A criminal background or criminal history check is a records search that brings up evidence of any arrests and convictions of the person being examined. These are often performed as a prerequisite to hiring an employee or renting a piece of property. Though anyone can perform a criminal history check, these searches are usually done through legal agencies or third-party brokers contracting with law enforcement in order to ensure that all applicable privacy laws are followed.
In most regions, criminal conviction or trial is a matter of public record. Unless a judge seals a trial outcome, it is usually possible to find evidence of any convictions through public sources of information, such as court records. Other reasons that a conviction might not be able to be found include if the convicted person was a minor at the time of the conviction, or a judge ordered the conviction expunged from the record following diversionary programs such as rehabilitation or community service. Arrest records may also be available for a criminal history check, but this depends on local law.
In order to perform a criminal history check, the researcher will need some personal data about the target of the search. In the United States, name, address, and Social Security number are often used to obtain criminal history data, though not all of these may be necessary. It is helpful to have more than simply a name to go on, because many people have the same name and it may become impossible to tell if the record is for the correct “John Smith.” Fingerprints are also commonly used in many regions, especially in pre-employment checks.
A criminal history check is performed through an agency, such as a bureau of public records or a private detective agency. These checks are usually performed for a fee and can give varying degrees of specificity, depending on the amount paid and local laws. Certain crimes in some areas may require registration with a freely-accessed database, which do not require a fee to use. California, for instance, has a registry for sexual offenders that allows researchers to instantly look up the name, picture, address, and criminal information of any registered offender in a given area.
Whether contraction with a third party agency or doing a search through public records, it is important to read and understand all applicable laws regarding a criminal history check. In most regions, convicted criminals who have completed their sentences have rights to privacy that cannot be infringed without a warrant. Obtaining personal data illegally may constitute a crime, and using the results of a criminal history check to harass, threaten, or blackmail a former offender is often illegal.