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There are many reasons for learning how to find someone’s criminal record without them knowing. Whether it’s for personal curiosity or to safeguard loved ones, knowing how to find someone’s criminal record is a useful skill.
According to federal and state laws, if a background check is being conducted for any professional reason, such as employment, financial decisions, adoption or residency approval, then consent of the person being checked is required. It is illegal to conduct a background check for official reasons without first obtaining consent.
However, finding someone’s criminal record isn’t difficult since criminal histories, for the most part, are considered public records. As such, anyone can search them for personal reasons without permission from the person being checked.
This full guide outlines the methods available to find criminal records on anyone.
Find Someone’s Criminal Record in All 50 States
There are three main methods involved when trying to discover if someone has a criminal record:
- Search State Court Clerks (Department of Justice records)
- Search State Police and Law Enforcement
- Search State and National Sex Offender Registries
Each of these three options provides access to public criminal history and records, but the availability and the process for actually getting the criminal records can be different for each state or local jurisdiction.
In some cases, a specific form must be filled out before the state will release any documents or information about a person’s criminal record. In others, checks can be conducted online with instant and (and sometimes) free results. Many states and local repositories charge a fee for official criminal records requests. While these are usually small (from $5-$25), when searching more than one state, the time and cost involved can add up.
Also keep in mind that the type of criminal information available may also vary from state to state. For example, some states only retain a record of felonies committed, while others include all misdemeanors, warrants (not to be confused with federal warrants), recent arrests and criminal offenses such as probation. In addition, the age (how long ago the crime happened) of the conviction or arrest impacts whether or not a record will be available.
In order to perform a single nationwide criminal history search, fingerprints are required, and would therefore necessitate consent from the person being checked. However, anyone can use the following methods to search each state ( and local jurisdiction) and manually locate past criminal records. The downside of this strategy is that it will take longer and may be more costly than contacting a reputable background check service.
Steps For Searching Criminal History Records Online
In order to complete an online search for criminal history records, there are several steps you should take. These steps include:
- Determine the type of criminal record you are seeking (arrest, pending charges, previous convictions, previous incarcerations, etc.).
- Identify the correct jurisdiction to search (state or county).
- Find an online database that is specific to that state or county (either the Department of Justice, local court clerks, or state and local law enforcement agencies).
- Enter the person’s name and other identifying information into the search engine.
Always remember to check local regulations for a personal criminal records search, because different states have different requirements regarding how background checks can be done on others without their consent. This applies to both online and offline methods.
Using State Courts to Find Criminal Records and Convictions (State Criminal Records)
When locating details on someone’s criminal record, the first place most people turn is court clerk records. These are public documents where information about arrests, charges, hearings, and trials can be found within the state, if a criminal act occurred there.
While most states make criminal history records open to the public, there are some exceptions – usually involving juvenile offenders – that prevent anyone from accessing the sealed record.
The process is relatively simple. For example, to find criminal court records (and others) in Missouri:
Step 1. Navigate to the Missouri court website using the link provided below.
Step 2. Choose “Search for a Case” option (depending on the state, this option may be named differently) and open that link.
Step 3. Enter the name of the litigant or case number.
Step 4. View the results.
The following list of state court clerk’s offices provides fast access:
Using Law Enforcement and Police Databases to Search for a Criminal Record
Another way to search for how to find someone’s criminal record without their consent is by using law enforcement databases. This usually involves contacting the police department in the city or county where the individual resides.
While this method can be successful, it’s important to note that not all law enforcement agencies keep track of criminal records like some state courts do.
With an official (professional use) background check, searchers must obtain written consent from the person.
Law enforcement agencies will often require some form of identification, like a driver’s license or passport, before conducting a search. In addition, some states, like Texas and Florida, require a fingerprint card to be filled out by the person requesting records, so those criminal records won’t be available without consent.1
The steps are similar to searching court clerk information. For example, to find state police criminal records in Alaska:
Step 1. Navigate to the Alaska Department of Public Safety (using the table below).
Step 2. Choose “resources” and “active warrants.”
Step 3. Search through the “Active Warrants PDF” listed on the page.
Step 4. Navigate through the other resources offered to find kidnapping and sex offenders.
Most state law enforcement agencies also have a “background check” option, which allows you to go straight to the system that is designed for criminal records searching. Use the following list as a quick link to searching any state:
Using State and Federal Sex Offender Registration
Searching state and federal sex offender registries can be difficult because the information is not always compiled in one place. However, several websites offer this service.
The National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW) is a joint project of the United States Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. This website offers an online search for sex offenders living in any given area. There is alos an option to sign up for email alerts when registered sex offenders move into a specific neighborhood.
This national registry includes all 50 states, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and U.S. Virgin Islands. Searches can be conducted by name or location, and the database provides detailed information about each offender, including photos and addresses.
Each state also has its own sex offender registry. The majority of states make their registries available to the public, but a few only allow the information to be accessed by law enforcement.2
Steps for Using State Sex Offender Registries
In order to use state sex offender databases, you will need to know the state where the person you are searching lives. You can usually find this information on their driver’s license or other forms of identification. The following steps will guide you on your state sex offender website search:
Step 1. Visit the appropriate state sex offender registry website (state’s list below).
Step 3. Provide information about the individual being searched including first name, last name, and city or address if available.
Step 4. Click search to submit your query.
Step 5. Review the provided results.
Each state has different requirements for registering as a sex offender, which may change over time. For this reason, the information on these websites is only current up to a certain point. Therefore, it is possible that someone convicted of a sexual crime before the website was updated will not be listed.
A reputable background search provider will be able to conduct a search for sex offenders in any state, regardless of the date of their conviction. Background screening companies compile information from several databases to provide as comprehensive a report as possible. Utilizing background check reports services can obtain detailed information about the person being searched, which may not be available in state or federal sex offender registries.
Types of State Public Records Information
It is important to keep in mind that some states have different levels of privacy protection for their citizens. Depending on the state, most likely a person can find:
- Arrest and Conviction Records – In general, arrest records will provide information about the individual’s name, physical description, and address. Arrest records (and those without convictions, like dismissed charges) also include information about what the person was arrested for or charged with doing. Conviction records are typically available once sentencing has taken place. Restraining orders also fall under this public record domain, and anyone can also learn how to find out what someone was arrested for.
- Driving Records and DUIs– Driving records are often considered public records and are available upon request. These include accidents or citations, speeding violations and convictions for Driving Under the Influence (DUI).
- Additional Public Records Information – Information about a person’s birth, death, marriage, and divorce certificates are accessible through public records.
One note, juvenile records are usually not available in any criminal records search. Most are expunged once the offender becomes and adult.
Finding Out of State and Federal Criminal Records
The first way to obtain out of state records is to contact that state’s clerk of court or criminal justice department. They will be able to provide all the necessary information, including forms and procedures required to find someone’s criminal record.
The state police and the state’s sex crime registry also provide access for finding out of state criminal records. Most states will charge a fee for copies of criminal records, and turnaround time can vary from a few days to several months.
Another option is to contact people who have access to criminal record databases through work or professional associations (such as private investigators). These individuals often use these databases regularly, so it shouldn’t be too difficult for them to locate the information. However, these services are typically costly.
For federal records, it can be more difficult, but there are options to search for federal warrants and other crimes, such as the national sex offender registry tool.
Criminal Background Search Using Background Screening Agencies
A less expensive option for how to find someone’s criminal record is to use a background check agency or service. Although most records are public information and can be found manually, these services reduce the time and potential cost involved by charging a one-time fee (instead of a fee for every state searched).
Reputable background screening agencies will provide the most up-to-date and accurate information. These providers have access to state and federal criminal databases and those from other countries. They also use a variety of search methods (including social media) to find the most comprehensive and accurate results possible.
Using Free Background Check Websites
There are free background check websites that offer criminal records information at no cost, but the downside to this is that they are often out of date. Utilizing outdated or inaccurate information can prove costly in terms of time and money.
Tips on How to Find Someone’s Criminal Record Without Them Knowing
Since it is possible to know how to find someone’s criminal record without informing them, it is essential to be careful when doing so because of the legal implications involved. The following are some tips on how to find someone’s criminal record without them knowing:
- When doing a background check for official reasons, get consent from the person before conducting the search. The authorization or consent required will vary depending on the state.
- Be aware of any privacy laws that may prohibit releasing specific information about someone’s criminal record.
- Take care when using online databases – some of them are not official government sources and could lead to inaccurate or incomplete results.
- Take the time to run any federal searches that are available.
- Double-check the results and make sure they’re correct.
There are a few different ways to find someone’s criminal record without them knowing. It’s important to do your research and figure out which option will work best for your needs to get the most accurate information possible and safeguard yourself against potential legal issues.
What’s the Legal Aspects of Running a Background Check on Someone When They Don’t Know?
There are many legal aspects to consider when running a background check on someone, especially if they don’t know about it.
The main thing to remember is that personal reasons are permitted for background checks without consent, but for any professional or official search, consent must be obtained.
According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), an employer cannot get information about an applicant’s criminal record without their written consent.3 In fact, employers are not even allowed to ask about arrests that did not lead to a conviction in many states.
Before conducting a background check, make sure to research the FCRA and applicable state laws to prevent being subjected to liability and punishments for misuse.
There are some exceptions to background check laws, such as when the job involves working with children or vulnerable adults. However, these exceptions are determined on a state-by-state basis.
Privacy laws are always changing, so make sure to stay up to date on the latest amendments and regulations.
Can I Use These Records for Professional Reasons?
Background checks results can be used for professional reasons, but only when consent has been granted.
It is important to remember that it’s illegal for an employer to check someone’s criminal record without their written consent. If they do not give this consent, the information cannot be used against them during the hiring process.
Most importantly, if an employer wants to check the criminal record of a current or potential employee, they must first get written authorization from the individual. The employer can then use this information to decide whether or not to hire the person. Many factors need to be considered when making a decision about hiring someone. Criminal history is just one part of the equation.
When learning how to find someone’s criminal record, it’s essential to do the necessary research to stay within the boundaries of the law.
1Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Nd. Personal Review. 18 December 2021. Web. <https://www.fdle.state.fl.us/Criminal-History-Records/Personal-Review.aspx>
2Wikipedia. 10 July 2021. Sex offender registries in the United States. 18 December 2021. Web. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sex_offender_registries_in_the_United_States>
3Wikipedia. 30 October 2021. Fair Credit Reporting Act. 18 December 2021. Web. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_Credit_Reporting_Act>