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Understanding Criminal Records

I receive many questions about the differences between a national criminal database search versus county or statewide criminal searches, and how they compare.


Let me just start out by stating we will not be focusing on federal criminal or FBI based searches in this article.


Today, my goal is to breakdown what these products are and how you can be using these searches to set-up a screening program that aligns with your program goals.


National criminal database: Is a manufactured product, that usually includes sources from all states within the United States, including state Department of Corrections, state Sex Offender Registries, and many direct county or state criminal data sources. A robust option will run alias or maiden names found, in addition.


Pro: Search is widespread, and can be used a “pointer tool”, to order the direct source for verification, ie: county or state source. Search is completed within minutes.

Con: Search is widespread but is not all-encompassing.


County criminal search: County criminal searches are usually a singular search sourced at the courthouse or county seat. The search usually includes both a Felony and Misdemeanor search for 7+ years. Most county records are searched by a legal first and last name. Ordering alias or maiden names are important for a thorough search.


Pro: Search is the direct source.

Con: It is a very narrow search; you may consider ordering counties where a candidate has lived or worked to be thorough. Searches can take a few days, or longer if records are involved.


Statewide criminal search: Statewide criminal searches are usually a singular search sourced at the state repository. This usually includes both a Felony and Misdemeanor search for 7+ years, throughout the state. Depending on the state the search may be conducted by a legal first and name and DOB, or legal name, DOB and SSN.


Pro: Search may be very wide reaching within the state searched and considered a quality direct source.

Con: Some state repositories do not report complete data, so a county search would be required to verify a disposition or sentence. Also, several states have costly fees to obtain access to the data. State searches ran by name/DOB may be even costlier with additional aliases or maiden names ordered.

In short, this article is not to steer you one way or the other, but to education you on your options. You may have industry or Federal/State specific requirements. Research your company policies and work with your background screening partner as a best practice.


Jolene Johnston Vice President/Chief Operating Officer

Note: This article is intended to provide general information and should be not be interpreted as legal advice.

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