Felony convictions are public record which means that anyone can look at the court records and learn someone's criminal history. The problem is, you need to know the person's name to look up the records. At the time of publication, the only official database showing where offenders are located is the sex offenders' register. Some private databases offer this service for a fee, and they may be more or less successful in addressing your local crime concerns.
Search the Sex Offenders Register
The National Sex Offenders' Register, coordinated by the Department of Justice, contains the identity and location of all known sex offenders in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico. Visit the National Sex Offender Public Website and download the app, or visit the FBI's National Sex Offender page which contains links to the searchable records for each state. Simply click on the link to your state.
While the structure of the database differs from state to state, generally, you can search the register by county, city, ZIP code or address. This will pull up a listing of offenders within a defined radius of the area you're searching. Most jurisdictions allow you to register for community alerts, which will notify you whenever a registered sex offender moves into the neighborhood.
Read More: How to Find Sex Offenders in My Area
Done-for-You Felon Search Sites
To quickly browse for felons convicted of other crimes, you can use a free service like Felon Spy. These third-party websites mine data from an array of public databases, including county, state and federal criminal databases, the sex offender database, telephone records and credit reporting agencies, to track convicted felons and pinpoint where they are currently living. Members of the public can search by ZIP code, street address, city and state to generate an area map with the locations of ex-cons identified.
While these sites offer an easy option for identifying felons in your local community, be aware of their limitations. Sites like Felon Spy use their own proprietary algorithms to search and compile records, and there's no guarantee that the data will be up-to-date or even accurate.
Drill Down Into the Crime
When using a felon-search site, if you find a mapped offender in your vicinity, you can click on the marker to view the offender's name and the crime he was convicted of. There might also be a mugshot. To learn more about the felonies this person might have committed, take the offender's name and run it through a site like Instant Checkmate. These sites search court and prison records to bring you a list of all the crimes that person has been arrested for, including the date, plea entered in court ("guilty" or "not guilty") and the final outcome (conviction, acquittal or dismissal). This gives you more information about what the person has done.
What Will You Do With the Information?
Learning about the presence of convicted felons in your area is one thing; using the information is quite another. The various felon-search and sex offender databases do not assess the circumstances of the crime or the risk of re-offending. Individuals are included in the registry solely by virtue of their criminal record.
The National Sex Offenders' Register is very clear that members of the public must not use the registry to retaliate against the registrants, their employers or their families. Making threats of harm, harassment or vandalism are serious crimes and could result in your own arrest and prosecution.
- Before making any rash decisions based on the information you find on one of these sites, consider that many felons have gone through rehabilitation programs and should not be automatically demonized. Consult friends and loved ones and consider your options before taking any action based on this data.
Jayne Thompson earned an LL.B. in Law and Business Administration from the University of Birmingham and an LL.M. in International Law from the University of East London. She practiced in various “Big Law” firms before launching a career as a commercial writer. Her work has appeared on numerous legal blogs including Quittance, Upcounsel and Medical Negligence Experts.