Criminal Record Caveats and Limitations

Posted on by admin | in Background Check


We receive many inquires surrounding criminal records, availability and accessibility. Below is a brief explanation of US criminal records.

If applicant Smith was arrested and charged with a criminal offense in Cook County Illinois,
the records for the case (disposition/closed case) would be recorded at the county level where the charge originated and then sent to state repository.
If applicant Smith was charged on the local level (local ordinance) the records would be maintained at the local jurisdiction where the offense took place (i.e. City of Chicago) .
If applicant Smith was charged with a federal crime, the case/disposition would be recorded at the federal district court (USA vs. Smith).
The federal records are usually stored for 5-6 yrs and then sent to the (FRC) Federal Records Center. After 20 years,
the records are transferred from the (FRC) to the (NARA) National Archives and Records Administration.
Each federal US district has its own transfer cycle and may differ from listed.

  • State Charge (State of IL. vs. John Smith) Records stored at county/state
  • Local Ordinance Charge (City of Chicago vs. John Smith) Records stored at local police agency
  • Federal Charge (U.S.A. vs. John Smith) Records stored at federal district
County/State County/State Court On-site/Database/Written
Local Ordinance/Municipal Local Police Agency On-site/Written
Federal US Federal District Court On-site/Database/Written

For purposes of childcare screening, we recommend the county criminal search because it provides the most up-to-date record.
For comprehensive backgrounds the search should include applicant’s last known county of residence, county of employment/education and surrounding collar counties.
The statewide criminal search should be a secondary or a supplemental search, as it provides a wider geographic focus but may not be as up-to-date
(some states update their records annually/bi-annually or have no repository)

The federal government, (FBI) maintains a database, (NCIC) on nationwide arrests and dispositions.
The applicant’s fingerprints are required to complete this type of search and there must be a requirement by statute. The search is comprehensive however there
are limitations and time restrictions. The turn-around time for results sometimes takes 3-6 months, which may place an individual in a position they should not be in.
Live Scan (electronic fingerprint submission) has made the turn-around time faster, however there still may be delays. State licensed childcare centers typically
offer new employees a conditional offer of employment pending the result of the search. This practice may place an applicant with a criminal record in a
position for 3-6 months and it won’t be discovered unless other criminal record searches are completed. Other delays may be from unclassifiable fingerprints.
If the applicant’s fingerprints are not “classifiable” or poorly taken, the applicant will have to re-submit and go through the process again.
Still another limitation is most police agencies do not fingerprint every arrestee. Some jurisdictions do not fingerprint for DUI,
driving while license suspended/revoked and other misdemeanor offenses (this is why it is very important to check and verify an applicant’s driving record).
Most local municipal police agencies offer this service for a fee.

The system is not perfect as there are limitations and many additional restrictions surrounding criminal records, maintenance and accessibility.
Some jurisdictions require a notarized release while others only maintain data for a certain period of time. Criminal records must be searched from several
jurisdictions in order to complete a thorough and comprehensive pre-employment background check. Criminal records that are generally not available are juvenile records,
records that have been sealed by a court and expunged records.

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