How to Read Your Criminal Background Record

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Technology has taken mankind to heights never before imagined. Today, with a touch of a mouse, you can shop, chat with friends around the world and manage your own stock portfolio. Unfortunately, technology has also made it much easier for potential employers and others to determine whether you have ever been in legal trouble. Knowing how to read your criminal background report will give you a heads up about what it contains and will allow you the time to develop a plan of action to get things removed that can be removed and soften the blow about the things that must stay.

Obtain a copy of your criminal background report. In some states your criminal record is available online, usually by going to the county's criminal court clerk website. Many agencies online can obtain a nationwide copy for you. If you cannot get it online, you can obtain it yourself by going to the county clerk's office and requesting to see your entire criminal history. The clerk will instruct you on how to look yourself up on a public access computer, or the clerk will do it for you and print it off.

Go to the general sessions court and the criminal court. In most cases, misdemeanors are handled in General Sessions Court, felonies can begin in General Sessions Court but are then bound over to the Criminal Court for disposition.

Look the report over to be sure that every charge attached to your name is actually something you have been charged with. Mistakes are made and it is important to catch them and get them corrected as soon as possible. If all charges are accurate, then turn your attention to disposition dates. This date tells you when you were sentenced. It will include any jail time, probation duration and fines to be paid.

Most reports use an "M" for misdemeanors and an "F" for felonies, but may also use "Mis." and "Fel." or spell the words completely out. Each case is usually written separately. It will list the charge, date of the charge, the disposition date, the disposition, and the fines and penalties.

Keep a copy of the criminal report so you can compare it to future versions to be sure there are no inaccuracies.


  • In some judicial matters the disposition is withheld and will not show up as a conviction.

About the Author

Candace Webb has been writing professionally since 1989. She has worked as a full-time journalist as well as contributed to metropolitan newspapers including the "Tennessean." She has also worked on staff as an associate editor at the "Nashville Parent" magazine. Webb holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism with a minor in business from San Jose State University.