How Will a Misdemeanor Show Up in a Background Check?

By Sandra King - Updated May 01, 2017
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The information revealed through a criminal background check depends on how long ago the arrest occurred, how much the person ordering the check wants to know and what your state laws say. Landlords and employers often run background checks to learn more about your personal history before taking you on as a tenant or employee. However, with the information available on the internet, virtually anyone can run a background check if they’re willing to pay a fee. Facts about your criminal record, including misdemeanor offenses, may show up.

Why Misdemeanors Matter

It’s easy to think of a misdemeanor as a minor infraction that has no real bearing on your record. Some states consider a speeding ticket a relatively minor infraction, while a misdemeanor is a crime that can result in imprisonment. Most laws classify misdemeanors as offenses punishable by one year or less of jail time, including simple assault, a first time DUI and vandalism.

A potential landlord might not consider a DUI from 10 years ago to be relevant, but a vandalism conviction could raise a red flag about the possibility of property damage. And a previous DUI would likely exclude you from any job that involves driving. Organizations, such as your child’s junior league football team, may refuse a volunteer with a criminal record no matter how badly they need a coach.

What a Background Check Shows

Criminal background checks show general information about your arrests, convictions and sentences. These include misdemeanor arrests and convictions. The details included in the report often depend on the third-party vendor paid to run the check and at what level they investigate your background. For instance, a national check that includes all counties can turn up every single charge ever brought against you, from driving without a license in Nebraska to writing a bad check in Florida. These reports typically include details such as the case number, the offense, whether you were convicted and what your sentence was, if any. A statewide check that doesn’t include all counties can miss an arrest for drunk and disorderly c0nduct that landed you in jail overnight or a minor shoplifting charge.

State and Federal Limits on Background Checks

Many states offer protection from overzealous employers by limiting what a background check can reveal. For example, Illinois law prohibits potential employers from asking about arrests that did not lead to a conviction. Some states allow background checks to show arrests without convictions for seven years. The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires employers to consider the accuracy of a background check since many include errors or incomplete information, such as multiple listings of the same offense or whether the case was dismissed.

The FCRA also mandates that employers get your written permission before running a check, show you a copy of the report and advise you whether they've decided not to hire you based on the report. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission mandates that arrests without convictions may not be used as grounds for not hiring an individual.

Defending Your Record

Because the ramifications of a criminal arrest or conviction record are often significant, it’s generally recommended that you run a background check on yourself to be sure the results are accurate. Speaking truthfully to a potential employer or other individual about your history is also important. It gives you an opportunity to explain beforehand how the misdemeanor occurred and rehabilitative steps you may have taken since, such as anger management courses, to correct the issue.

About the Author

Sandra King uses her life experience as a small business owner, single parent, community volunteer and obsessive traveler to write about a variety of topics. She holds degrees in communication and psychology and has earned certificates in medical writing, business management and landscape gardening. She uses her writing skills to inform her audience of the many interesting adventures available in life and provides tips for growing beyond the challenges you’ll meet along the way.

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