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Criminal Records

People may want access to criminal records for a variety of purposes. A background check may be desired on a potential date or a person hired to work with children. Many employers conduct background checks on job applicants before hiring them. Criminal records can also become an interesting part of a genealogical search, offering insight into family members that you may not have realized before.

No matter what your reason for wanting to find criminal records, there are many good resources available today. Many of these records are available to the general public through the Freedom of Information Act, while others may have restricted access due to the sensitive nature of the information inside. It is important to learn about the various types of criminal records available, and which ones offer unlimited access, if you want to ensure your public records search is as successful as possible.

Types of Criminal Records

Criminal RecordsThere are a variety of criminal records available through courts and archive offices today, and most can be broken down into the following categories:

  • Felony Records
  • Misdemeanor Records
  • Criminal Records Involving a Juvenile
  • Parole and Probation Violations
  • Arrest and Incarceration Records
  • Traffic Violations
  • Sex Offender Listings
  • Nearly all of these public records can be accessed by interested parties, but there are a few exceptions to that open access rule. Sex offender indexes are required to be made public under federal law, and each state offers this information through online public records. These listings allow interested individuals to discover whether a registered sex offender is residing near their home, office or children’s schools.

    Felony records document the most serious crimes, while misdemeanor records list lesser offenses. Parole and probation violations let you know about people who have not maintained their agreements after committing a crime. Arrest and incarceration records shed light on people who have been arrested for a crime, and those who have spent time behind bars as a result.

    Information Found in Criminal Records

    The information listed in criminal records will vary, based on the type of record and the state and court in which it was filed. Because each state is responsible for keeping their own public records, there can be inconsistency in where the files are kept and what information is included. As a general rule, criminal records will include the name of the person, the date and type of offense committed, and how the court handled the individual. Sex offender listings also include a current address for the person, so interested parties can find out if any registered sex offenders are currently living in their neighborhoods.

    Locations for Criminal Records

    Finding criminal records can be tricky business since the location of these files can vary greatly from state to state and court to court. Sometimes, you need to know the specific court where a document is filed to gain access to an official copy of the document. Fortunately, online public records searches can often provide additional information about these documents with just a name and location, allowing the researcher to pursue the search with more information at hand.

    In some states, felony and misdemeanor records are handled through a combined archive, while other states keep these records separate. Other records, such as arrest records, may be held at the law enforcement agency where the arrest took place. Sex offender registries are available at both the national and state level and can be accessed online.

    Restriction to Criminal Records Access

    While many criminal records are available for public access under the Freedom of Information Act, this is not true of all the public records found in these archives. For example, any crime that involved a person under the age of 18 is not available for public viewing. By the same token, criminal records that have been sealed or expunged are no longer accessible by the general public. Most other criminal records are accessible, although some courts require individuals to visit the court in person to gain access to the files.

    Online Criminal Records Search

    The best advancement in the area of public records searches today has been the introduction of online public records. This is particularly true in the case of criminal records that may be held at a wide range of locations. Instead of spending hours on the phone or traveling from courthouse to courthouse, those who want to gain access to these records may find them from their own home computer. Once the records are located, online public records searches usually offer information about how to retrieve copies of the documents, including the contact information for the specific office. While many online services offer free public records searches, there is usually a fee to obtain an official copy of the record, assessed by the court holding the document.