Most employers today use background screening to help make good decisions in hiring or other employment issues, and criminal background is one of the most important factors to consider.
Getting this information—and getting it right—is a lot more challenging than you might think.
The U.S. has thousands of distinct and sometimes overlapping jurisdictions where arrests are made, charges are filed and adjudicated, and sentences are served.
The output of all these jurisdictions is a typically American mosaic of information, with every one of thousands of entities able to report criminal background history in the way they think best. The timing of the reports, definitions of crimes and sentences, organization of the data, and the rules for accessing it vary from place to place.
The vast majority of crimes are violations of state and local laws, and they are adjudicated through local court systems. There are over 3,300 local jurisdictions in the United States, and more than 7,000 significant courts where public criminal background data exists. These jurisdictions end up creating databases (both digital and archival) that contain information about individuals who have been arrested, tried, and convicted (or not) for crimes ranging from violent felonies to low level misdemeanors.
No serious criminal background check can fail to search this data, but there is no single, consistent database to use.
Why are we telling you this?
It’s awfully tempting to turn to one of those online providers who claim to have a “national crime database” or established access to local data. You should be wary of simple solutions to this very complex issue.
An effective local criminal background search requires a professional background researcher to:
- Understand the court structure for the state where the search is being done.
- Be alert to the possibility that criminal background data about your applicant may exist in more than one jurisdiction or courthouse.
- Access only the authoritative source in each jurisdiction, and be prepared to use either digital or in-person checks of the records. (The authoritative sources and their level of technology vary by jurisdiction.)
- Know what’s reportable and what’s not, in order to keep you out of trouble.
Keep in mind there is no substitute for due diligence in helping make your hiring process more effective. If criminal background history is part of the employment process, don’t let your background screening company shortcut the local records search.