Checking someone's criminal record isn't as straightforward as it should be. Charges and convictions are recorded at the local level, which means you must know where that person lives in order to check his record. If the person has moved around a lot, you're going to have to search the records in every municipality where the person ever lived to get a full picture. The alternative is to pay a third-party search company to compile the record for you.
Can I Find Out if Someone Has a Criminal Record?
Anyone can search a person's criminal record. Criminal records are public files, which means that any employer, lender, dating partner or concerned citizen can search a person's criminal history. The search itself should turn up all the arrests, charges and prosecutions that appear on the rap sheet, whether or not they resulted in convictions.
The only exception are sealed records which a judge has ordered hidden from public view. Judges often seal records where the case file contains sensitive information, for example in domestic abuse cases, or where the crime was committed by a juvenile offender.
Search the Federal Court Records
Crimes that involve federal laws are heard in federal court. These records are the easiest to access since most federal dockets are available to search online through the internet-based Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) service.
To search federal court records, navigate to the PACER home page and click the "Registration" button. You'll need to register by submitting your personal details before you can search the case files. You can also access case dockets from the public-access terminals in the court where the case was filed.
Search the County Court Records
If you know where the person lives, visit the county courthouse and ask to search the person's criminal history. Better still, log onto the court's website to see if you can search records online. Many district courts have an online search portal which you can use for free or for a small fee.
You'll need the subject's name and, ideally his address, to search the records. The more information you have, the easier the search will be. If the subject has a common name like John Smith, for example, then your search may pull up many pages of records, and it will be virtually impossible to find the correct John Smith, unless you have other identifiers like the person's Social Security number.
Local courthouses do not represent the full scope of someone's criminal history – only the criminal history for that jurisdiction is filed with that court. If the person whose records you're searching recently moved to your county, then a search at the local courthouse could come back clear. However, they may have a criminal record in another state that you don't know about, and can't know about unless you search the records for every jurisdiction in the country.
Third-Party Criminal Records Search
A quick way to find out if someone has a criminal record is to order a criminal records search. Third-party criminal record search providers like Instant Checkmate do a lot of the heavy lifting by searching the federal, state and local records on your behalf.
This is the easiest way to find records in multiple jurisdictions. You provide the person's name and known locations, and the website generates a report containing: all the crimes the person has been arrested for; all the offenses he has been charged with; all the convictions; and any dismissals and acquittals. The drawback? You generally have to pay a fee to access the report.
What Can You Do With a Criminal Record Search?
While anyone can check if someone has a criminal record, there are strict rules governing what you can do with the information you find. You obviously can't use someone's criminal history to harass or blackmail that person, since these acts are themselves crimes.
And, special rules apply to employers. Generally, you'll need the job candidate's consent to run a criminal records search through an external search provider. You do not need consent if you search the records yourself.
Also, many states restrict the type of criminal history you may consider when making an employment decision. California, for example, has a "ban-the-box" law that prevents employers from checking a criminal record before an offer of employment is made. Employers also can't ask about sealed or expunged (erased) records, juvenile records or arrests that did not lead to convictions.
- Truth Finder: How to Find Out if Someone Has a Criminal Record
- PACER: Find a Case
- National Center for State Courts: Public Access to Court Records State Links
- California Department of Fair Employment and Housing: California Fair Chance Act (AB 1008) – “Ban the Box” Frequently Asked Questions
- Instant Checkmate: Public Records Search