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How to Determine Which Criminal Check is Best for Your Open Position

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When you think about background screening, criminal records may be the first thing that comes to mind. But how do you determine which criminal checks will meet your goals and protect you from risk?

In our previous blog post, we covered the different types of criminal background checks, how they are conducted, why you should do them, and how long they typically take.

In this post, we will explore the four most commonly used criminal background checks (National Criminal Records, National Sex Offender, Statewide, County, and Federal), what is and isn’t included in each one, when you might want to use them, and any FCRA compliance requirements.

What is a National Criminal Records Search?

The National Criminal Record search is one of the most commonly used checks in standard background screening packages. It searches a database that contains millions of records from thousands of sources to find felony and misdemeanor records. It’s an essential starting point for a criminal background check as it may locate records outside of where the applicant has resided.

Since this search utilizes a database, it is limited by how often and thoroughly the sources are updated. This search does not include information from non-electronic county courts or federal level crimes. For the most comprehensive and up-to-date information a county criminal search is recommended with the National Criminal Records search.

Orange Tree’s National Criminal Record database contains over 500 million records from over 1,000 sources including Department of Corrections, Administrative Offices of the Court, County Courts, Departments of Public Safety, Bureaus of Investigations, Criminal Apprehensions and Parole and Probation, County arrest data, and other warrant lists and registries.

Why should you do a National Criminal Records Check?

State and county borders are easy to cross, and people may commit a crime in a jurisdiction outside of where they live.

  • For example, let’s say your applicant has only ever lived in New York but committed a felony in Florida during a trip. If you only searched New York, you wouldn’t know about the crime they committed and could be putting your workplace at risk.
  • Rather than searching every single county or state (very costly and time-consuming),performing a national criminal records check is a great and affordable way to widen your search to find possible records outside of where your applicant has lived.
Benefits of the search: Widens the search beyond state and local jurisdictions where an applicant has lived and catches any potential criminal records that may not show up immediately or in a statewide search.
Limitations of the search: A database is an aggregation of many jurisdictions, and depending on the database your background provider uses, records may be limited by how frequently and thoroughly the sources are updated.
FCRA Compliance Requirements

Due to the nature of this search, if a record is found one of two steps need to be taken to be compliant with the FCRA.

  • Have a strict procedure in place to ensure that public record information that is reported is complete and up to date.
  • Notify the consumer that the negative information has been found and also include the name and address of the person who will be receiving the information.

For this reason, at Orange Tree, we consider a database search a record finder only. To keep our clients compliant with the FCRA, we automatically perform a confirming search at the county/state court.

What is a National Sex Offender Registry Search?

The "National Sex Offender Registry" (NSOR) helps identify if a candidate is listed as a registered sex offender. These registries contain information about persons convicted of sexual offenses and generally also includes their name, any possible address matches, and the state they are registered. All fifty states require individuals convicted of certain sex crimes to register. Those convicted of more violent crimes are typically required to remain registered for a longer period and to update their address more frequently.

Orange Tree’s NSOR service completes a search of a national database of sexual offender records from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico (including registered sex offenders).

Why should you do a National Sex Offender Check?

Early identification of potentially risky applicants is essential for any company. Still, it's particularly critical when your business entails interaction with:

  • Elderly
  • Children
  • Sick, disabled, or otherwise vulnerable individuals
  • Outside clients

A Sex Offender Registry Check can quickly identify if someone is a risk to a vulnerable population and the general public, including employees and customers.

What are the limitations of the National Sex Offender Check?

As with the NCRS, the NSOR database records are updated at various times and may not be current or complete. Additionally, despite being required to register, some sex offenders fail to do so and some states limit reportability of offenses under a certain level. That’s why it’s recommend to include a county and or statewide criminal check with the NSOR for a more complete search.

Orange Tree Insight: If a record is found by this search, it is recommended to check the state’s sex offender registry to confirm the applicant is still actively registered as a sex offender. When possible, Orange Tree also will attempt to locate the sex offense at the county/state level.

What is a County Criminal Record Check?

All felony and misdemeanor crimes (which make up the majority of crimes) are tried at local jurisdictions and filed in county courthouses. This makes this search an essential check to include in a background screening program. These records are housed in the 3,200 + counties in the U.S. and contain the most accurate and up-to-date information.

  • What’s included: all felony and misdemeanor record accessible (not “arrest only” records) including pending cases, convictions, adjudications withheld (during hold period), and active warrants.
  • What not included: non-criminal records such as traffic violations, infractions, petty (by state statute) crimes, dismissed, and any expunged/erased or deleted records.

Additionally, if a record is located the background report may include the following information:

  • Level of offense.
  • Disposition.
  • Age of record.
  • Identifiers used to match the record to the applicant.
If you have ordered criminal background checks before, you may have seen the word scope. But what is it and why should you care?

The scope of a criminal search refers to the number of names (current name, last name aliases, or all aliases) and addresses (current address, most recent previous, all address the applicant has lived in for the last 7 or 10 years, all address where they were employed and all addresses where they attended school. ) searched.

Why do names matter?

The challenge is that there is no universal method of record keeping across the U.S. county (and State) court systems. Criminal records are normally filed by name (some may have a date of birth, but rarely a social security number).

Before reporting any found records, background screening companies must:

  • Search for identifiers that are on the record match the candidate.
  • See if the record is reportable under State and Federal FCRA laws.

Records may be missed if they aren’t filed under the name searched and if the applicant has a common name (and no other identifiers), your turnaround time may be delayed. Including last name or all AKAs can help locate additional records and speed up the TAT of your search.

Why do addresses matter?

The standard time frame for background checks is 7 years. But if you’re only searching their current address, you may not be getting a “7 years of criminal history”. What if your applicant has only lived in their current address for 2 years? Any crimes they committed the previous 5 years could be missed.

How is the County Criminal Record Check Performed?

The search method depends on the county. Some counties don’t make their records available electronically, so these records must be searched manually at the county courthouse by clerks, a researcher onsite, or the using the same repositories used by the clerk.

For county records available electronically, the search can be performed online using the same databases utilized by the court clerks.

What isn’t included in a County Criminal Record Check?

The search does not cover any crimes tried at the federal district courts. Depending on the industry and position you are hiring for, you may want to include federal criminal checks as part of your screening program.

What is a Statewide Criminal Record Check?

Statewide criminal checks search state criminal repositories for criminal records. The state repositories vary by state and may include statewide repositories, state agencies, state highway patrol department, state department of corrections, and state county databases.

This search can help uncover additional records outside of the candidate’s current county. It reports all available felony and misdemeanor records. This includes convictions, deferred records, pending records, failure to appear and warrant information, as allowed by state law.

The availability and quality of this search varies by state and by how frequently the database is updated. Some states also have additional requirements such as fingerprinting or required special forms that can significantly slow down turnaround time.

Depending on the background screening company you are working with they may do a county first then add a state or do a county or statewide check.

  • Complete Statewide: Statewide criminal record repository provides information that is the same or more inclusive than a county search. Ultimately, this would translate to full statewide records for the price of a single county search.
  • Partial Statewide: Statewide criminal record repository is not inclusive of every county or not updated frequently.
How is the Statewide Criminal Record Check Performed?

Statewide checks are accessed via state repositories vary by state and may include statewide repositories, state agencies, state highway patrol department, state department of corrections, and state county databases. The search can be performed in person, by phone, via fax, online, and through a direct integration with the state.

What isn’t included in a Statewide Criminal Record Check?

Not all counties report into the state database frequently, if at all and statewide checks will not return federal records. Some county records may be missed when doing a statewide alone.

What is a Federal Criminal Record Check?

Federal laws, or statutes, are created by the United States Congress to safeguard the citizens of this country. Some criminal acts are federal offenses only and must be prosecuted in Federal District Court. More companies are considering Federal Criminal searches as standard practice for background screening. As these charges do not appear on the state or county level, a federal records search provides a more fully comprehensive view into an employees’ background by revealing higher-level, white-collar crimes and those occurring across state lines. This search is ideal for high-level positions, for employees with access to secure or financial information or for all employees in the financial or banking industry.

Federal criminal records are cases brought by the Federal government from 94 federal district courts nationwide, including:

  • White-collar crimes
  • Kidnapping
  • Fraud
  • Illegal sale of firearms
  • Embezzlement
  • Wire fraud
  • Tax evasion
  • Immigration law violations
  • Capital punishments
  • Robbery
  • Interstate drug trafficking
  • Mail fraud
How is the Federal Criminal Record Check Performed?

Orange Tree searches the U.S. district courts for federal crimes using the online U.S. Federal Government PACER record system that covers all 94 federal jurisdictions. The district in each state stores federal criminal records. The U.S. District Court for each state can have one district or may be divided into multiple districts.

What isn’t included in a Federal Criminal Record Check?

A federal criminal search will not return results on county or statewide criminal records. A county criminal search or statewide criminal search will not return results on the federal level.

Ready to get started with Criminal Background Checks?

Orange Tree Employment Screening is here to help employers like you find the best fit for their open position. You must consider the different types of criminal checks when hiring and retaining employees. This will help you choose the best background screening plan for the industry and position you are hiring for and protect you from risk!

Wondering how much a background screen costs? We cover this and more in our next post!

With over 30 years of experience, our team at Orange Tree understands the legal and financial implications of employers' hiring practices. We are committed to working with employers to design and implement a comprehensive screening program that fits their business needs. Our team can assist you every step of the way to prevent negligent hiring lawsuits.

Want to learn more about how our team can be of service to your organization? Schedule a call today.