Do Arrests Show Up on a Background Check?

By Chelsea Levinson - Updated March 02, 2018
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Criminal background checks are a fact of life. According to a recent survey, 84 percent of employers conduct criminal or public records background checks on potential employees. Other reasons you could find yourself being subjected to a criminal background check include applying for school, buying a gun, renting a property, adopting or fostering children, obtaining a special driver’s license or gaining security clearance. If you have any arrests on your record, a criminal background check can be a stressful experience.

Tip

A criminal background check searches your criminal records at the federal, state and local levels. An arrest will show up on your criminal background check for seven years, and a conviction may show up indefinitely. If your court record is sealed or expunged, it shouldn't show up on your record.

Arrests and Criminal Background Checks

A criminal background check searches your criminal records at the federal, state and local levels. The check includes both convictions and non-convictions, and the status of each of your criminal cases. If your case is still pending, your report will say so.

Arrests do show up on your criminal background check. So if you have any past arrests, you can reasonably assume they’ll be included on your report. However, there are a few limits to keep in mind. The Fair Credit Reporting Act is a federal law that sets the rules for background checks. The FCRA says that after seven years, non-convictions such as arrests, warrants and dismissed charges can’t show up on your background check. If your arrest was more than seven years ago, you may be in the clear.

It should be noted, however, that convictions, both misdemeanor and felony, stay on your record indefinitely. If you were convicted of a crime, it will most likely show up on your background check.

Some states have passed laws that limit the number of years even convictions can show up on your criminal background check. In California, a conviction can be included on your report for only seven years. For this reason, many criminal background checks only go back seven years, even for convictions.

Expunged Cases and Background Checks

A record is expunged when the court destroys it, so it can no longer be viewed by the public. A record is sealed when the court preserves it, but the public is prohibited from viewing it.

A criminal background check should not include an expunged or sealed case. The FCRA says that criminal background checks which determine your eligibility for employment, credit, insurance, housing or other purposes should not include expunged or sealed cases. That said, it’s very difficult to erase information that’s already on the internet. Just because your record was sealed or expunged doesn’t mean there aren’t traces of your case still lurking on the web. This information shouldn’t be used against you, but it’s still helpful to know if it’s out there.

DUIs and Background Checks

Some people think a DUI is a traffic violation that doesn’t count as a prior arrest or conviction. However, a DUI is actually a crime and is treated as such by a criminal background check. If you were arrested for a DUI in the past seven years, it’s very likely to show up on your criminal background report. That is, unless your record was sealed or expunged.

About the Author

Chelsea Levinson earned her J.D. from Cardozo. As a former policy researcher, she has a passion for communicating legal issues to the public. She has created legal and policy content for Vox, Levo, Run For Something and more.

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