained Go On Your RecordBeing detained can appear on your record.
Does A Citation Go On Your RecordDepending on the type of citation issued, it will appear on your driving record or criminal record.
Do Parking Tickets Go On Your RecordParking tickets do not show up on the record unless the number of tickets has reached the proportions for an arrest.
Does Contempt Of Court Go On Your RecordCivil and criminal contempt charges can appear on the record, depending on the specific circumstances and state law.
Does Job Abandonment Go On Your RecordNo, job abandonment won’t appear on any official record.
Does An Eviction Go On Your RecordEviction only shows on the record if the process proceeded to court.

Another option is to perform a background check on yourself using the free public records search at the top of this page. This will return all criminal history information as well as court documents matching the name entered.

How To Get Charges Dropped Before Court Date

Getting charges dropped before a court date can be a difficult process and in many cases will simply not be possible. Individuals should always contact an attorney who can determine the best option available and if trying to get a case dropped is a viable option.

Signs Your Case Will Be Dismissed

There can be a few simple markers your case is on track for dismissal. The most obvious signs are improper procedures followed by the police. This may be an unlawful arrest or search where law enforcement is trying to find evidence to file more concrete charges.

Cases can also be dismissed if charges are filed before crucial evidence has come to light. For example, if an individual was arrested for a crime that a security camera proves they did not commit. Although this evidence is usually found early on, sometimes law enforcement will miss crucial evidence and file charges against someone who is innocent.

On What Grounds Can a Criminal Case Be Dismissed?

Criminal cases can be dismissed for tons of reasons. Most often they will be dropped due to insufficient evidence or procedural issues such as failing to read the individual their Miranda rights or an illegal search.

Receiving a criminal summons can be scary, Although many individuals will have tons of questions about the legal process, what comes after can also be a major issue. Learning how the legal process works and being able to answer questions like “Does a criminal summons go on your record? Will help make the entire process much smoother.

Frequently Asked Questions About Does a Criminal Summons Go on Your Record

Will a Summons Go On My Record?

Criminal summons will appear on your record in most cases, however a civil summons will usually not appear on a record.

What Is Circuit Court Commit-1 Meaning?

Circuit courts are used in some states to allow judges to rotate between courts and for cases to be held in different locations.

Can You Get a Court Summons in the Mail?

In many cases, a court summons will be sent via certified mail.

What Happens if You Get Summoned to Court as a Witness and Don’t Go?

Individuals who are summoned to court as a witness are required to appear, if they do not they will usually be charged with contempt of court.

What Is the Result of Unserved Criminal Summons?

An unserved criminal summons will result in an arrest warrant being issued for contempt of court.

What Happens if You Ignore a Summons to Court?

Individuals who ignore a court summons will be charged with contempt of court, this charge will be added to the initial charges that caused the summons in the first place.

How Is a Court Summons Delivered?

Most jurisdictions require an individual to deliver the summons in person. There are private companies that provide this service.

Can a First Time Misdemeanor Be Dismissed?

In many states there are programs for first-time offenders that allow their charges to be dropped in return for community service or similar programs.


1United State District Court. (2022). Magistrate Judges. District Of Maryland. Retrieved October 04, 2022, from <>

2Legal Information Institute. (2022). Criminal Complaint. Cornell Law School. Retrieved October 04, 2022, from <>

3Superior Court of California. (2022). Search Court Records – Public Access. California Courts. Retrieved October 04, 2022, from <>

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