Criminal Records Searches Not All the Same

By Lauren Conners Oct 9, 2013

How much do you really know about criminal background checks? Whether you know a little or a lot, the best place to start the conversation is by defining the different types of criminal records searches available. And while there are some criminal record searches that are more revealing than others, they all play an important role developing a comprehensive background check. So the question is, where do you start? While the screening package might vary by job candidate, there are some fundamentals to know for any criminal background check.

A county criminal record search is the most tried and true source for finding criminal records. National or statewide criminal record checks are not a full compilation of all criminal records that could exist, nor can they guarantee that you have found what you’re looking for. However, a county search goes directly to the source of the criminal record.

Before a county criminal records search has even commenced, the Social Security number trace (often referred to as an “Address History Search”) will determine:

  • If there are additional alias names associated with the candidate.
  • Addresses and therefore, counties, where the person has lived.

Based on this information, the background screener will run a county criminal records search, which will seek out records in any of the known counties of residence. Verifying with the name, date of birth and Social Security number, the background screener is able to confirm whether or not a criminal record belongs to the candidate. Understanding this, you can easily come to the conclusion that the county search is the most reliable for finding criminal records.

There are additional means for discovering criminal records, particularly if it’s believed the candidate has a record elsewhere. For instance, there’s the federal criminal court record search. The records housed in a federal court include tax evasion, embezzlement, bank robbery, kidnapping, mail fraud and other federal statute violations. If an applicant has a record that includes any of these, there would not be a record of it in a state or county database.

You’ve probably at least heard of the national criminal record check, but do you know what this database consists of? The national database includes records from a variety of sources from all over the United States, including but not limited to: County Court Houses, State Departments of Incarcerations, State Record Repositories, Probation Departments, Townships and Sex Offender Registries.

You might be thinking, “Great! My search is done, just order those for all job candidates.” Not so fast. Yes, this national database might include some of the criminal records you’re looking for, but you should not put all of your background checks in one basket. Because this source is not all-inclusive, don’t rely solely on this database when conducting a criminal background check, but rather utilize it as a complementary source.

Another often-utilized search is the statewide criminal record search. This search focuses in on a particular state’s database, which you would order based on where the job candidate has lived. However, not all 50 states in the U.S. allow access to their criminal record directories. In addition, even the states that do make it available might not have the most updated information on record. Much like the national criminal records database, the statewide criminal databases should be used as a complement to a county criminal record search.

Lauren Conners is a marketing coordinator at EmployeeScreenIQ, a global pre-employment background screening company based in Cleveland.​

© 2013 EmployeeScreenIQ. All rights reserved.

Related Articles:

Screening the Screeners, SHRM Online Safety & Security, January 2013

SHRM Seeks Clarification on EEOC’s Criminal Background Check Guidance, SHRM Online Safety & Security, December 2012

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