In the United States, criminal records are considered public record. In general, most, if not all, criminal records are available through public records, but there are a few caveats to this that are described in more detail below.
Types of Criminal Records Available through Public Records
- Felony – A felony is the most serious class of offense throughout the United States.
- Misdemeanor – A misdemeanor is a criminal offense that is less serious than a felony and more serious than an infraction.
- Infraction – An infraction is a violation of an administrative regulation, an ordinance, a municipal code, and, in some jurisdictions, a state or local traffic rule.
- Arrest record – An arrest record is the recorded documentation illustrating an individual’s criminal history in the event that the individual has been charged, but not necessarily convicted, of a crime.
Types of Records Not Available through Public Records
- Records relating to criminal activity for anyone under the age of 18 (due to privacy laws related to minors)
- Records that have been expunged, sealed, or otherwise cleared by the court
Access to Criminal Records through Public Records
Access to criminal records varies by state. For example, in some counties felony and misdemeanor records are maintained in a combined index, while in others felonies and misdemeanor records must be checked separately. In other states, infractions may be handled at local town courts.
In New York, for example, criminal records can be filed in the Supreme Court, District Court, Criminal Courts of the City of New York, or town, city or village courts, depending on the level of offense.
Arrest records, on the other hand, are typically held with law enforcement agencies and can also be included with court filings if formal charges are filed. The key distinction here is that individuals can be arrested, but not formally charged with a criminal offense. In this case, the local law enforcement agency may be the only place to access the record.