Tag Archives: False Positives

Error in Criminal Database Search during Background Check Falsely Labels Candidate a Crook

By  Thomas Ahearn, ESR News Blog

A story from south Florida demonstrates how criminal results found in database searches during background checks may be incorrect and the problems and embarrassment that can result from such mistakes.

According to a report on NBCMiami.com, a candidate running for Cooper City, FL commission named David Nall was falsely labeled a criminal after a required background check database search erroneously stated that he had been arrested for credit card fraud in 1987.

Due to a recently passed ordinance, a background check on all nine candidates was conducted by City Hall, NBCMiami.com reports, and although City Hall never published the results of the background checks, they were released to five parties – including the Mayor’s Office – who requested them.

By the time Nall – who had no criminal record in a subsequent Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) check – was made aware of the mistake on his background check, supporters of his opponent’s campaign had already gone door-to-door with the false report and spread news of his supposedly crooked past through the small town, according to NBCMiami.com. Nall even told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that that his ten-year-old daughter even asked him if he was a criminal.

NBCMiami.com also reports Cooper City blamed the incident on a defect in the database of the background check vendor,   and posted a note on the City Hall website saying Nall had a clean record and apologized for releasing false information about him:


Please be advised that pursuant City Commission Resolution 10-8-4, as adopted on August 17, 2010, the City attempted to access a criminal history record check for all City Commission candidates for the November 2, 2010 City election. However, because of a defect in a portion of the criminal history record search data base, inaccurate information was received by the City (and made available for public inspection) mistakenly suggesting that District 2 Commission candidate David A. Nall had a criminal record from a 1987 matter. As a result of a prompt objection from Candidate Nall, the City immediately examined the matter further and has determined that the criminal history report received by the City was inaccurate and that there is no verification that any criminal violation ever occurred. Accordingly, please be advised that based upon reliable FDLE data, Candidate Nall has a clean (no criminal record) criminal history background check under the terms of Resolution 10-8-4. The City respectfully apologizes for this incident.

Based upon this news story, it appears the false accusation stemmed from a database search as part of a background check. As noted in numerous articles from Employment Screening Resources (ESR), such database searches can easily result in a “false positive,” meaning a person is incorrectly labeled a criminal when they are not. ESR has a policy of always checking the results of any database “hit” at the country courthouse level.

For more information on databases searches, read “Criminal Databases & Pre-Employment Screening: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” which investigates all aspects of criminal database searches.

  • The Good: Criminal records database searches are valuable because they cover a much larger geographical area than traditional searches, which are run at the county level. Since there are more than 3,200 jurisdictions in America, not all courts can be checked on-site.
  • The Bad: Despite their value, criminal records databases have serious flaws, including incomplete records, name variations, and untimely information. Also keep in mind that database checks by private screening firms are NOT FBI records. 
  • The Ugly: Inaccuracy is only one pitfall of national criminal database searches. They also make employers vulnerable to a number of legal landmines, especially when it comes to confirming if the record is current and accurate and even belongs to the applicant. 

The article can be found at http://www.esrcheck.com/articles/Criminal_Databases.php. For more information on background checks and database searches, visit Employment Screening Resources (ESR) at http://www.ESRcheck.com.