Criminal records today are maintained in individual city, county, state, and federal database around the country. There is no easy way to search all of these indexes. The only type of national criminal record system that exists is the National Crime Information Center or NCIC. This is a database the FBI maintains and is not available for public access. The only people that have access to the system are associated with a law enforcement agency.
Many states, counties, and cities make their criminal records accessible to the public. This does not always mean that they are making them available online. In some cities, counties, and states records can only be accessed by the public by going to the appropriate courthouse and requesting the information. Many of these courthouses do have computers which the public can use to search the records. This means that you must still physically go to the appropriate courthouse or location to perform the search.
Regardless of how the records are available to you, there are three key pieces of information you should have before you get started. You should have the persons full name, date of birth, and social security number. It may come as a surprise that the most important pieces of information to have is the persons full name, and then the persons birth date... not the social security number.
This is because that, in general, criminal records are organized and listed by the defendants name. It is very important that you have the full and correct spelling of the persons name. That said, there could be many records for "John Jacob Smith" in any given courthouse. The date of birth and social security number are used to further identify the defendant, but the primary piece of information is the full and correct spelling of the defendants name.
So how do you do a criminal background check on an individual when these criminal records are scattered across the country in various databases? You can always pay a third party to do this leg work for you. However be aware, many of these background checks are not a complete as you may be led to believe.
Remember there is no central database (aside from the NCIC) to do a complete criminal background check. Private enterprises that claim to have compile individual data from many states across the country can easily miss or overlook records. The most complete record search is done by individually looking in all possible records sources. This can generally be limited to a general geographical region.
Unless you know someone that has access to the NCIC database and can search for you (which would be illegal), the best option for finding criminal records for free is some good old fashion hard work. This means examining criminal records at the city, county, and state level. What we have done to help you with this is to provide some of the best resources we could find online to help you find where to go. You can access our criminal records tools and resources listings in 'tools' menu on the right hand side of this page.
One last note: One thing that we have not touched on is an inmate search for those individuals currently being held in prison. While criminal records will exist for these individuals, inmate locator services are available for free from state's correctional departments. We have provide a few links to sites that provide this service free of charge in our criminal records tools menu page.
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