Law enforcement departments create arrest records after people are arrested. Arrests represent a form of criminal history and records (not investigation notes) generally are available to the public. The record often describes the reason for the arrest as well as the result or disposition, such as whether a person was convicted or acquitted. Online searches provided directly by a county are free, but a nominal charge might be assessed for a certified or hard copy.
Determine the county where the arrest took place, especially if searching for multiple arrests. For instance, if an arrest occurred near Los Angeles, you must distinguish whether the arrest was in Los Angeles, Ventura, San Bernardino, or Orange County.
Contact the appropriate office that manages criminal records. In Harris County, Texas, for example, the district clerk's office oversees court records and the county sheriff's office maintains inmate records. You can obtain public information after submitting a request by email (firstname.lastname@example.org), fax (713-755-6228), or mail.
Conduct a record search through the county's website, which might disclose information about felony and misdemeanor arrests. For example, in Miami-Dade County (miami-dadeclerk.com), you can conduct a free online search of public records. Information about arrests is available through court records.
Utilize a business that provides background checks and public information. Websites like publicdata.com, integrascan.com, intelius.com, and ussearch.com, run background checks instantaneously and provide quick results. Plus, you can run searches by state if you do not know the county where the arrest occurred.
Consult with a private investigator or attorney. If an arrest has been sealed or expunged, you might be able to obtain limited information. Each state has different criteria about whether and how an arrest may be deleted or removed from public record. However, the inability to regulate information on the internet provides ways for records to be uncovered. One exception regards juvenile records, which are unavailable to the public, though juvenile or minor status varies by state.
- Arrest records may not be accurate or complete. Also remember that each jurisdiction maintains its own rules. For example, a county might provide mug shots for free or prohibit public access of police files.
- For arrests that involve a federal agency, consider submitting a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to obtain a federal arrest record.