The use of public criminal records by employers and private citizens is becoming more and more common, both for personal and professional protection. Private citizens may be wary of someone that they’re dating or may be wanting to check out someone they’re going to hire to watch their children or work around their home.
Companies search public criminal records to protect themselves from theft, corporate spying, and lawsuits that may arise from their employees’ behavior.
These background checks have become so popular and common that many detective agencies have sprouted up in recent years, specializing in checking out backgrounds for private citizens. Most Human Resources managers have found that having knowledge of how to access them is now a required part of their job, right along with knowing how to fill out tax forms and understand health benefits.
As common of a practice that is to access public criminal records, many people still have incorrect ideas about these records, what’s contained in them, and how to access them. For example, it’s a common misconception that there is a national database of criminal records, so that you can check just one site or agency and find out everything about someone’s criminal background. In reality, most crimes are kept on record by the agency that prosecuted those crimes.
In other words, the federal government only keeps records of federal crimes, whereas other crimes are typically recorded on the state level, if even then. When checking public criminal records of someone, you may then very easily overlook crimes they’ve committed in other states if you don’t specifically look in those states. Most criminals know this and move from state to state; if they commit crimes in one, they then move to another to avoid detection for jobs, housing, and the like.
Also, it’s easy to assume that the government, no matter what level, is very conscientious about keeping all their public criminal records together, but they really aren’t. While all states have a database that compiles the records from all their counties, studies typically show that they are very lax about using this system and keeping it up to date and accurate. Because there is no federal law that sets standards for how this must be done and in what way, states aren’t always as concerned with the procedures as one might think. So when you check public criminal records at the state level, you may still be missing quite a bit of info.
With so many concerns regarding identity theft and personal privacy, there have been laws and guidelines put into place as to how much personal information can be accessed in public criminal records. For instance, social security numbers and birth dates are often suppressed. This means that many records can be missed as they cannot always be accurately matched up with the person that you’re checking on.
Public criminal records can be costly and difficult to access. Many assume that they can simply call their local courthouse or county clerk’s office and give the person on the other end of the phone a name, and that person simply punches the name into the computer and returns with a record. In reality, checking public criminal records is something that you will need to do yourself or have a professional do for you; while these records are accessible to the pubic, that doesn’t mean that there is someone on staff to do the actual checking for you. It’s not like a library where you can ask the librarian for help and he or she will physically assist you in your search. If you decide to check these records, be prepared to do some tedious manual searching.
There are some agencies that contain much information by way of public criminal records, such as the National Crime Information Center, but these agencies are off-limits to private citizens and are accessible by law enforcement personnel only. So if you’re looking to do some research on anyone for any reason, you can certainly find helpful information in public criminal records, but be prepared for some work.