How to Obtain a Copy of State or Federal Criminal Records

By Joseph Nicholson
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Everyone has the right to obtain his own criminal records, whether state or federal. The only real challenge is that criminal records aren't usually kept in a centralized, comprehensive database. If you have a record in multiple jurisdictions, you will likely have to go through a records request in each jurisdiction, at both the state and federal level. You'll also have to prove your identity to authorize the release of records.

How to Obtain a Copy of State or Federal Criminal Records

Identify a jurisdiction and agency. For federal criminal federal records, contact the FBI. It's possible, but not guaranteed, that the FBI's records will include all state offenses. If the FBI file seems incomplete, contact the appropriate state of county agency. If you were arrested or convicted in a state court and don't see it on your federal criminal record, the appropriate agency to contact is either the county sheriff or the state law enforcement agency where you were arrested and/or tried.

Sign a cover letter. The FBI makes its files available upon request. Requests for records on third parties are subject to privacy restrictions, but a request for your own file will only omit information deemed sensitive to ongoing investigations or national security. To requesting a criminal history background check for personal review, begin by filing a cover letter (see link in Resources).

Get fingerprinted. Because of privacy issues, you will have to prove your identity to receive your criminal records. In all cases, this will involve submitting an original set of fingerprints. The FBI requires the set be made on a standard fingerprint form FD-258 (see link in Resources). The most likely place to find a convenient fingerprint technician is your local police station or law enforcement agency.

Mail and submit. The cover letter and original fingerprints should be mailed with a check or money order for $18, payable to the Treasury of the United States, to FBI CJIS Division -- Record Request, 1000 Custer Hollow Road, Clarksburg, West Virginia 26306. Records requests to state or local law enforcement will have to be made in person and will involve the same basic documents.

About the Author

Joseph Nicholson is an independent analyst whose publishing achievements include a cover feature for "Futures Magazine" and a recurring column in the monthly newsletter of a private mint. He received a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Florida and is currently attending law school in San Francisco.