How to Find the Details of a Criminal Record

By Aaron Gifford

The term criminal record usually pertains to someone being charged or convicted of a crime. But the title of the crime for which a person is charged can be vague or misleading. There are different degrees of burglary that carry different penalties, for example, that range from simply entering a unlocked property to breaking and entering when the residents are home. You owe it to yourself and the person you are researching to get as many details as possible before referring to that criminal record in any way.

The devil is in the details

Verify the person was convicted of a crime, via the courts or an inmate look-up on a state's department of corrections website.

Search through the court records. If the person was charged with a felony, their case was probably handled at a county court house. It the crime involved more than one state, the case may be in a U.S. District Court. Search by the person's name. If they were acquitted, the case could be sealed or expunged. The court file should at least include a complaint from the arresting police officer, statements from victims, witnesses or the defendant themselves, and a grand jury proclamation noting which charges the defendant was indicted on.

Trace the case back to the arresting police agency or the local court that arraigned the suspect before the matter was moved to a felony-level court. If the person was acquitted and court records were sealed, the appropriate police agency may still have the old blotter entry or incident report giving a description of the crime and which charges were initially filed. The local court may still have copies of victim and witness statements before the file proceeded to grand jury.

Learn the process of making Freedom of Information requests in case the agencies ask for your request in writing. Generally, the process requires identifying the specific record you want. Agencies are not required to produce records that don't already exist. You should also ask to whom your appeal should be directed if your request is denied. Cooperation for such requests can vary by state, according to the National Freedom of Information Coalition.

About the Author

Aaron Gifford is based in New York. He has been on staff at the "Syracuse Post-Standard," the "Watertown Daily Times" and the "Oneida Daily Dispatch." He's also written for "Long Island Newsday," "Empire State Report" magazine and "In Good Health." He has been writing professionally since 1995. Gifford holds a Bachelor of Arts in sociology from the University at Buffalo.

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