Criminal Records: How to Search the Right Databases and Websites

criminal records

A criminal record is an official record of a person’s criminal history. Criminal history and criminal record searches are often used by potential employers, lenders etc. to assess the worthiness of an applicant.  The information included in a the record varies between countries and even between jurisdictions within a country.

In most cases, a crime record lists the non-expunged criminal offenses and may also include traffic offenses such as speeding and drunk-driving. In some countries, crime reports are limited to actual convictions (where the individual has pleaded guilty or has been proven guilty in court of law). In other countries, the criminal record includes arrests, charges dismissed, charges pending, and even charges of which the subject has been acquitted.

In the United States, the detailed records are compiled and updated on local, state, and federal levels by various law enforcement agencies. The primary goal of a criminal record is to present a comprehensive criminal history.  The reports may be used for many purposes, including identification, employment, security clearance, immigration, background checking, assistance in developing suspects in an ongoing criminal investigation, and for enhanced sentencing in criminal prosecutions.

In the United States, these compilations are unlikely to be admissible in court as proof of arrest or conviction.

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Criminal histories are maintained by law enforcement agencies in all levels of government. Local police departments, sheriffs’ offices, and specialty police agencies may maintain their own internal databases. On the state level, state police, troopers, highway patrol, correctional agencies, and other law enforcement agencies also maintain separate databases. Law enforcement agencies often share this information with other similar enforcement agencies and this information is usually made available to the public. Registered sex offenders have information about their crimes or misdemeanors readily available, and Department of Correctional Services in many states disseminate information to the public, through media such as the Internet.  Usually, the only group in society that is not subject to dissemination of recorded history is juveniles.  Some adults can also be eligible for non-disclosure of their records through the process of Record sealing or expungement.

Some states have official “statewide repositories” that contain criminal history information contributed by the various county and municipal courts within the state. These state repositories are usually accurate so long as the state requires and supervises the uploading of data from the local courts. Some states make reporting to the repository voluntary. The information obtained from these repositories can be incomplete and the use of this information has associated risks.

The federal government maintains extensive criminal histories and acts as a central repository for all agencies to report their own data.  The National Crime Information Center – NCIC is one such database. Generally, and with a very few exceptions, the records compiled by the federal government are not made available to the private sector. Some private re-sellers claim to offer an NCIC record search. In most cases these claims are fraudulent. Though NCIC records may not be available to private sector companies, they still may hold very accurate criminal records bought from other reporting agencies.

Criminal Records Resources

Following are resources for searching criminal records, doing criminal background checks, and obtaining criminal histories.  See also – Background Checks.

Run a Nationwide Search Now

Instant access to state and nationwide criminal records.  The search report includes:

  • The official case number and charge
  • Criminal offense, arrest
  • Criminal file
  • Disposition date
  • Disposition & sentence

The results are available online in seconds if the date of birth (DOB) provided and not in California or Wisconsin.  Otherwise, results are available within 24 hours.

Searching for Criminal Records, Data and Information On the Web

A background search is perhaps the most widely used tool for finding out information about people. These records are mainly accessed by law enforcement agencies and jobs that require an employment check. While you can now easily find criminal records online, old fashioned P.I. skills typically come into play to make the search more efficient.


Many websites you stumble upon advertise access they have to a nationwide database. Although their system may be vast in records, there is only one nationwide criminal database, the FBI.  The database is known as the National Crime Information Center. These records are not for the public’s eyes and can only be assessed by prominent figures of criminal justice. Gaining access to this data is strictly prohibited with severe penalties. This adheres to the party selling the records and also the party buying them. Even with that fact, a profitable black market exists with many people hosting this exclusive information.

These individuals usually have close ties to other members of the NCIC who choose to profit from the relationship.


The ability to search statewide criminal records is available in many states. Criminal records are typically accessed by the public via the state index, but can also be attained through the county. The state receives a portion of its index from the county. Without the county records, a state index may be incomplete. The best method would be to check both indexes of the state and county when looking to access criminal records.


In the past, individuals were required to be interjected into the judicial process to search criminal records. This meant that an inquiring party had to be a member of the law or a court official. Many online vendors offer on the spot searches that are derived from the court; this includes driving and criminal records. The results are not instant, usually taking anywhere from 2 to 10 business days to return. However, this method is very effective in obtaining court records and criminal records.

A few courts will conduct a free criminal record check via telephone. This information can be helpful, but not necessarily reliable. You certainly would not want to put 100% faith in a court clerk over the telephone. Courts will deliver quality information by way of written requests, though this may take weeks or even months to make it back to the requester.

These days, the best way to conduct a thorough criminal check is online. There are several websites that pull together states to provide background checks and public records for requesters. These services are great tools for searching through comprehensive state public records, including background checks, court records, criminal records, and even driving records.

In most cases the cause for a criminal search is very reasonable. Crimes are being committed on a daily basis, usually in the perpetrator’s neighborhood. Though there are some limitations, the fact that criminal records can be searched online eases a bit of the worry. As more savvy agencies learn the prosperous potential of these searches, more effective services are sure to become available for your use in due time.

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