An applicant with a criminal past can pose numerous threats to any company. To keep the workplace safe for everyone, a company should screen its applicants with a criminal record check. But this is a little more complex than it sounds. Obtaining accurate criminal record information requires a multi-step process that is best handled by an experienced background screening company.
What does a criminal record check consist of?
While some less serious misdemeanor crimes may be processed at a municipal level or in a justice court (administered by the Justice of the Peace), these are rare. The more serious state and local level misdemeanors, and all felonies are processed in county courts.
So the safest and most accurate criminal record check should begin with a county criminal search in the counties where a person has lived. But how do you know where the applicant has lived if you are not requesting their address history and they are not volunteering it?
The Social Security Number Trace & Address History Search will reveal all known addresses. This information is extracted from the major credit bureau files. All criminal record checks should begin with this search to reveal address history.
The more sophisticated background screening systems will access address history information electronically – and automatically – and using complex algorithms, the screening technology will “recognize” which counties the person has lived in and automatically execute a criminal record search in those counties.
A good criminal record check will also consist of researching criminal record databases. These are commonly referred to as a “Nationwide Criminal Search” and/or a “Statewide Criminal Search.”
However, caution should be urged when using any criminal records database because they are prone to inaccuracies for a variety of reasons. Even the FBI criminal record database, which has long been considered the Gold Standard, has come under fire recently for containing inaccurate or incomplete information.
Criminal record databases are comprehensive in scope. A nationwide criminal database will contain information pertaining to state and local level arrests, convictions, wants & warrants, prison records, suspected party watch lists, parties prohibited from doing business with the government, industry sanction decisions, and many other data sets.
But due to the potential for inaccuracies or incomplete information, any “hits” from a database search should ALWAYS be verified by ordering the actual record on file from the originating court, agency or sanctioning body.
As you can surmise, it could take you many days to set up accounts and access all available information to assemble a good quality criminal record check, not to mention a substantial financial investment to purchase the information. And even if you are willing to do this, how can you be sure the information is accurate?
By outsourcing a criminal record search to an experienced background screening company, you can reduce the wait time by days, have greater confidence that you will receive the most accurate information and leverage their resources to minimize cost.
Types of Criminal Record Checks Described
- County Court Search
This search consists of criminal records obtained from county courts. The results will reveal any misdemeanor or felony convictions, when the conviction occurred and the sentence imposed and the disposition date.
- Statewide Criminal Database Search
This search casts a wider net on a statewide level, but any “hits” should be independently verified by ordering the criminal record from the originating court, to ensure complete accuracy. It’s a good pre-screening tool but a hiring decision should never be based on database hits until they have been verified. Information from this search may be partial or complete and may require independent verification.
- Nationwide Criminal Database Search
This search covers multiple jurisdictions across the country. However, there are no laws or regulations requiring courts to upload records to a nationwide criminal database and no laws or regulations requiring how frequently they upload records, if they do participate. Any “hits” should be independently verified by ordering the criminal record from the originating court, to ensure complete accuracy. It’s a good pre-screening tool but a hiring decision should never be based on a database hit until they have been verified. . Information from this search may be partial or completeand may require independent verification.
- Federal Crimes Search
This search will reveal crimes committed against the United States, which are referred to as federal crimes. Again, this is a database search and any hits should be independently verified by accessing the criminal record on file with the originating U.S. District Court. . Information from this search may be partial or complete.
Verifying criminal record accuracy
When attempting a criminal record check without support from trained professionals, it can be difficult to determine if the information is accurate or even legally permissible to us. This creates an additional burden because you want to be certain that your hiring decision is based on reliable information.
Some restrictions may apply
State laws differ on what kinds of information can be used to make a hiring decision and how far back you can search. Violating these laws can create serious legal exposure for your company. Using an experienced background screening company to access criminal records will greatly reduce this risk. They will:
- Recommend a screening package specifically tailored to your needs.
- Advise you on compliance issues, though you should consult an attorney for any legal advice pertaining to background checks.
- Crosscheck different data sources to maximize data accuracy.
- Exclude unreliable or unauthorized information from a final report.
- Confirm that any information gathered is (or is not) related to the applicant.
Conducting a criminal records check on potential hires is critical. If you want to make the safest hires, and minimize your legal exposure, you should use the services of a professional background screening company. They are most qualified to access the right information quickly, saving you time and money, and protecting you from legal jeopardy.