There are many ways to conduct a criminal record search, but conducting a truly comprehensive criminal record search is an involved process.
Most organizations don’t conduct a comprehensive criminal record search because the results are not instantaneous (despite what others may claim, “comprehensive” and “instant” usually don’t belong in the same sentence), and the cost can be prohibitive because multiple sources must be searched manually.
As discussed in prior posts, a search through NCIC is the best way to conduct a true nationwide criminal record search, but this information is not available to the public.
We have broken down the way to conduct a comprehensive criminal record search into four simple steps.
If you want more in-depth information, we encourage you to read How to Conduct a Criminal Background Check Like an Expert.
(1) Conduct a search on the person’s name in state and local courts in the counties where the person has lived or worked.
Once you have determined which counties the person has lived in, you can send someone to the local courthouse. Every state and county differs in what is available at the county courthouse, so it’s important to understand what types of records would be included in the search. For example, there may be local town or justice courts that handle infractions or misdemeanors.
(2) Search the agency that maintains the statewide criminal history databases for states where the person has lived or worked.
While county court searches are the most effective way to find criminal records in a local jurisdiction, you may find that a person has been arrested in a neighboring county. While not every state has a centralized database maintained by an official state agency, many states do. The benefit is that you are using an official repository run by the state; however, these repositories are only as good as the information they contain and have been found to be missing information.
(3) Conduct a search on the person’s name in federal courts in districts where the person has lived or worked.
Most people think of criminal records including drug possession, driving while intoxicated, or assault and battery as state matters. However, there are a number of federal statutes that can result in someone facing criminal charges, especially with white-collar matters.
(4) Search “nationwide” criminal databases for additional criminal records.
We’ve discussed the myth about nationwide criminal databases before. The fact is that there really is no comprehensive way to conduct a nationwide criminal background check through open sources. These nationwide databases do have their place. Using a nationwide criminal database as a backstop, while the data is not comprehensive, is an excellent way to identify records that may exist outside the jurisdictions in which the person has resided.