Background checks are increasingly common as a requirement for employment and even for many volunteer positions, especially for positions involving contact with children. While there are a large number of companies that offer "background checks" to individuals and companies for a fee, caution is advised before utilizing such services. The information provided is often outdated or completely inaccurate. For those who have a legitimate need to perform criminal history checks, there are reliable resources available, usually at no charge.
A criminal history record includes any arrests and the subsequent dispositions attributable to an individual. A complete criminal history makes it possible to immediately identify individuals with prior criminal records in any state as an element of a background check. These records can be used to prevent felons from legally purchasing firearms or to check the backgrounds of persons applying for positions involving the care of children, seniors or the disabled. Criminal history records can also be used by judges and others involved in the legal system to determine whether to allow bail. The FBI maintains the Interstate Identification Index (III) containing records of persons arrested for felonies or serious misdemeanors under state or federal law. Each state also maintains its own criminal records in a central repository.
The "Brady Bill"
As a result of the assassination attempt against President Reagan by John Hinkley in 1981, after more than a decade of deliberation and lobbying, the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 (Brady Act), Public Law 103-159, was signed into law by Bill Clinton. The law, popularly known as the "Brady Bill," referring to James Brady, an aide to Ronald Reagan who was seriously injured during the assassination attempt, requires Federal Firearms Licensees (FFLs) to request background checks on prospective firearm transferees.
The permanent provisions of the Brady Bill went into effect on November 30, 1998. These provisions required the U.S. Attorney General to establish the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The NCIS is a national system that checks available records in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), the Interstate Identification Index (III) and the NICS Index. This system allows any FFL to request instant confirmation information by telephone or other electronic means of whether a prospective purchaser is qualified to obtain a firearm under federal or state law.
Sex Offender Registries
The Sexual Offender (Jacob Wetterling) Act of 1994, commonly known as "Megan's Law," was enacted after the abduction and murder of Megan Kanka, who was 7 years old. This law requires convicted sex offenders to register their whereabouts with law enforcement authorities for a period of at least 10 years after release from prison. The law has undergone several revisions, and presently features a three-tier system to determine the level of threat presented by a past sexual offender.
The National Sex Offender Registry Assistance Program (NSOR-AP) is administered by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in the United States Department of Justice as a component of the National Criminal History Improvement Program (NCHIP). This registry aspires to provide complete information about released sex offenders that can be made available to the public. The system coordinates information provided from state registries on sexual offenders to track their movements from one jurisdiction to another.
SEARCH: The National Consortium for Justice Information and Statistics
SEARCH, The National Consortium for Justice Information and Statistics, is a nonprofit membership organization created by and for the states to coordinate the exchange of relevant information between local agencies, state agencies, across state lines or with the federal government. It has been in operation since 1969.
SEARCH is governed by a Membership Group consisting of one gubernatorial appointee from each of the 50 states; representatives from the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands; and eight at-large appointees selected by the chairperson for SEARCH. Members are primarily responsible for operational decisions and policy making at the state level concerning criminal justice information, particularly criminal history information.
A casual Internet search for "background check" yields dozens of alternatives. However, many of these "background checks" are little more than automated searches of a database compiled by the company from public records. Other companies are little more than scam artists. True background checks performed by licensed detective or investigation agencies are usually very expensive, and are often performed only upon presentation of reasonable justification for such an investigation. Beyond utilizing the resources listed above, caution is strongly advised concerning criminal background checks.