Who can Check Your Criminal History?
Criminal history, criminal background, or criminal record checks can be performed in a multitude of circumstances. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) limits the individuals who may perform a consumer report check on you. This includes criminal records, in addition to credit and employment history. Most employers use a Consumer Reporting Agency to acquire such reports. Regulated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the FCRA allows consumer reporting agencies to report arrests that go back seven years. Fortunately, some states have enacted legislation that prohibits potential employers from considering arrests that did not result in a conviction when evaluating an applicant for employment.
A consumer reporting agency is an organization that collects information on people, and then sells that information to businesses or landlords when they make an inquiry. For the most part, consumer reporting agencies collect data and maintain databases by acquiring information through paid access. The criminal record information that can be contained in this type of file are arrest records, convictions, geographic information, time served, other records maintained by law enforcement, sex offender registries, and even down to minute details like theft reports made by retail stores.
An employer will generally warn you ahead of time if they are going to perform a pre-employment background check. Usually, you will be given the opportunity to disclose any past crimes, arrests, or other legal troubles you have experienced in your past. Most experts agree, this is the time to be honest about your past. Even if you have been granted an expungement or dismissal, it may be in your best interest to disclose what you know is on your criminal record. This is especially true for professional licenses (e.g., real estate, insurance sales, etc.) that require public trust. Although an expungement may have cleaned your record, it can take years, in some cases for consumer reporting agencies to update your file.
Private citizens also have access so some criminal record data. The easiest way to access criminal records through your local government's website. California, for example, has an entire website dedicated to public record searches. The criminal portion of this site, Crime and Courts, allows users to search through all California courts, crime reports, features an inmate locator by county, allows users to search through California Supreme and Appellate Court opinions, and search for registered sex offenders.
Private investigators are also an effective way an employer or landlord can check a criminal record. PIs often have pay for subscriptions to various private and government-sponsored programs that allow them to find very personal information on individuals. Their prices are generally reasonable and they can contract with anyone, including large companies. For this reason alone, it is best advised that you disclose all known information related to your arrest and criminal record.