There are many reasons why you would want to learn how to check if someone has a criminal record. Whether you recently got an interesting new neighbor or have noticed strange interactions with your child and a family friend, running a criminal record check can help ease your concerns (or confirm them). When searching criminal history for personal reasons, you don’t need the consent of the person you’re investigating. But, if the information will be used for any professional reason (such as a job offer, residency application or adoption), then the law requires that the person approve the search.
When checking for a criminal record, you will need, at minimum, the person’s name, and when you’re starting your search, it’s important to know about the different kinds of background checks available. Different types of background checks will return either local or national history of criminal activity. When you search for a criminal record on someone else, you will most likely be using a name based background check. These types of searches only return information from the state of the search.
However, it is possible to learn how to check if someone has a criminal record nationally, and if you use the correct methods to search for information you can see everything.
What is a Criminal Record?
If you are looking to see whether someone has a criminal record, it’s important to know what it is. A criminal record is the same thing as a criminal history, or a history of criminal activity. Anyone who has committed or been arrested for a crime in the past will have a criminal record.6 Almost all criminal convictions appear on a criminal record, including those for sex crimes. In general, most local conviction records are available to the public, if requested.
In general, depending on the type of search employed, the following criminal information will be included in a search:
- Previous convictions or criminal arrests
- Parole and probation information
- Criminal Sex offenses
- Serious federal crimes, such as murder
Locating information on someone’s previous crime will essentially help you confirm whether they are a criminal or not, as well as what type of criminal involvement and brushes with the law they have had (and when), and whether or not that individual was brought to justice.
How to Find Someone’s Criminal History Information and Records (See Everything)
When learning how to check if someone has a criminal record, there are a couple of different ways to do this. Many local or state police will have an option that allows you to search for public records criminal information using an online system. These online systems will usually allow you to find out if the person you are searching has a local history of law breaking and criminal activity. If an online system is not available, you will also be able to submit a written request via the post office. For sexual crimes, you can locate information by reviewing the online sex offender registry. If you prefer not to use a system provided by local law enforcement, you can also employ the help of an online service that provides background checks. For more serious situations, you may also consider an attorney to help you with your search for information on someone.
- Search a Law Enforcement System
One of the easiest ways to complete a criminal record check involves using a local based system, such as one provided through the state police. Most state police provide public access websites with search features that allow you to find crimes and public records. Some state police entities require fees related to criminal record checks, ranging from $10-$35. Other state police organizations will allow a search for free, such as in California and Wisconsin. For example, Wisconsin criminal history information can be obtained online using their record check system for free.If you’re unsure on how to get a background check from the police, contact a reputable company that performs checks according to the laws of each state.
Some law enforcement and sheriff’s offices will allow you to submit your request online using a portal. In some cases, you may also be able to request a criminal history record from the attorney general and Department of Justice (DOJ). The doj maintains the National Crime Information Center, which is a database of criminal justice information, which includes histories, warrants, and information about crimes (and criminal identities).
Many people wonder how long does a background check take, and depending on the type of system you use, the time it takes to get results may vary. When using the criminal history system created by Wisconsin, any results will come back instantly. Other results may require review by the local authority to ensure that the records can be released.
If your local law enforcement agency does not offer an online service, or you simply don’t want to use the internet, you can mail in a request to local law enforcement. Once your application has been submitted, you may be required to wait for 14 business days. During this waiting period, the state police will notify the person that the criminal record check has been requested. The waiting period is supposed to give the person the opportunity to complete a criminal history challenge. This challenge will allow them to dispute any incorrect history of criminal activity information they find before it is released. If the person does not submit a history record response, a copy of the criminal records summary will be sent to you after the waiting period is up. Criminal records from the state police will typically include the following:
- Date of arrest and arresting agency
- Arrest reason
- Court details, such as the location of the trial
- Outcome of the case, including probation and trial sentencing or jail information from conviction
If there isn’t any history of criminal activity, you will receive a copy of the criminal history response to tell you that they didn’t find anything. When using law enforcement databases, you should know that some of them are not updated regularly or in a timely manner. This means that there is a chance that the individual you are searching for does have a history of criminal activity, even if the notification says otherwise. If you have concerns about the validity of the history of criminal activity you received, you should reach out to the law enforcement agency or court to confirm the information.
- Search the Sex Offender Registry
If you have concerns about a sex offense, you can search the sex offender registry. If a person has a conviction for a sex crime, they are required by law to register their name and address. You can search the sex offender registry by visiting the United States Department of Justice National Sex Offender Website. In some states, you can search for sex offenders based on a location. Other states will only allow a search based on a name. While using this registry will not provide you with a complete criminal history, it will provide you important information about sex crime conviction, and at the national level. This is one aspect of a name based check that covers the entire country, while typically a name search will only cover a specific jurisdiction. When searching the sex offender registry, it’s important to know that while all criminals are required to register, some do not. If you do not find the records that you are looking for, it is possible that the registration has not been completed. This is rare, but can happen.
- Search the PACER System
Since most federal criminal cases won’t come back on a traditional name based search, you may want to consider using the PACER system. The PACER system is an online case search tool provided by the federal government. In order to search the system, you will need to register for an account using your name. Once you register, you will be able to search through the federal court system for case results. While this system will allow you to find previous case information, it may not show criminal arrest records or convictions that did not result in a trial. The only way to definitively determine if someone has a federal criminal conviction or federal arrest is to run a federal background check using a fingerprint.
- Use a Free Criminal Background Search
There are free criminal background check methods available, because many of the online background check services that offer paid checks will also provide an option for a free name based search. In order to do this, you will only need access to the person’s name. Simply choose a service, navigate to their free name search page, and type in the person’s name. You can also complete a free background search by using social media or Google. You can do this by typing the person’s name into either Google or Facebook and see what comes back.
Free criminal background searches are slightly unreliable, and may not return all available information. Many public criminal records such as an arrest, conviction, or probation information may not come back with a free criminal background search. Using a free search will likely also take up more time than one of the other methods, as you will be searching through public records by hand. This method is great for those who would prefer not to spend money on their search, but may not be the most reliable.
- Use a Paid Background Check Service
There are many paid services that will allow you to run a name based background check on someone. Before choosing a paid service, it is important to vet them to ensure that any information received will be trustworthy. One of the best ways to vet a service is to review their online reviews. If you see many negative comments, you should probably continue your search. If you are planning on using the results for an employment decision, you should also review the service’s website to ensure that they comply with all Fair Credit Reporting Act guidelines and make sure that you get consent.
The FCRA guidelines are in place to protect consumer records, such as credit reports, from being used inappropriately. You should also make sure that there are not any legal complaints against the service in regards to the history of criminal activity searches. Using a paid background check service is a popular option because it limits the amount of searching you need to complete in order to receive a comprehensive report. All of the information comes back in a single report for a fee, and will allow you to easily review the person’s criminal history. As mentioned earlier, not all of the paid services are reliable. Some offer more comprehensive reports than others, so keep in mind that the information received may not include the person’s entire criminal history.
Unmask is an online service that provides a free name search. This free name search is one of the most comprehensive searches that can return public history of criminal activity, address information, and relative names. For employers looking to search criminal records for employment, they also partner with services that are compliant with all Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) guidelines.
InstantCheckmate provides an online background check service that is easy to use. It is also known for being accurate, providing information on a history of criminal activity or criminal arrest records that is current and verifiable.5 Obtaining an accurate, information filled background check report is easy to do using this service. In addition to the paid background check, InstantCheckmate also offers a free service to check a name against public records, including some criminal history and arrest records.
The results from TruthFinder are quick and correct, which makes them one of the more popular online services.5 Their comprehensive reports are not free, so you will need to be prepared to pay a fee to get all of the information.
Much like the other background check services, Intelius offers comprehensive reports for a fee. The notable thing about Intelius is the length of time that it has been around.5 Intelius is known for being a longstanding name in the online background check industry.
- Get in Touch with an Attorney
Another way to locate criminal record information involves getting in touch with an attorney. Many attorneys are extremely knowledgeable about the process involved in locating a criminal history or a conviction record on another person, and also have the approved access to specific databases. You will want to search for a criminal defense lawyer to assist you, as they will have the most relevant experience.7
An attorney will also be able to provide you with legal advice as it relates to your situation and the laws that dictate which criminal records you can obtain for another person.
Why Would You Need to Verify a Criminal History Record?
There are many reasons why you would need to check for a criminal conviction. If you are hiring an employee who will be working around a sensitive population, like elders or kids, you will want to know if they have any pertinent criminal arrests or convictions. In fact, most positions like this will require the employer to run a criminal record search to ensure that the check comes back clean. There may also be instances where you are in close contact with someone who you have concerns about. Some examples would include a new neighbor, a new friend that your child has started hanging around, or maybe even a new teacher at your child’s school. If you are a landlord, you may also consider running a criminal history check to determine a potential tenant’s candidacy.
If you are an employer or a landlord, you will need to make sure that any background check you run follows the FCRA guidelines. As noted by the US Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, some information, including certain criminal records, can’t be used to make a decision about employment because it is against the law. Also, when conducting a check for professional reasons, consent is required.
Which Type of Records Search Will Show Criminal Conviction Records? (Fingerprint vs Name Based Searches)
Most background checks will show criminal conviction records, with the exception of a basic free name search. The type of records that you will receive, however, will differ. For example, a Level One background check will only return criminal records that are available locally. A Level 2 background check will return records on a national level. There are also other types of background checks, such as federal background checks, that will give you a history of federal criminal activity. Unfortunately, level 2 and federal background checks can only be performed using the person’s fingerprints.
A fingerprint based background check is one that uses the person’s name and fingerprint to search through databases to return any criminal history, including criminal arrest records or a criminal conviction. Fingerprint background checks are typically done by police agencies, government agencies, or employers. A fingerprint background check will search national or federal records, and return any history of criminal activity. Unlike a name based, or level one, background check, a fingerprint based background check will only return criminal history.
Knowing what a name-based background check includes is important when you’re learning how to check if someone has a criminal record, because in most cases, that’s what you will use. A name based background check is a background check that is performed using a person’s name and, in some cases, other identifying information such as their date of birth or address. When running a name based background check, it will check against local or state records and provide any criminal history, employment history, and address information. You can run a name based background check through a variety of different sources, including your local state police or an online service.
What Arrest Records Will Show Up on a Background Check? (What Will and Won’t Show Up on a Name-Based Search)
When figuring out how to check if someone has a criminal record, you will likely want to determine if the type of crime or conviction you are searching for will show up. The type of criminal arrest records and what information shows up on a background check will depend on the type of background check used. For example, local records criminal records departments from a single state have on file will be shown on a name based or level 1 background check. Alternatively, a federal background check will return a national or federal crime or conviction. Simply put, criminal arrest records from local departments will show up on a name based background check whereas federal or national criminal arrest records will show up on level 2 background checks or federal background checks. In most cases, criminal arrest records will still be shown for cases that have been dismissed. The only time this is not true is if the record has been sealed or expunged.
When you run a name based background check, you will get information such as the person’s name, employment history, and any criminal records that show up in the state you searched. If an individual is a convicted sex offender or has ever been on probation, this information will appear on the background check as well. If you upgrade the name based background check to a level one background check, you may be able to obtain additional information such as credit information. If you are searching for an arrest, crime or other conviction locally, you will probably find that it appears on a name based background check.
If the person you are running the background check on has a criminal record in any state other than the one you are searching for, it won’t show up on a name based background check. In order to obtain these records, you would need to utilize a fingerprint background check. Any criminal record that has been expunged or sealed from someone’s record will likely not come back on a background check. When a record is expunged, it is removed from the criminal record. This is usually done when a criminal charge has been dismissed and the person has applied for expungement. When a record is sealed, it is usually hidden from the public. A criminal record can only be sealed if it fits very specific guidelines. You won’t be able to tell if a sealed or expunged record is hidden from the criminal record.
How to Find Criminal Conviction Details Online
There are many ways that you can find a history of criminal activity online using a name based search. Many states have a criminal history unit that will allow you to request a record showing history of criminal activity online. Keep in mind that there is a code of conduct that law enforcement must follow when releasing records showing a history of criminal activity. This means that some records will be limited and unavailable to the public, but anything considered public records can usually be accessed. If you have questions about what public records or information related to a history of criminal activity is available online in your state, you can call and ask your state police department, county sheriff’s office, or the department of justice (DOJ).
Going through the process of finding out if someone has a criminal record can seem daunting at first. When you’re looking for a criminal history, it is usually because of some feeling or incident that has caused you to be concerned. This can cause stress and discomfort, making the situation that much more uncomfortable. But, as long as you have access to the person’s name, you have options. Whether you choose to use an online system from the local or federal government, or to pay for a comprehensive report from a paid service, you should be able to find records to assist you in your search. If the situation is more complicated, you also have the option of reaching out to an attorney to learn more about how to go about the process of getting a criminal record check.
Keep in mind that regardless of the method you choose, any information you find cannot be used to blackmail or discriminate against the person in question. A report that includes a history of a crime, criminal activity, or conviction should only be used for your own knowledge and the safety of you and your family. But, knowing how to check if someone has a criminal record and see everything, can provide peace of mind.
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2InstantCheckmate. N.d. Background Check Tool. 31 October 2021. Web <https://www.instantcheckmate.com>
3TruthFinder. N.d. Background Checks and Public Records Search. 31 October 2021. Web. <https://www.truthfinder.com>
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7FindLaw. 22 Mar 2019. How to Search for Arrest Records. 1 Nov 2021. Web. <https://www.findlaw.com/criminal/criminal-law-basics/how-to-search-for-arrest-records.html>