County Court Criminal Record Searches
ESR performs a primary source jurisdiction hand search of court records in any of the 3,000 plus counties in the United States. Court level access to these records provides the most up-to-date and compliant information possible. Only primary source courthouse searches or government maintained courthouse equivalent sources are used in report preparation. Cases held at the county level include felonies and misdemeanors as well as criminal traffic offenses.
Contrary to popular perception, criminal records are not available by computer nationwide. The FBI database (NCIC) is restricted to employers who have specific governmental authorization, and even that search is subject to various errors. For private employers, the search must be conducted by examining the public records at each individual county courthouse that is potentially relevant. There are over 3,200 courthouses in the US. As with any event that depends upon human accuracy, there is always the possibility of error. In some courts, the court clerk conducts the search and the accuracy depends upon the court clerk.
In addition, some county courts charge an access fee for criminal records ranging from a few dollars to an additional state imposed fee of $65 (subject to change) in New York for a state provided statewide search. It is important to understand that private employers can only obtain public records, which typically means a record of a court case that has been filed against a consumer. Arrests or cases not resulting in a public record will not be available. In addition, there are numerous laws that limit what a screening firm can report to an employer. Contact ESR for more information. If a criminal record is located, ESR goes through extensive procedures to ensure that the information is complete, accurate, and up to date, reportable under appropriate laws, and applies to your applicant. Only primary source, on-site courthouse searches, or government maintained courthouse equivalent sources are used in report preparation. An ESR report will include information on the Court, identifiers to show the relationship between the criminal matter and a consumer, and pertinent details about the offense.
However, an employer must make certain they understand all of the rules and limitations about the fair, appropriate, and non-discriminatory use of criminal records. A 2012 Guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has laid out in detail the process employers should utilize in order to make sure that criminal records are used fairly. ESR makes extensive material available to clients on the fair and proper use of criminal records. Under no circumstances can an employer automatically reject applicant on the basis of a criminal record.
State Level Criminal Record Searches
ESR performs state based criminal record searches where available directly from the agency legislatively designated to maintain those records. It is important to note that there are only a few states that meet the best practice standard of court house equivalency largely due to state records being incomplete, not having identifiers, or there not being updated at least on a monthly basis. Where state records are not court house equivalent, they are suitable for expanding the level of due diligence but not sufficient as a stand alone search.
ESR offers state specific searches that employers can consider. Surcharges and special requirements are as noted but are subject to change without notice. Please keep in mind that these searches are a supplemental tool to county court searches. As with all databases searches, there can be issues as to timeliness, completeness and accuracy. However, these state record searches can be a valuable addition to an employers overall due diligence. In addition, database searches are subject to both “false negatives” and “false positives.” A “false positive” for example can be caused when there is a case of identity theft, and a person commits the crime under a stolen identity. Unless otherwise noted, the average turnaround time is 24-48 hours. Some states discount searches for qualified volunteer organizations. Some states require special forms or that forms be mailed. All details subject to change without notice.
Where a database is not the functional equivalent of going to the courthouse, ESR will re-verify the information by a courthouse search. These are searches that can be run in addition to the ESR National Multi-Jurisdictional database search as well. Some states require a notarize release or fingerprints and there can be an undue waiting time. Surcharges include both fees charged by some states and/or as special access costs.
Federal Criminal Record Searches
ESR performs its federal criminal and civil records searches through the federal judiciary’s Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER), an electronic access service that allows ESR to obtain case and docket information from federal appellate, district, and bankruptcy courts via the Internet. The primary actions held at this level include securities and tax law violations, immigration, weapons, interstate drug crimes, civil rights violations, and civil cases filed at the federal level. ESR provides direct primary source information from all 94 Federal district courts.