Criminal history searches are the heart of background screening, with widespread use among most employers. According to the 2020 Professional Background Screening Association (PBSA) survey, 93 percent of surveyed employers said they include national criminal database searches in their criminal background screening. Eighty-five percent said they used some form of state, county, or local searches for some or all employees.

As the survey highlighted, there are many available criminal background check options. Before you make a selection for your organization, you need to understand the various types and how they differ.

Types of Criminal Background Checks

Contrary to what some may believe, there is no single database or public records search capable of providing the full picture of a candidate’s criminal history. Therefore, it’s best to develop a comprehensive background screening program and draw upon a variety of criminal records searches and sources suited to meet your needs.

The search parameter or location (federal, state, county, and so forth) is not the only differentiator among the many types of criminal background checks. Searches also vary by the type of violation they cover and the time it takes to complete them. Here are the types of criminal records and court searches you can conduct with a background check, and the important differences between them.

County court records search

County court searches look for records of convictions or pending criminal cases at the county level, from at least the past seven years. In many ways, county court searches form the backbone of criminal background checks, because they cover criminal actions in the candidate’s county of residence and can expand to check a candidate’s prior county or counties of residence. County court searches can also be combined with many other searches, for example, a state search for candidates with multi-state address histories.

Federal court records search

This search seeks felony and misdemeanor records within U.S. federal district court files, including open arrest warrants, charges, pleas, dispositions, and sentences. Federal court searches are not a catch-all, because they only contain criminal cases related to violations of federal law, not violations of state laws (which are recorded in county courts). Since a candidate could possibly have court and federal criminal court records, it often makes sense to combine a county court search with a federal court records search.

The federal court system is broad, with 94 separate federal court districts, so you’ll also need to decide the parameters of your search. You can choose to search a single district based on a candidate’s address history, or search all 94 districts. Keep in mind that searching all 94 districts may provide a more complete result, but it will also likely increase the turnaround time.

CrimeSweep state database search

A CrimeSweep state database search, which is Corporate Screening’s own state database software, can provide insights about convictions outside of a candidate’s home or work state. This search provides additional coverage beyond a single or multi-county court records search, and it helps you uncover any potential criminal records for state law violations across one or more states.

CrimeSweep sex offender search

The CrimeSweep sex offender search checks a database compiled from registries in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, as well as several tribal land registries. This search is essential for hires working with vulnerable populations, including children, the elderly, and those who are ill. It is also beneficial when you want to search for sex offender convictions in areas other than where the candidate lives, for example, where he or she worked or went to school.

CrimeSweep national search

A CrimeSweep national search checks a range of databases for county, state, and federal entities, as well as incarceration and law enforcement records. This search increases your chances of uncovering criminal records, because it checks criminal records sources outside of the county and federal court systems.

Fingerprint search

Fingerprinting cross-checks candidate fingerprints against a database of criminal fingerprints, but like other checks, it is not all-inclusive. The repositories housing nationwide fingerprint data are not 1oo percent up-to-date and may not contain every criminal case associated with a person. The main types of fingerprinting methods include electronic fingerprinting and fingerprint criminal record research, which can fit your needs for budget, turnaround time, and automation.

In some cases, federal or state requirements dictate when individuals in certain positions must be fingerprinted, such as truck drivers and law enforcement officers. Other positions requiring pre-employment fingerprinting include those involving work with the ill, elderly, or children. Absent a legal requirement, fingerprinting can still make sense for your organization because it can turn up arrests or other past fingerprint activity that may not be revealed in a county, state, or federal court search.

Physical court search 

A physical court search is not a type of criminal background check, per se. Rather, it is a method of conducting or verifying court search data. Because a physical court search helps to verify criminal record “hits” from a criminal records database search, it is an essential resource in your criminal background check toolkit.

What’s the Best Background Check for Your Organization?

With a solid understanding of these different types of criminal background checks, you can make a more informed decision about which ones make the most sense for your organization. 

Want to learn more about which criminal background checks are right for your organization? Read article two of this series.

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