Obtaining a Criminal Record

If you're thinking about applying for a job, hiring someone for your business, or have recently had criminal charges against you dropped, you might want to know how to obtain a criminal record. Whether you need to make corrections to it or conduct a criminal background check for your business, having access to criminal history reports can be very useful.

Why Check a Criminal Record?

Every few years, it is wise to check your own criminal record to make sure that everything's correct. If there's an error on your criminal history, you could be barred from employment, licenses, and other government approvals.

Depending on your state's laws, you may also be able to request other people's criminal records. You might want to do this if you're hiring someone to care for a family member, or a similar scenario. When allowing someone into your home to care for your family, knowing their criminal history can help put your mind at ease.

Finally, as an employer, you can typically request criminal background checks on your applicants. Often, you'll need to acquire the applicant's permission, or sometimes their fingerprints. You can also use a private background checking company as an alternative.

Criminal History Report Contents

While each state differs in what they provide for different types of criminal record reports, the document will typically include information about any time an individual has been arrested and any dispositions resulting from the offense(s).

Some states differentiate between what you can see on your own criminal record, and what you can see for someone else.

EXAMPLE: In Alaska, the state differentiates its personal versus public criminal records as follows:

  • Your personal record:
    • Past convictions.
    • Current sex offender information.
    • Your criminal identification information (e.g. case and booking numbers).
    • Information about incidents that you WERE NOT convicted of.
    • Sealed/confidential records.
    • Information regarding incarceration.
  • Publicly available records:
    • Past convictions.
    • Current offender information.
    • Criminal identification information.

Name-Based vs. Fingerprint Checks

Some states also have different processes and requirements based on what kind of criminal record check you wish to conduct. You can request a:

  • Name-based check.
    • Typically limited to in-state criminal background only.
    • Does not account for other known names or aliases.
  • Fingerprint-based check.
    • Usually includes information reported to your state under other names or aliases.
    • Also usually reports info from any other state where you lived or were arrested.
      • Often only open to authorized employers.

While a name-based check is typically sufficient when checking your own criminal record, if you've recently changed your name and you want to be sure that your criminal record is complete, you may wish to consider using the fingerprint-based method.

When checking someone else's criminal record, a fingerprint check may be the more efficient choice, as you will receive information for all known names and aliases for that individual. If the national criminal history check is open to you, whether as a private citizen or an employer, this can also give you a wealth of detailed information.

Running a Criminal Record Check

While each state varies its requirements, most follow this general outline:

  • Name-based record checks:
    • Complete and submit your state's record request application. You may need to have this form notarized.
      • Some states allow you do to this online; others give you the option to mail it in or visit an office location in person.
    • Pay the required record check fee and wait for your results.
  • Fingerprint-based searches:
    • Complete a fingerprint form or card, or obtain the prints from the person you wish to run the check on.
      • You may need to request a packet or application from your state.
      • Some states charge an extra fee for the fingerprint card.
      • If you're requesting a check on someone else, you may also need their authorization in writing.
    • Provide the required fee for the check, and any extra charges associated with fingerprinting.

Search for your state's authority on criminal records to determine the exact steps necessary in your specific case. You can also have a third-party vendor conduct the background check for you. If you're an employer, our guide to Employee Background Checks can give you details on how to obtain a report on potential hires.

Employer-Conducted Background Checks

Some states pose restrictions on which companies can ask for a criminal background check, and the type of information that can be found on it. For information on how to complete the criminal background check process in your state, contact your criminal justice department or other appropriate authority.

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