How to Execute a Thorough Criminal Background Check
There are many reasons why you may want to conduct a criminal background check. In some cases, you may need to access your own criminal record, either out of curiosity or because you need the record in order to apply for a certain position or document, such as an overseas visa. In other cases, you may have to search the criminal background of another person, such as if you are considering that person for employment or for a private school position. The way you access criminal records varies widely depending on your state and county and whether you are searching for federal, state, or local records. Below is simply a general guideline for searching criminal records.
Important: Know the law
There are a number of federal and state laws that restrict how you are allowed to use another person's criminal record. Federal law, for example, requires that you gain consent from job applicants to perform a criminal background check. State laws can be even more restrictive. Some states, for example, prohibit background checks from being performed until after a conditional job offer has been made. Know the laws concerning criminal background checks in your own state before performing one.
Federal background checks
You can request your own Identity History Summary from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which is the federal version of a criminal record. To do this you will need to fill out an application form, send in an original copy of your fingerprints (this can be done through your local sheriff or law enforcement agency), and pay a fee. Mail the documents to the FBI. You can only request your own Identity History Summary and not someone else's.
To obtain somebody else's federal criminal record is a little more complicated. First, you can check with the clerk of courts at a federal courthouse. The clerk of courts can help you find public records, including arrests and convictions, of individuals who were tried at that courthouse. You will need at least the person's name, birth date, and possibly further information to perform this search. You may also have to visit multiple courthouses if the person was charged or convicted in different states or localities.
The federal government also has online databases, including the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) and the National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW). PACER is a pay website that gives you access to docket information from federal courts. NSOPW, meanwhile, allows you to search for individuals who have been convicted of sex crimes.
Local and state background checks
If you are looking for local or state records then you may want to start off by contacting your local police department. They can usually help you find the criminal records of those who have been arrested or convicted within their jurisdictions. The laws for accessing criminal records, however, vary greatly from state to state. In some states you will need the consent of the person you are performing the background check on. Also, while in some counties and states a criminal background check can only be performed in person, in others online databases have been set up to allow you to search for records from your own computer. Learn about your own state's laws before conducting any background check.
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