Criminal Record Check
Grab a cup of coffee. Most people are shocked to find out that 1 in 3 Americans have some kind of criminal record. Not only that, there are over 3,500 estimated background check companies harvesting, organizing, monitoring, and selling criminal data.
Looking for a new job?
Looking to rent a new place?
Yes. You get the idea.
This article, and the work we do at RecordFixer, is the result of over 3,700 hours devoted to studying criminal database systems, national and state privacy laws, and the reality of when a criminal record can be accessed, hidden, or used against you. Let’s get started.
A criminal record check in the United States is a check carried out by a government agency or private company (sometimes called “criminal justice information services”) to find out if someone has a criminal history record.
The check can include (1) arrest records, (2) charging history, (3) convictions, and (4) other information related to the case or cases associated with an individual.
The check can (and often does) get used to make sure someone is suitable for a job, or to deny them access to certain benefits. Other commonly used reasons for criminal record checks are for professional licenses and credentials, screening for housing, dating compatibility, and due diligence in deciding to do business with someone.
The entire effect of someone’s criminal history data on their life is often referred to as “collateral consequences.”
For more details about how your criminal history can be accessed by you and by others, please review our research below to be better informed of your criminal data exposure to the public.
Criminal History Records in Daily Life
Some would go so far to say that a criminal record check is now equivalent to someone’s entire digital identity—which can be composed of someone’s credit worthiness, education, job title, housing history, a neighbor’s character review, and social status.
Many laws governing criminal history records fall under the fair credit reporting act even though most people believe that criminal justice agencies are the ones who conduct a typical criminal history record check.
Private Database Access
Most of the time, however, criminal information is sought by a private business through an entity commonly referred to as a consumer reporting agency by using vital records vendors who electronically forward the background check report. This is done by a written request or completed form from official websites that request directly from private or semi-public portals.
With the most prevalent criminal data providers, contracts allowing third party screeners to access their database management system via API or gateway is the preferred method of seeking criminal data instances.
Your Criminal History and The Background Check
By far, however, most people are primarily concerned with the collateral consequences of employment when it comes to criminal history checks.
Criminal data such as arrest records and court criminal history that a search service obtains for an employer does not need to obtain the data from local police departments, a federal agency, or any official repository associated with a law enforcement agency. Instead, the only relevant data that will be under review is that which falls within a specified date of the arrest information or conviction history.
The 7 Year Rule & The Exceptions
Federal law and state laws will differ in terms of how far back arrest records can be reported. Using your date of birth, a search service will typically comply with state statute by reporting arrest records within seven (7) years.
However, state laws have been changing this reporting time period where background check laws prevent reporting where no conviction resulted from the arrest or where the record has been sealed.
The requests submitted by the criminal information service must be tailored to the law and state statute that affects that particular record. Otherwise, the consumer reporting agency could be held in violation of the state regulations that prevent disclosure.
How does a Criminal History Record affect job applicants?
Criminal records can affect job applicants in a number of ways.
Statutory (official) Disqualification
First, if an applicant has a criminal history record, it may disqualify them from certain types of jobs. For example, jobs that require a high level of security or that involve working with children may not be available to someone with a criminal record.
Secondary (unofficial) Disqualification
Second, an applicant’s criminal record may make them less desirable to potential employers, even if it does not disqualify them from the job. This could lead to the applicant being passed over for a job, or being offered a job with less pay or fewer benefits than they would otherwise be entitled to.
The Biggest Fear
Many with criminal histories fear the second scenario by an overwhelming degree. Just as someone looking to date a person using an online or mobile service may be turned off by a criminal past, some employers may carry the same hesitancy in making a new hire.
Does a criminal history record stay with someone for life?
A criminal history record stays with someone for life because it is a public record. As a general rule, criminal records function as public records in that they are available to the public for viewing. Thus, if someone with access were to know where to look and how to find a person’s prior arrest, charge, or conviction history, there would only be a few ways for them to be prevented from doing so.
Official Access to Criminal History versus Publicly Available Access
To be more technically accurate, however, the details included in background check reports will vary largely based on the rap sheet associated with the individual access someone may have to that information. Consider the following:
• Fingerprint submissions are normally not used to submit to a background check;
• Fingerprint cards are not used either;
• The available proof for an address listed, birth record, phone numbers, or attorney general records will be limited if not entirely omitted;
• FBI cjis division will not be accessed for most background check form requests submitted;
What about “FBI approved Channelers”?
FBI approved channelers are individuals or organizations that have been vetted and approved by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to provide certain services (this is where a fingerprint card comes into play). These services may include background checks, fingerprinting, and other security-related services.
The Federal Background Check
An FBI approved channeler, therefore, will only be used for very specific job screening purposes.
Some examples of this would be: (a) for job applicants currently awaiting FBI offers of employment, (b) jobs requiring fingerprint submissions or fingerprint card request for department access, (c) mail submissions involving federal laws or federal government form submissions, (d) the kind of job or service that request directly from central repository (such as DOJ database) or similar department data, (e) a request to search a person required by law for a credentialed service or agency review, (f) previous results that did not have an FBI seal or authorizing notary fee or strict mail delivery, (g) FBI or agency that request from patch helpline or mail carriers (like the USPS), (e) a background check that has a request form requiring birth records or an official date of license registration, (f) jobs that must be screened for criminal history records by law, (g) when one must submit a form or request to search all possible instances of misconduct per department standards, or (h) where an agency must authenticate previously processed results for a request or search the law requires.
How do Criminal Justice Agencies store and manage Criminal Records for Background Checks?
It’s important to first define what a “criminal justice agency” is before tackling this question. State laws (such as in California) specifically differentiate between a criminal justice data provider associated with law enforcement or the one of many courts that process criminal records–and those that provide criminal records in the private marketplace.
When it comes to state, court, and law enforcement criminal justice agencies, there is no one answer to this question as different criminal justice agencies have different policies and procedures in place for how they store and manage criminal records for background checks.
Additionally, many courts use entirely different database management tools that will not overlap with the traditional state department of justice (DOJ) used by an authorized division official. However, some common methods for storing and managing these records include maintaining hard copies in filing cabinets or secure storage areas, and storing digital copies in secure databases.
The Large Scale Operators and Database Systems
When it comes to the privately owned or operated criminal justice agencies, our research has found that the vast majority of background check data providers manage criminal records with relational database management systems (RDBMS) and similar BI/DW systems. BI/DW systems are Business Intelligence & Data Warehouse platforms that store, manage, and organize large datasets and data points.
Getting your Own Background Check by Mail or Search Request by Mail Form
Who on earth still uses a money order or finds themselves having to submit a form by mail for a background check search request?!
The General Rule of getting your Background Check Report
As some people find out, there are many ways to obtain a background check (outside of law enforcement), that request either a money order, certified check, recommended web browsers, or where you must submit a form by mail to contact the criminal history provider.
These steps become far too cumbersome for almost anyone.
Alternatively, many prefer individual access without having to submit fingerprint cards or go through a search request by mail. The reasons for this are obvious.
Having to submit a form by mail is the complete opposite of the digital economy most of use are used to. With instant access to many data providers, waiting one to three business days can feel like a lifetime.
Getting Your Background Check Yourself
The bottom line is this: to obtain your own criminal history, you do NOT (1) need a fingerprint card, (2) fill out a lengthy form, (3) send a money order, (4) or contact a large agency to review your identity.
RecordFixer can help you find out if your criminal history pops up in some of the largest and most prevalent criminal database providers.
Background Check Laws and Your Criminal History Record Privacy
Apart from the law enforcement agency involved with your arrest records (or the state attorney general that requires a completed form), you would think that individual access to your criminal history records would be difficult.
After all, a government agency database access request often requires you to contact the DOJ and submit fingerprint cards for a review. Once authenticated, an official search request is made and the results are mailed with official certified watermarks.
But what about online websites giving you individual access to make any search request you like? This is a problem few have found solutions for.
Publicly Accessible Database Services
What disturbs many people once they find out, is that criminal record database providers are allowed to provide public access (outside of government agency authority) because they are able to collect and disseminate information from a variety of sources. Additionally, some criminal record database providers may have agreements with government agencies (such as law enforcement) that allow them to access and share information.
The bottom line, is that so long as they are compliant with the governing statutes of their state, they are allowed to store, search, and sell records within a given date range if the person requesting the record check does not misuse that information.
But misusing that information is the crux of criminal record privacy–where most people with a criminal history are most worried about.
Enforcing Criminal History Privacy Violations
California has several protective laws in place that prevent outdated or prohibited information from being disclosed to third parties (such as employers, landlords, and those who are curious). A search request of a person with criminal history can violate these same privacy laws without anyone knowing it happened.
The California attorney general currently has the power to invoke fines or initiate review of an unauthorized search of a persons criminal history–but for many, that would be too late.
Avoiding Privacy Violations
The RecordFixer removal method avoids having to face the embarrassment or frustration that comes with erroneous criminal record disclosures.
Do felonies go away after 7 years?
No. Once you have been convicted of a felony, you are a felon for life. However, each state has their own specific rule for when a felony may be reduced or cleared from one’s criminal history depending on a set of circumstances that would make someone eligible for such treatment.
What about Clean Slate and Automatic Expungements?
For instance, in California, after someone’s probation period for a felony conviction is completed, the Department of Justice will review that person’s eligibility for an automatic expungement – essentially providing a non-petition route to removing that conviction without the need of that person’s efforts.
What about Misdemeanors?
For those with criminal histories that are entirely composed of misdemeanors, this is the best case scenario. The reason for this is because most statutes protection the privacy rights of misdemeanor arrests and convictions due to their low offense level. In many jurisdictions, automatic expungement and Clean Slate legislation limits or prohibits the collateral consequences of these cases considerably and they are typically first in line when the Department of Justice chooses to review their eligibility for dismissal or seal.
Can you go abroad if you have a criminal history record?
That depends on the country you are trying to enter and the nature of your criminal history record. Some countries will not allow entry to anyone with a serious criminal record, while others may only deny entry to those who have been convicted of particularly serious crimes.
Notice that when traveling to other countries, a fingerprint card is not used or required. This means the access that a foreign government will have will most likely depend on a search through their own government database. How that database retrieves criminal history information is not apparent to outside agencies.
Can I get a job with a Criminal History Record?
Background check laws and state statutes preventing disclosure make it possible for many people to obtain employment–however there are plenty of reasons to be extra cautious for those with criminal history records.
That being said, it may be difficult to get a job with a criminal history record if the kind of work requires extensive background checks or deal with state licenses. But it is not impossible. There are many programs and organizations that can help individuals with criminal records find employment.
Using RecordFixer to Increase Your Chances
More importantly, the RecordFixer app helps those with criminal records maximize their privacy and hide their arrest records, charging history, or past convictions from background check providers legally.
Proudly founded by a seasoned criminal records lawyer, data engineers, and privacy researchers, the app is the first and only automated solution to removing criminal records from background check databases.
Are Restraining Orders public records in California?
Yes, restraining orders are public records in California. If you are the petitioner, you may file a request to have the restraining order removed from public records. If you are the respondent, you may file a request to have the restraining order removed from public records if the court finds that there is good cause to do so.
The manner in which one has to search for restraining order records differs considerably depending on your jurisdiction. Some counties require a form and full contact information before a review is granted.
Once the party that made the request is authorized, the court documents and minutes are made available.
Are Police Reports public record in California?
Police reports are public records in California, but there is no central repository for them. Each police department keeps its own records, so you will need to contact the department where the report was filed to request a copy. It’s possible that a fingerprint card may be necessary to request the police report due to the private nature of these documents.
Additionally, if the law enforcement agency is associated with the State of California (due to the investigation involved), sometimes approval from the attorney general office is required.
While there is no annoying barrier such as filling out a money order, the strict guidelines is releasing this kind of report will be met with providing your contact on official form and subject to review by someone who has authority to grant you this access.
How to Request for a Search of Your Criminal History
Once your review of the information above is completed, you may be asking yourself how you should begin the first step if you will request a search of your past arrests, criminal charges, or past convictions?
Among the thousands of criminal history providers operating in the industry, it is difficult to choose which would be over or under-inclusive. Given that you are the person for the request of your own information, reporting agencies will be faced with whether they should comply with privacy laws involving records that specifically pertain to you.
First Look. Then Remove
Our methodology is a bit more simple: We prefer to find out of there is ANYTHING out there that is floating around before we seek removal from those databases where it resides.
Therefore, RecordFixer encourages those with any criminal history to seek review and search for past instances that could trigger erroneous disclosure. If the search request comes back with nothing, then it would be overkill to seek criminal history database removal.
However, if even a single search request resulted in multiple instances across multiple databases, the next step would be obvious.