In modern society, criminal and arrest records are important documents that are used in a wide variety of scenarios. These documents, which reveal a person’s history with law enforcement and the judicial system, can impact housing, employment, lending, firearms sales and many other areas of life. Due to their high degree of importance, it is good to know exactly what information these records provide, who looks at them and how to search for them yourself. This article can help you understand all of these things.
What is a criminal record?
A criminal record is essentially a history of a person’s documented violations of the law, for which they were found guilty. The crimes that are listed on a criminal record can vary significantly in terms of severity. For example, a person’s criminal record could have petty theft as well as serious felonies such as arson, rape or homicide.
In addition to a person’s history with violations of the law, criminal records also contain other information, such as identification details like name, age, driver’s license number and birth date. Furthermore, a criminal record will also contain information such as known addresses, previous arrests or warrants, federal or state bankruptcies or tax liens, known relatives, known owned properties, birthmarks, tattoos, scars (used for identification purposes), known relatives and marriage history.
The exact information that is on a criminal record varies slightly from state to state. For example, some states file minor traffic violations such as parking or speeding tickets separately, and do not include them in criminal records. But other states do. However, significant violations of the law will be included on criminal records from every state. Police departments and other law enforcement agencies are responsible for keeping criminal records on file.
What is an arrest record?
An arrest record is very similar to a criminal record in that they both provide a history of a person’s encounters with law enforcement and violations of the law. However, unlike criminal records, arrest records do not only contain crimes that the person was actually convicted of. Instead, arrest records contain a history of all of the person’s confrontations (or significant criminal encounters with law enforcement).
This includes both warrantless arrests and arrests where there was an arrest warrant. It even includes arrests where there were no charges brought against the person, or where they were found not guilty of the accused crime.
Arrest records also contain information such as photographs, fingerprints, identifying marks like tattoos, criminal charges, race, social security number, weight, height, results of prior arrests, and any aliases or different names used. Criminal convictions also appear on arrest records in addition to appearing on criminal records.
What crimes will lead to a criminal record?
In general, criminal records are primarily composed of misdemeanors and felonies. Misdemeanors are crimes that are considered less serious and typically have a maximum jail sentence of one year, or a maximum fine limit of $1,000. Misdemeanors can include crimes such as public intoxication, vandalism, disorderly conduct and other lesser offenses.
Although misdemeanors are not anywhere near as serious as felony crimes, they still are placed on a person’s criminal record if they are found guilty of them. However, if a person is arrested and tried for a misdemeanor, and is found not guilty, then the misdemeanor offense will not be put on the person’s criminal record.
Felonies are crimes that are considered much more serious. In fact, felony crimes include all of the most serious crimes that are listed in the criminal justice system. These crimes can include burglary, kidnapping, grand theft and others. Felony crimes have a minimum prison sentence of one year.
Some crimes can be either a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the severity of the particular case. For example, theft can either be a misdemeanor or a felony. Its classification depends on the amount of money stolen, and this amount can vary from state to state. However, theft is typically classified as “grand theft” if the value of the property stolen is over $500 to $1,000 (depending on the jurisdiction).
DUIs are another crime that can be classified as either a misdemeanor or a felony. For a first offense, it is often classified as a misdemeanor. For a second offense, it is often classified as a felony.
Infractions, which are extremely minor violations of the law, are generally not considered to be crimes and often don’t appear on criminal records. Examples of infractions include driving with a taillight out, or not stopping at a stop sign.
How Criminal Records Are Used
Criminal records are often used in background checks performed by people who have an interest in knowing a person’s criminal history. People who may be interested in knowing this information include employers, landlords, lenders, business partners, firearms dealers, and even law enforcement officers or agencies.
However, criminal records are technically public information. This means that anyone can have their criminal record searched. People who want to search for criminal records can do it by themselves, or use the services of a professional background checking company, usually for a fee.
To judge their character, employers, landlords, lenders and business partners generally use criminal records to evaluate the person with whom they may be entering into a contract.. People who have criminal records, especially criminal records with felonies, are often seen as less desirable to employ, rent to, lend to or go into business with. This is because a significant criminal history can make them seem much less trustworthy.
Firearms dealers do background checks on criminal records because some criminal convictions can bar a person from being able to legally purchase a firearm. For example, if a person has been convicted of any felony, then they are not legally allowed to purchase or own a firearm. The same is true for those who have been convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence charge within a certain amount of time.
Law enforcement agencies will often use criminal records if they are doing police work such as conducting an investigation on a suspect of a crime. Criminal records can also be checked when a person is applying for a visa for immigration purposes, is applying for a passport, when a person is being evaluated for security clearance for a government position, or for several other reasons.
How Arrest Records Can Be Used
Arrest records are also considered public information, and they are commonly used for background checking purposes in the same way that criminal records are used. However, arrest records only show if a person has been arrested, not convicted. This makes them significantly less useful than criminal records as a means of character evaluation.
Many innocent people are arrested and then proven innocent in a court of law. So, just because a person may have an arrest record does not mean that they are a criminal. In fact, the person could be a completely law-abiding citizen who was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Due to this fact, criminal records are viewed as a more important source when performing background checks.
However, it is common for law enforcement officers and agencies to view arrest records if they are investigating someone or are about to arrest someone. However, arrest records cannot be used to disqualify someone from purchasing a firearm like criminal records can. This is because an arrest does not equate to a conviction, nor to guilt.
How to for Search Criminal Records Online
There are a number of different ways in which criminal records can be searched for and accessed online. (Anyone can do this since these records are public.) To perform a criminal record search, you can search for them yourself through background checking websites or through state court systems. You can also use professional background checking companies.
Professional background checking companies can be preferable for landlords, employers, lenders, firearms dealers and business partners who will potentially enter into legally binding contracts with the person of interest, or sell them a dangerous weapon. The reason is because background checking companies perform background checks as a line of work and are much more likely to know the ins and outs of the system than an ordinary person would. This can increase accuracy and reduce mistakes.
How to Avoid a Criminal Record
The best way to avoid a criminal record is simply to avoid participating in criminal activity. If you participate in criminal activity, then there is a good chance that you could be caught, arrested, tried and convicted. Once this happens, there is often no going back. You will likely have a criminal record unless the conviction gets expunged from your record for some reason.
Even if the crime that you commit is a misdemeanor, it can still result in you having a criminal record. For example, if you get a DUI conviction, then this will appear on a criminal record. However, there are some cases where a criminal record can be avoided.
Diversion is one method through which a criminal record can be avoided. Diversion is when a criminal case is postponed until some point in the future, such as one year later. During that period of time, the accused criminal will have an opportunity to make restitution to their victims, pay fines and court fees, perform community service, go to counseling, and do anything else required by the prosecutor. If the defendant successfully does these things, then the case can be dismissed and the defendant will not have a criminal record. Diversion is only available for certain cases.
Alternative sentencing is another method by which a criminal record can sometimes be avoided. However, this is not always the case. With alternative sentencing, a criminal defendant must plead guilty. Then the judge will provide an alternative sentence, such as house arrest, community service or work release. When this happens, a criminal record can sometimes be dropped.
Victim compromise programs are a third way in which criminal records can occasionally be avoided. In a victim compromise program, a criminal defendant agrees to provide financial reimbursement to the victim for the crime in exchange for a dismissal of charges. This usually only occurs for nonviolent misdemeanor charges, such as petty theft.
What to Do About Your Arrest Record
Even if you had your charges dropped, or were not convicted of your accused crime, your arrest record is likely still in the public domain. This means that a quick Google search could bring it up.
Having an arrest record can impact employment possibilities, lending opportunities and other areas of life. So, many people attempt to get rid of their arrest records. To do so, there are several options.
The first option is to have your arrest record sealed. When an arrest record is sealed, it is removed from the public domain. This means that employers, landlords or other people who are not law enforcement or specific government agencies will not be able to have access to this record. Only select people would. So, getting your arrest record sealed is essentially like having it erased. However, it still will exist and be filed with law enforcement.
The second option to remove an arrest record from the public domain is to have it expunged. When an arrest record is expunged, this essentially means it is removed. After expungement, neither government officials nor people in the private sector will have access to the file. For all intents and purposes, it will be as if you were never arrested. Some states even allow people who have had their arrest records expunged to legally deny having ever been arrested to law enforcement officials.
However, to get your arrest record sealed or expunged, you must be eligible and you must apply to the court. This can include filing the proper paperwork and sometimes even getting an attorney to help you if the expungement involves complexities. Every state has different laws that determine eligibility for expungement. So, you will have to comply with all state laws and court regulations in order for there to be a chance of having your arrest record expunged.
If you succeed, then your arrest record will essentially disappear, and it will be as if you were never arrested in the first place. This is highly beneficial and desirable for most people.
How to Get Your Criminal Record Expunged
In order to get a particular conviction expunged from your criminal record, you will have to first find out if it is eligible for expungement. You can do this by checking with your local county criminal court.
Many jurisdictions will not allow the expungement of any felony crimes. However, many misdemeanors may be eligible for expungement. Once you find out if your particular crime is eligible, you can then file a “motion for expungement” with the court. Some people hire attorneys for this process to give them the best possible chance of achieving expungement. However, it is not necessary to hire an attorney; you can do it own your own in most cases.
Your motion will then be processed by the court. If the court approves, you can then have a particular conviction, or convictions, expunged from your criminal record. If there's nothing else on your criminal record apart from the already expunged conviction(s), your record will become clean again.