An Introduction to Criminal Records

An Introduction to Criminal Records

Individual safety is a fundamental right of the citizens of this country. Companies are not allowed to put harmful chemicals in foods. Public schools ban guns. Pharmaceutical companies need to go through rigorous testing before putting their medicines on the market; these are all designed to ensure that you don’t have to constantly worry about your own safety, and can trust in the people and businesses around you.

Criminal records have become an important part of keeping you safe. These records are used in things like background checks for employers and lending agencies, as well as accessed through public records in order to ensure that an individual in your life is safe and trustworthy.

History of Criminal Records

Criminal records are a type of public record, and public records have been a part of civilized culture for thousands of years. In the United States, the Freedom of Information Act, signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966, was the first major legislation regarding release of government collected information. This was followed up by the Privacy Act of1974, which made it acceptable for individually identifiable information to be released provided it did not breach the privacy of the individual.

It is within these laws that the public gained greater access to things like criminal histories, in the form of publicly accessible criminal records. The Freedom of Information, however, was originally only applicable to the federal government, rather than at a state or city level. So from there, each individual state began to submit their own public records laws, which limit (or in some cases expand) the amount of information included in criminal records, including whether or not any of these records can be sealed or hidden for any reason. Most criminal histories are subjected to state law, rather than federal law, so what will or will not be released as public record is subjected to the current state law.

1996 was the first year that criminal records became available in electronic form. Since then, most state governments have placed all available criminal history information online.

Who Compiles These Criminal Histories?

Criminal records are compiled by every law enforcement agency on a local, state, and federal level. Any and all criminal histories are made accessible to public record, with the exception of most juvenile histories (youth that are not convicted of a crime as adults). There are special cases where a piece of information may be excluded from public record, but in general these criminal records will contain all information related to criminal histories.

What Information is Included in Criminal Records?

Criminal records contain several different types of information. Most states include any and all information about past convictions (excluding juvenile criminal histories). Most states also include relevant information that isn’t protected under state privacy law, including the results of the criminal investigation, some trial information, etc. Transcripts of the trial are often made public as well.

An Introduction to Criminal Records

What is Excluded From Public Record?

Although most information regarding criminal records is released, there are still several types of information that are excluded or exempted from criminal records.

One example is information regarding ongoing investigations. State and local governments have decided that it is important to hide ongoing investigation records in order to allow law enforcement to do their jobs effectively. The concern is that possible suspects may hide or alter evidence if they find that it links them to the crime. Other information that may not be included in criminal records includes:

  • General Exclusions – Some states will not release information on individuals with expunged records, or those that may be convicted of minor crimes that are not considered a matter of public record.
  • Possibly Biases – Any information that may prevent someone from receiving a fair trial may also be excluded from public record, as the right to a fair trial is considered paramount over the release of that information.
  • Sources – Confidential sources and those in a witness protection program may have their information excluded from public records, as could any information that may result in a direct threat to the safety of an individual.
  • Acquittals, etc. – Although not every state hides criminal records on acquittals, many states choose to keep information private about individuals that have not been convicted of a crime. Acquittals and suspects that were never charged may not be released in criminal records.
  • State Exclusions/Exemptions/Record Sealing – Finally, some states create their own rules regarding exemptions and exclusions for certain types of criminals. Many states also have a record sealing process that some criminals may go through to keep their information hidden, although justifying a sealed record is difficult and often denied.

Criminal records contain a considerable amount of information on the criminal history of any given individual, but there are some pieces of data that may be excluded, either for the privacy of the criminal (especially when the crime is expunged or acquitted), when they may jeopardize the safety or success of an investigation, or when the individual is successful in getting his or her records sealed.

Note: Sometimes the criminal records of recent criminal cases may not be available online in states that are not prompt with releasing their public documents. The information from these states may be accessed through the public records holder in the local or state office.

What Are Criminal Records Used For?

Criminal records have a lot of value to individuals and businesses. Not only are they designed to help protect the safety of an individual, but they are often used as a barometer for trustworthiness:

  • Applicant Background ChecksThe most common usage of criminal histories is for background checks. When you apply for a new job – especially if that job consists of handling money or dealing with confidential and/or personal information, often the company will want to do a background check in order to ensure that you are someone they can trust in such a sensitive role. Many companies perform background checks on applicants as part of the application process.
  • Lending Agency Background ChecksLending agencies may also perform a background check on your criminal history before they offer you a loan. Most lending agencies want to ensure that you can be trusted to pay back the loan, and your criminal history will often give them insight into the type of borrower you will be and whether or not you can be trusted with a large sum of money. Both business and lending agency background checks may still hire or lend to someone that shows up with a criminal record depending on the crime, but these records give both of these types of companies the opportunity to learn more about the candidate.
  • Public Safety/Information QueriesFinally, another common use for criminal records is by individuals that use the records to find out more about someone in their life. It’s not uncommon to find people that are curious about the past of a friend or potential romantic partner, so these individuals look to criminal records as their way of finding out more about the person they are spending a lot of time with.

    Criminal histories may be used for many other purposes as well. News agencies may use them in reports on crimes or candidates for government office, and sometimes people may even use them to find out what happened to an old acquaintance or family member. Because they are a part of public record, there are no restrictions or limitations on the usage of these records, and many businesses and individuals find them to be an interesting and unique source of information.

How Do You Gain Access to Criminal Records?

In the past it used to be a little more difficult to access criminal records. You would need to find the local, state, or federal agency in charge of keeping track of these record and request them with various record forms.

These days it has become much easier. Finding these agencies has been made more convenient through the use of online people search programs. When the criminal records have been made publicly available, individuals interested in gaining access need to only perform a simple search and can find a considerable amount of information readily available. When the documents you need are not included in the online search, some sites offer faster methods of contacting the state and local governments in order to obtain them more quickly.

Can Anyone Access These Records?

Criminal histories are considered a matter of public record, so in almost every state, every individual is allowed access to them for any reason. There are a few states that limit access to those with certain criminal histories, but in general a business or individual can get access to any government record they need, when they need it.

An Introduction to Criminal Records

Criminal Records are An Important Part of a Free Society

Both individuals and businesses have the right to keep themselves safe at all times. Criminal records are one of the ways that that right gets put into use – allowing those that need to learn about the criminal past of an individual to gain easy access. When you need to find out about the criminal history of an applicant, potential partner, or simply someone in your life you are curious about, these public records provide a safe, effective way to access that information.

US Criminal Databases

Criminal files have always been a matter of public record, but the sheer work and time involved in researching the right records at the appropriate agency usually leaves one empty handed. However, that has all changed with the advent of electronic record keeping. Today, criminal records are as close as your home office, becoming almost immediately accessible with the help of the internet and the right search tools. This availability can help you gain access to information about potential babysitters, employees and even neighbors with a simple click of the mouse.

There are many criminal record databases available online today, but not all will provide complete or even accurate information. It is helpful to know the fundamentals about what criminal records include and how they are compiled to know whether the information you find is correct. Even with the occasional errors in the system, most people would prefer the easy, instant access of electronic records to the long, arduous process of obtaining information from government departments. This new method allows you to check any individual’s past with only a first and last name to lead the way.

Use these databases to find criminal records or to locate someone:

Criminal Records Search Tools

When beginning your criminal record search, it’s difficult to know where to start. Using our people search tools below, you can search through free crime and criminal databases, as well as free tips and advice on finding and obtaining US criminal records.

Free tips and advice:

  • Virtual Chase’s Guide to US criminal records.
  • Guide to searching criminal records Good article on the pitfalls and problems
  • Criminal record news Latest news on companies offering criminal searches

Free databases:

Criminal Record Websites and Resources

Search for US criminal records using some of the top criminal record websites available. Many of these crime database websites are free, while others incur a small cost. Regardless, all of the crime websites listed below are excellent resources that can help you with your criminal record search.

The best:

  • KnowX
  • access to local, state, regional and national criminal records

  • Autotrack


  • Corra Group background checks: While they primarily offer background checks to help screening potential mates for online dating singles, these background checks could be used by anyone with a permissable purpose.
  • Casebreakers Private eye site offers inexpensive criminal searches

Sex Offenders Criminal Records

Search by state or nationwide for sex offenders in your area. Sex offender registries are available on a national and state level, and prison and fugitive databases provide information on US wanted lists and incarcerated offenders. US criminal statistics also act as a valuable resource when searching for criminal records.


  • Sex
  • APB’s Sex Offender registry

By State:

  • Georgia Sex Offenders Database    Search by name, zip code or city Illinois
  • Connecticut
  • Michigan Sex Offenders

Prison, fugitive databases