Hello group,
I just did an IRB search [a well-respected database for private investigators] for an individual specifically looking for criminal history. It is known that she has an arrest in 2009. It doesn’t show on the report. What other site should I check that might return what I am looking for.

The above was recently posted by a New York private investigator on a message board dedicated to members of the security and investigation business. Utilizing an online database widely used by private investigators, the investigator was unable to identify a known criminal record.

Since a licensed private investigator was confused, it probably goes without saying that other people are confused as well.

Here are few answers to help clear up the confusion:

Confusion #1: There is no central repository for federal, state, and local criminal records

While there are certain jurisdictions that sell criminal record history information to vendors who charge a fee for the public or investigators to access, most jurisdictions have little or no access to information through outside sources.

The most direct and comprehensive way to conduct a criminal record search is: 1) send someone to the local courthouse or 2) conduct a search through an official repository run by the state or local government in each individual jurisdiction that the person lived or worked.

There are no shortcuts, one-stop shops, “investigative” databases [IRB included] or other sources for this information.

Confusion #2: Conducting a criminal record history check is not as easy as pressing a button

There are over 3,000 local courthouses in the U.S. and the procedures to access these records vary.

In some cases, the only way to access the records is to send someone to the local court.  In other cases local courts offer access to records online while some states have a central repository for collecting and searching records (see How to Conduct a New York Criminal Record Search).

Confusion #3: There is no such thing as a “nationwide” criminal check

There is only one “true” nationwide criminal record search in the U.S., the N.C.I.C. (National Criminal Information Center), which is a central repository for criminal record information that is available only to law enforcement agencies and related criminal justice organizations.

There is no way for the general public to access the N.C.I.C. database.

Confusion #4: Even if you know about a criminal record, it may not come up in a criminal record search

There are many possible reasons that a criminal record may not come up in a search at a courthouse or an official repository run by the state or local government.

The reasons may vary by jurisdiction: the record may have expunged, the criminal act may have occurred in a neighboring jurisdiction, public access may be limited to certain charges (e.g. infractions may not be reportable), the criminal act may have occurred when the person was a juvenile or the person plead to a lesser offense which was not reportable.  To confuse the issue more, there are also federal criminal records, which would not be available in local courthouses.

Final Thought

The bottom line, if you are confused about how to get criminal records, hire a professional private investigator who can help guide you in the right direction.  And if you are looking for a New York private investigator who knows how to get a criminal record, look no further.

If you are interested in learning more about this, check out our previous post entitled The Truth about a “Nationwide” Criminal Check.

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