Background Check FAQs – Criminal and Offense History Searches

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FAQ criminal search

Some of the most common questions we’re asked by candidates have to do with public records searches (more specifically criminal and offense history searches), and we get it. The stakes are high, and when the process seems unclear, it’s natural to be concerned. We’ve got you covered. Below are some of our most frequently-asked questions about this kind of search and by the time you’re done reading, you’ll have a better understanding of what goes into one of these searches— and hopefully less anxiety about your background check. After all, running these searches isn’t about ruining someone’s prospects, but about providing YOU and your colleagues with a safer work environment.

How do background check companies do criminal history searches?

Background check companies like HireRight usually search a variety of sources, such as local, county, statewide and federal sources of information, as available. While there may be many possible sources, the actual ones used will depend on the specific searches that your prospective employer has ordered.

County court records are one of the most common sources for criminal and offense history searches. While some county courts may make their records available for online searches, approximately 30% of U.S. courthouses require in-person direct access. So background check companies— such as HireRight, which performs real-time criminal records searches— maintain a network of court runners to facilitate in-person courthouse record searches in these jurisdictions. As you can imagine, conducting such in-person searches takes time, but allows screening companies to obtain the most accurate and up-to-date information available from the court

How far back do they go?

This can get a little complicated. First, HireRight’s customers can specify how far back they want the search to go, with seven years being the most common choice, but other options include 10 years as well as “unlimited” – which searches for all records that are reasonably available.

Once the search is performed, the actual records that appear on the report will depend on both how far back the search went and any applicable legal restrictions that may. In most states, background check companies can report convictions of crimes indefinitely; however, there are several states that limit the reporting of convictions to seven years. The determination of whether a record is within the seven year period looks at a number of factors, including the date of conviction, release or parole. These same factors— plus periods of probation— are also considered by many screening companies when determining whether to report a conviction record that may legally reported indefinitely, but the client has requested a specific (e.g., seven year) time frame.

With respect to non-convictions, generally background check companies can’t report anything that is more than seven years old (such as non-pending records of arrest, criminal case dismissals, etc.).  In a few states, however, non-convictions can’t be reported at all.

Tl;dr: It depends a lot on where you live, where your offenses occurred, and what specifically the company you applied for wants to see, but generally the rule is seven years back for non-convictions and as far back as necessary for convictions.

Will that speeding ticket I got when I was a minor show up?

This is extremely unlikely to show up on a criminal history search. Your typical speeding ticket is generally considered a minor traffic offense. These records are typically housed in lower level courts that are not typically searched by screening companies and will not show up on your criminal record, regardless of how old you were when the ticket was incurred. Was the nature of this ticket so egregious that a criminal judge decided to have you charged as an adult for criminal offenses? If not, don’t sweat it.

That said, some companies do run MVR (motor vehicle record) checks, in which case a speeding ticket that was incurred during the time frame reported (anywhere from 3-10 years, depending on your state) might show up on the MVR report.

What if the worst happens and a company reports crimes that I didn’t commit?

First off, it’s important to note that there are laws in place specifically to minimize this possibility, and most background check companies like HireRight typically have detailed procedures in place to help accurately match records to the individuals they are screening.

But what if it does happen? This is one of the most serious issues that any background check company faces because the stakes for candidates are so very high. The good news is that, even if this does happen, you have the right to dispute the information so that a reinvestigation is conducted and inaccurate information is corrected.

The Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) states that background check companies must complete reinvestigations within thirty days (45 days in some situations) and correct information that was reported inaccurately.

We understand that when your job is at stake, background checks can feel like a cloak-and-dagger mystery, but with a little transparency companies like HireRight can help lift the fog.

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Kasey Schroer

Kasey Schroer is Marketing Coordinator with GIS | HireRight, writing and editing external communications - including press releases, newsletters, whitepapers, emails, flyers, ads, video scripts, and web content. She has been with the company for 5 years.

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