Criminal Records

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What is a Criminal Record?

A Criminal Record is, generally, a person’s history of being convicted of crimes. It differs from a Criminal Background Check because Criminal Records are generally going to focuses on convictions and not arrests or criminal charges, where a Criminal Background Check will focus on any interactions with law enforcement. The variety of offenses that can show up in a Criminal Record may actually vary by jurisdiction, largely because of charging rules and the courts where certain offenses are tried.

There are several different levels of criminal records: federal, state, and local. Furthermore, records can be kept by law enforcement agencies, courts, prosecutor’s offices, parole offices, probation offices, and correctional facilities. Part of the criminal record, when there has been a trial, includes the transcript from that trial, which can provide critical information about what occurred. What this means is that there can be a wealth of information about a person’s criminal history available in their criminal records. The goal of a criminal record is to provide a comprehensive overview of a person’s criminal background, and unless looking for specific violations, an entire criminal record is far more informative than a single piece of information from the criminal record.

Some states maintain registries or databases of sex offenders, child predators, or violent offenders. These registries are maintained as a way for the public to have easy, ready access to information about offenders that are considered dangerous to the general public. Most states maintain databases with this information, and those databases may be searched with offender name or by looking at geographical areas. These offender databases, while helpful, face some limitations. First, some offenders simply refuse to register and do not report to parole or probation officers so that their whereabouts are unknown. Second, registration is based upon conviction, which can mean that some defendants whose offenses would seem likely to land them on a registry are not required to register because of plea bargains or because of a failure to obtain a conviction on the underlying crime.

Are Criminal Records Public Information?

Generally, Criminal Records are publicly available information. However, a basic courthouse or on-line state-level search of criminal records may not reveal a comprehensive criminal history. It is important to keep in mind that criminal records are going to focus on convictions. Therefore, a person with a single conviction for a non-violent offense will have a more damning criminal record history than a person with multiple arrests for violent offenses. That is why it is important to view an entire criminal record. Some of the information in a criminal record, while publicly available, is not easy for the public to access. This makes sense; in a society where defendants are presumed innocent, it may seem prejudicial to make information about arrests available if those arrests did not lead to convictions and agencies may make it more difficult to find this information than to simply find out a person’s conviction history. As a result, to get a complete picture of someone’s criminal history, one might perform a Criminal Background Check.

What is a Criminal Records Search?

A Criminal Records Search will focus on examining the history of convictions of a certain person. It can be tailored to specific offenses or levels of offenses, so that a person’s history of misdemeanor or traffic offenses may not appear, or it may focus solely on violent crimes. Tailoring a criminal records search can be useful, but should also be done with caution. It is not unusual for people to plea bargain in order to be convicted of a lesser-included offense, so that their conviction is for a lesser offense than the one actually committed. A Criminal Records search will reveal these convictions, and sometimes underlying information, as well. Looking at all of the information available in a Criminal Background Check can help one determine whether a misdemeanor assault actually signifies a more serious risk.

What is a Criminal Background Check?

A Criminal Background Check pulls all information publicly available about a person’s criminal history and consolidates it. A Criminal Background Check can go beyond the limitations of Criminal Records search and include non-official information about a person, including newspaper reports, social media, and other third-party reports of criminal behavior. This may provide a more comprehensive overview, but it can also provide an inaccurate picture depending on the reporting requirements for those third parties. Therefore, the desired use of the information is critical. A person who wants as much information as possible about another’s criminal history or who wants to see what publicly available information says about his or her own criminal history should seek a Criminal Background Check.

Why Examine Someone’s Criminal Record

People engage in Criminal Record searches for some of the same reasons that they engage in Criminal Background Checks: to gather more information about the people around them. Criminal Record checks can also be a way for a person to find out what their own criminal history says. Criminal Records, like any other public records, can contain errors. In today’s day and age, many employers check criminal records. Furthermore, it is possible for people to misunderstand what their own criminal histories say. Only by knowing what your own Criminal Record search reveals can you determine how to handle elements in that history. In some jurisdictions, it is possible to have information removed from your Criminal Record through a process known as expungement. Once expunged, information about the expunged records can no longer be disseminated. While this option is not available for all convictions, it can provide a venue for people to repair their criminal histories.