How to Research Criminal Record for Free

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When obtaining a criminal record, most government agencies (police departments, sheriff's office, city or state court houses) will have the records free for you to view at their facility. However, if you are wanting a copy of the record then a small fee may be involved.

If you are wanting to do the research online you may want to go to the website of the department or agency that holds the records in order to get a free look at the record (but be warned that they may ask you for a small fee to access this information).

Most private firms that keep an updated data base of criminal convictions and other records will charge you a fee to search them. You must have a credit card available for them to verify your information and pass certain security measures (like verifying your name and age) before they will release this information.

Researching the Record

You must first locate where the record is kept. If it is a municipal crime, then more than likely it will be kept at the local police department or municipal court. Where you find the criminal record is dependent upon the jurisdiction and severity of the crime. You can find help with this task in the Resources section of this article.

Once you locate where the record is kept, then proceed to the administration building or offices with the case number. If you don't have the case number then having the other information listed as "Things you'll need" should assist the clerk with locating the file. Most administrative offices will allow you to view the record for free. In some cases they keep a book out in the lobby with records of new arrests or cases for the press to view and report on.

Once you have the record, remain in the building and in the designated area the clerk provides for you. Chances are they will allow you to write down what ever information you may need from the record as long as you don't write on the actual record itself.

If you request more information about the record or the details in the record, you may ask the clerk for clarification, or they can direct your questions to someone within the administration's offices to help answer them.

Try calling the agency that has the record to make sure it is actually located there. You can save yourself a lot of time if you call ahead and find the record before heading out to several different agencies.


  • Some criminal records may be sealed by the judge as a "minor crime." Sealed records cannot be accessed by the public. They can only be accessed by a professional agency, such as a law enforcement agency or attorney's office. This sealing, by law, permits the individual who committed the crime to consider it a "non-crime," which means this person has been given a clean record and doesn't have to discuss it.
  • Another issue you may run across when trying to locate a record is any record that involves a minor. Some juvenile records are sealed and, in many cases, information within the record cannot be accessed by the public.


  • Remember to be courteous and patient with the clerk or agent. If you want full cooperation and assistance then it is best to give them the same respect they give you.
  • Have all your information you are requesting ready for them when they ask. The more prepared you are, the quicker and easier it will be to locate the record.



About the Author

William Robinson has been writing for over 20 years and to date has published two books in his lifetime, "The Search for Excalibur" and "Don't Love Me." He holds two doctorate degrees in philosophy and a Bachelor of Science in criminal justice from Alameda University in California. He is also a veteran of the United States Marine Corps.