Hiring or renting to someone with a criminal record isn't automatically bad, but it's certainly a useful thing to know. As a private citizen you don't have access to all the same information as law enforcement agency, but you can search free public records from all over the country to find arrests and convictions. The end result is complete enough for peace of mind, and won't empty your pockets.
Start With the Basics
The first step is to gather as much information as possible on the person in question. Their first and last names are a bare minimum, and a middle name or at least middle initial is helpful. Anything else you can find, such as an address, landline telephone number or date of birth, is useful but not always necessary.
Look For Online Resources
Use the internet to find public case records in your state and any other state the subject may have lived in; you may even need to search by county. Official government sites such as USA.gov - the official government portal - use a .gov domain name, and you can usually find them by searching the state, city or county name along with the words "official website" and "public case records." Third party sites don't have a .gov domain name in their URL, and those vary widely in quality. The best, such as ZabaSearch and NETROnline, simply gather public information together or save you time and effort by providing lists of official sites you can search. This information is publicly available, so don't pay for it.
Search the Databases
Enter the subject's name into the public records search engine. Some states may call the search "case lookup," "criminal history name search" or "case records search." If you don't find any information, try a few common misspellings or alternative spellings of the name. Read through any arrest or conviction records that come up, which in some states will include traffic tickets and dismissed cases. There is a good chance that the subject shares a name with someone else in the state, so be sure that the records match the subject in question. If you refuse employment or a rental to someone based on erroneous information, you might leave yourself open to a lawsuit.
Expunged or sealed crimes will not be displayed in public access.